Wine column for week of 28 October 2013

A serious accident caused Nick Mills to changed his passion for snowskiing to winemaking. To abuse a cliche, skiing’s loss was wine’s gain.
Mills was scheduled to represent New Zealand at the 1994 Winter Olympics but the injury meant he needed to find another focus.
So Mills went to France where he worked for four years in Burgundy, obtaining qualifications in viticulture and biodynamic winemaking. A superb range of pinot noirs is the product of that extensive training in Burgundy.
Mills was born about the same time his father Rolfe Mills started planting vines on the family sheep farm in 1974, on the edge of Lake Wanaka in Central Otago. This vineyard must have one of the most beautiful locations of any wine estates in the world. Indeed, photographs of the vineyard with the lake in the background usually adorn most Wine New Zealand media events. The lake shimmers a clear yet luminous blue.
Winter frost remains a constant danger in Central Otago but Lake Wanaka acts like “a big hot water bottle,” Mills said. The core temperature of the lake only changes two or three degrees from summer to winter.
The late Rolfe Mills experimented with a range of vines on the family property. Despite mockery from locals, Mills senior and his family persisted, planting the first commercial vineyard block in 1982 and focusing on pinot noir, riesling and gewurztraminer. Rolfe believed these varieties most suited the site.
The property has been in the Mills family for four generations. Wines are made in an old lambing barn. The estate is named after Emma Rippon, an ancestor of Rolfe Mills.
Nick Mills returned to Rippon in 2002 to take over as winemaker.
The estate’s vines are among the oldest in the region. Most were planted between 1985 and 1991, and 80 per cent of the 15-hectare vineyard is planted on its own rootstock and receives no irrigation. The vineyard also offers one of New Zealand’s best examples of biodynamic methods.
I’ve been lucky enough to taste a range of vintages, on site and elsewhere, and believe Rippon wines truly reflect the terroir. Rippon’s schist-based soils produce wines that are layered and complex. To quote Nick Mills, the wines have lift rather than weight, precision rather than opulence, and finesse rather than fullness.
The 2011 Rippon riesling has outstanding length and zippy acids mixed with a range of citrus flavours.
Nick Mills said a warm summer “put plenty of flesh on this wine”. The fruit from Rippon’s mature vines is memorable because over time the roots have burrowed into the schist rock below to extract intense flavours.
As Mills notes on the vineyard’s web site, in his characteristic sense of humour, “lurking towards the end of the first mouthful is substantial phenolic power and it soon starts to take charge of the wine”. This is a riesling with a lovely sense of place.
The 2011 Rippon gewurztraminer also comes from mature vines. Mills said 2011 was the first really favourable year for this grape variety since 2003. He pressed whole bunches slowly, and used natural yeasts for the fermentation plus extended lees contact. The result is a wine with remarkable grace plus a range of tropical fruit flavours. In a word, delicious — a wine that would be ideal with most noodle dishes. A friend who tasted with me said she thought the texture quite delicate.
But it is the estate pinot noirs that always captivate me. The fruit comes from the oldest vines on the estate, and the resulting wine has an ethereal quality that is delightful and compelling. Wines that one wants to drink glass after glass.
These pinots also get better with age, unlike a lot of pinots from Marlborough which should be consumed within half a decade. Rippon pinots offer subtle yet luscious fruit flavours, finesse and elegance that show they are at least as good as premier crus from Burgundy. Over time we could be likening them to grand cru from Burgundy.
Rippon wines can be purchased online from the vineyard. The web site shows the beauty of the region, though the photographs cannot match the sense of place and majesty of actually visiting the vineyard.
Words: 687

Categories: Not home, wine

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s