Autumn Changes

 

 

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Syrah – a patchwork of colours

All the grapes are picked. The nets have been removed, rolled up and stored, and the birds are free to eat the berries left on the vines because they’re not good enough to make wine. It’s been a good harvest, well up on last year though the Syrah and Viognier were down due to the November frosts which arrived right on fruit set.

I write this at the end of the first week of May and today the expected high is 21 degrees C – warm, in other words. That photo of the Syrah was taken today on my morning walk with the dogs, a misty moisty morning, typical of autumn. Simon and Steve are busy in the winery pressing off “the rats and mice”, Steve said when I asked what they were doing, qualifying his answer with, “Simon said it’s some Pinot Gris over there in a tank”.

The marc is being dumped in our new three-bay compost bins to heat up and break down into fertilizer to be spread back under the vines.

Yesterday I hiked up the big hill behind our property, with the dogs of course, to take some shots of our vineyard in all its autumn glory before the wicked Nor’westerlies rip the leaves off the canes.

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Whetu on the seat, Hawk to the right, winery & house far below.

Up, up where hawks and falcons dare. This is where my horses live, Smitty and Lily, both nearing 30 years old and I’m sure why they are so fit and healthy in their dotage. They have to scramble up and down this massive hill every day – down in the morning for their breakfast when I bring their “Old-Timer” to fill their buckets. It’s a wonderful view from up here; the public are allowed to take this walk – it’s called the Rapaki Walk – just so long as they shut all gates, and across the other side of the valley are the Canoes of Kupe, Nga Waka o Kupe. The vineyard you see below these is Escarpment, where Larry McKenna makes his wine.

Meanwhile, back down in the Syrah rows Hawk is more concerned about chasing his precious blue ball.

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And Whetu, ever obsessed with food, decided she would lick the peanut butter off the mouse trap I’d set in the feed shed in an attempt to rid the place of mice gobbling up the chook and horse feed. She won’t try that again.

This week I was asked by the sommelier at a restaurant we supply to describe two of our wines in plain language so he could train his new staff. It’s so encouraging to see this – nothing worse when you’re out and nobody knows anything about the wine they’re serving or they pretend they know about it and talk rubbish. So this is what I sent him (with Simon’s approval) about the Pinot Gris Italian Style, and the Viognier.

Pinot Gris Italian Style is a flinty dry pinot gris, not so acidic that it’s had the fruit flavour stripped out of it. For those who don’t favour a sweet pinot gris.

Viognier (pronounced Vee-yon-yay) is a dry white wine but still keeping fruity flavours; it should bring to mind apricots and peaches. Because this grape is from the Rhone area and needs a longer ripening period it’s more difficult to grow than Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir in Martinborough.

Cheers!

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Vintage 2016

On Monday 21st March we picked the Chardonnay – 800 litres which will make about two barrels. Doesn’t sound like much but these are very young vines and just our second vintage from the Chardonnay. We bottled our first vintage last year; it’s not yet labeled, and we’re drinking it at home. Colin and I are quite pleased with it but there’s still room for improvement. We decided to plant Chardonnay after a barge trip through Burgundy in 2009, coupled with the fact that clones are available here now which are closer to the Chablis style and Simon is making our Chardonnay influenced by Chablis style because that is what we prefer. Not the big, oaky, turn-your-mouth-inside-out Chardonnays of yesteryear but which some people nevertheless still demand.

Each to their own.

We’ve harvested all our Pinot Noir – we’re always the first on Te Muna Road to do this, and most of our Pinot Gris aside from the ‘James’ which is left out to sweeten up a bit, and the Syrah and Viognier because they’re both Rhone varietals and need longer ripening.

Rob Easthope from Hawke’s Bay http://www.easthope.co.nz/ , a very good winemaker and nice chap, has been purchasing destemmed Pinot Noir from us for his Te Muna Road Pinot Noir. He bought Pinot Noir grapes from us for his 2013 Pinot Noir which was released to much acclaim, and justifiably. If you see some for sale, grab it because it is very good and has that distinctive flavour from our vineyard. For me, tasting this wine of Rob’s was like recognising one of my kids across in crowded street. Not sure if Rob would like that but there you go.

In terms of watching the grapes coming in to the winery, it has, thus far, been a fantastic vintage. Big, tight, uniform bunches, which goes to show how important it is to have good weather back when the vines are flowering and the fruit is setting. We were also one of the only vineyards on Te Muna Road not to be knocked about by frosts this year – only a few bays in our Syrah were affected. Thank goodness for big, noisy, keep-you-awake-all-night frost machines and frost pots burning the midnight oil. Literally.

So here are the grapes coming out of the destemmer. The berries go into the bin below, and the stems are spat out the end into another bin to be tractored away on the forks into a big bays of our new compost station where they will break down and be spread back under the vines as we convert to organic control of weeds.

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Notes from the Winemaker

Winemakers are curious and mysterious creatures. They spend long days in chilled, temperature-controlled wineries, hunkered over their brews, or they scurry from barrel to barrel with their whatever-it-is to extract wine and taste, blend, mutter, swirl, suck, spit.

Always seeking perfection.

Then they venture out into the vineyard and pace through the vines, picking bunches at random to crunch and squash, mush into must (a mixture of pulpy juice containing the berry, skin, pips, stem fragments) then anxiously test it with their precious and valuable equipment.

Breathe, I want to say to them. Relax. Wine has been made for thousands of years.

But what do I know? I made (or was helped to make) Syrah and Viognier and I stressed myself so much, getting up three times a night to plunge the Syrah, angsting over the Viognier when it wouldn’t ferment then wondering what the hell had happened when the cellared bottles popped their corks, I swore I’d never take my jeans off and tread the grapes again. Now I stick to writing and designing the labels.

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So Simon Groves, our winemaker here at Te Muna Valley Wines, has taken time out from his work to put together some notes to let you know where things are at; what is going on across the yard from our back door in the Redbank state-of-the-art winery.

It is, as I suspected, mysterious work. At this particular time of the year when grapes begin to ripen, that is colour up and soften (called veraison in wine-speak, literally in French, towards raison) Simon brings out equipment like the refractometer (an instrument used to follow the ripeness of grapes by measuring the must weight – see above), and the hydrometer (which measures soluble solids and sugar content – I had to look all this up in Jancis Robinson’s “The Oxford Companion to Wine”).

So that’s the science. Then there’s the guesswork. “Along with all the other vintage season equipment,” he notes, “the crystal ball comes out of its box.

“Since Waitangi weekend’s warm spell we’ve had successive hot days between high 20s and low 30s. Good rain around February 19th did a little for the parched ground, but the wind soon dried everything and the Mercury rose again north of 26.

“You can see the effects of the hot dry summer around Wairarapa – brown hills, bare, some trees already turning yellow. Fortunately Redbank vineyard is healthy, having survived two very mean frosts including one in late December. Growth is strong; flowering and set was good and leaves are a healthy green so we are – touchwood – well positioned for vintage.

“We’re three seasons in now with the new winery and the Te Muna Valley range has seen a great deal of development and refinement, worked on by Colin, Deborah and me, so the wines have gone from strength to strength each vintage.”

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So how about those wines, Simon?

“The recently released 2013 Viognier is a true delight to present. Rich, heavily textured and profoundly aromatic, I’m happy to place it alongside a top Viognier from anywhere. I know Colin and Deborah feel the same [yes we do!]. Only one drawback….Viognier is a fickle grape [Simon remember in 2012 we lost the entire crop due to frost] and 2013 yielded a very reserved and treasured 350 bottles. Please buy before we run out.

“Pinot Noir – all three Pinots from the 2013 vintage continue to please.

“The 2013 “James” is now just beginning to reveal itself. I felt it was very ‘closed’ to begin with. Today it’s becoming more candid, and presents as a wine to enjoy from now, and then up to more than a decade.

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“The Hawk” 2013, full of dark fruit and minerality, has immense appeal as of now but will unfold so well over time. It is hard to call this a second tier wine really. [Might I add Simon, it’s bloody good value for money.]

“Finally, “The Falcon” 2013, with classic Burgundy lightness of appearance, with depth of flavour. Accommodating, friendly and easy company….exactly the way we hoped it would be.

“It is great to see these wines standing up strong three years, more or less, from being vinified (made into wine).

“If you asked me what my special pick is though it would be the “James” 2013 Pinot Gris. Bottled pear and leesy* aromas with layered palate richness. Yes, with a touch of sweetness, but my personal favourite at the moment.”

Cheers, Simon, Here’s to the 2016 Vintage.

 

*lees is the sediment which settles at the bottom of a container such as the fermentation vessel. A winemaker has to take great care when allowing wine stay in contact with the lees for various reasons, too complicated to go into here.

 

 

 

Pink Bubbles

Wellington puts out a not bad publication called Capital.

It’s edited by Alison Franks (editor@capitalmag.co.nz) and published by the Bristeds I think. You can see more about the mag on Facebook. Anyway, I was impressed enough by the quality of writing, choice of subject material, and design to subscribe.

Also they have good people writing for them – real writers, not wannabes playing at writing, people like Sarah Lang, Joelle Thomson.

In one of the back issues I was given (which prompted me to subscribe even though I don’t live in Wellington, they cover the greater Wellington region) Joelle wrote this about us:

What do you do with Pinot Noir grapes when you want to make a top pink drop? One option is to turn it into sparkling wine, as Simon Groves is doing on Te Muna Road, Martinborough. The wine will wear the Redbank Estate brand of Colin Carruthers and Deborah Coddington’s vineyard. Groves is their winemaker. He stuck to the classic formula for high-quality sparkling wine production, picking the grapes at pretty low sugar levels to create a sparkling wine with high natural acidity; this makes it taste fresh. The wine’s pale pink colour comes from minimal skin contact and Groves expects the price to be ‘accessible rather than high’. This wine is a traditional method – which means that its second fermentation (when the CO2 dissolves, causing the fizz) will take place in the bottle, and the wine is then aged in the bottle to gain flavor. About 2,000 bottles will be released in late 2016.

The name we are giving this pink bubbles remains, at present, a closely guarded secret.

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Chenin Blanc

In October last year we ripped out a few rows of Pinot Gris and replaced them with some Chenin Blanc.

I know, I know, it’s difficult to sell, and  yardy yardy yar. But we love Vouvray, with its distinctive dry yet rich flavour. Jancis Robinson calls true Vouvray (from Loire) “medium sweet, reasonably acid” and in my view she’s bound to be correct, but the best Chenin Blanc produced in New Zealand which I love is Millton’s from Gisborne. It’s delicious. We won’t be calling ours Vouvray, obviously. Not allowed, but that would be pretentious anyway.

I took a photo when the guys started digging the holes for the baby vines, and today  (in 33C degree heat) I took some snaps of the young vines and just three months on they’re thriving.

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In three years’ time, hopefully, I shall be having my first taste of our Chenin Blanc, just as today I tasted our first Chardonnay from vines planted thirty-six months ago.

The  Chardonnay’s delicious. Oaked, not too woody, still fresh tasting with some fruit. We’d hoped for a Chablis style but the vines were determined to do their own thing and at least we don’t have a big oakey turn-your-mouth-inside-out and wither up your balls Chardonnay.

Coming soon to an outlet near you.

An Update on Buying Our Wines

It’s been a while. There have been developments. Notably, Simon Groves, our winemaker, has been shifting the wine out into the market place, arguably one of the toughest jobs in this business (apart from paying the bills). It’s all very well producing great wines but that counts for nothing if they just sit in the warehouse aging.

So we were delighted towards the end of last year when the owners of three of New Zealand’s premier lodges – The Farm at Cape Kidnappers (www.capekidnappers.com) at Te Awanga Havelock North, Hawke’s Bay; Kauri Cliffs (www.kauricliffs.com) at Matauri Bay, Northland; and Matakauri (www.matakaurilodge.com) Queenstown decided to stock our wines in their restaurants. They don’t choose lightly.

But don’t fret. You don’t have to be staying, or dining, in one of these fabulous places to imbibe wines from our Te Muna Valley vineyard.

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In Martinborough itself, Micro Winebar in Ohio Street sells heaps of our wine (‘like’ Micro on Facebook). And in Kitchener Street, a mere stagger away from Micro, Café Medici (www.cafemedici.co.nz) sells our wonderful Syrah to accompany its gutsy meals.

Sited between these two restaurants you can find Martinborough Wine Merchants  www.martinboroughwinemerchants.com (used to be the Martinborough Wine Centre) which sells all things pertaining to wine and yes, my book too, The Good Life on Te Muna Road.

Over the Hill, in Wellington, you can buy retail at Centre City Wines – they do Internet shopping www.centrecity.co.nz, and the restaurants which stock Te Muna Valley Wines, or our other label, which we are slowly phasing out, the James label (shown below) are Avida (doesn’t stock James, only Te Muna Valley, just to confuse you), Shed 5, and Pravda.

Stephen Morris MW at Avida also takes some of our cleanskins and in his lovely handwriting just signs it, SM. Works a charm on the customers.

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In Hawke’s Bay, there’s a fantastic distributor for us called Advintage – www.advintage.co.nz – well worth a visit if you’re in Havelock North and they also sell on line. Really good value-for-money prices and I’m not just talking about our wines.

Then further up the line, in Taupo, you must have heard about, or called in at Scenic Cellars, or The Merchant as the place is also known these days – www.sceniccellars.co.nz. We really are blessed in this country with so many good booze outlets.

By the time you get to Auckland you will have run out of supplies, so you can go and see Migeul at Accent on Wine in Parnell www.accentonwine.co.nz who has supported us since the very beginning. He has a great range of European and Argentinian wines if you’re that way inclined.

Australians, we haven’t forgotten you. Get Wines Direct stock our drop – www.getwinesdirect.com, and right on Christmas we scrambled to ship our first container of wine to the UK which you should be able to purchase by now from Planet of the Grapes – www.planetofthegrapes.co.uk – a sort of wine bar, restaurant, and wine shop all rolled into one.

So that’s it, wine lovers. A long post after such an absence and hopefully the harbinger of more to come for 2016.

 

Publication Day and Book Launch

It’s been five years in the making, and now today, 29 May, my book, “The Good Life on Te Muna Road”, published by Random House, $40, goes on sale. You can buy it on line (Google it, or from Hedleys in Masterton who will deliver all over New Zealand or overseas http://www.booksonline.co.nz/ ) or from good bookshops.

This task started when I was at a book launch for all round good guy and celebrity chef Martin Bosley, who had just written his second lovely book. Nicola Legat, then publishing director of Random emailed me the next day suggesting I write a book about going back to live in the country. “Eeek,” I replied. “I’m not sure I can manage that. I am scared.”

Well, I’m still scared, but I’ve done it. Nicola was marvelous. My first drafts were utter rubbish (she didn’t say so in as many words, but I knew that’s what she meant) but when I “found my voice” as it were, I was away.

Then I had to map out the chapters, and write. Writing is five per cent talent and 95 per cent discipline. Within that discipline is a lot of faffing around. By faffing around, I mean finding jobs which desperately need seeing to – the ironing, gardening, mowing the lawns. Finally, on 31 December 2013 I made a New Year resolution that I would finish this book and I did. The first drafts were followed by about five more drafts, and a contract with Random House. There followed rigorous editing, proof-reading, selection of photos and here we have the final product.

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I am very pleased with the way it looks. The dogs – Hawk and Whetu – have been photographed so many times they are demanding their own agents (one each) and those directors’ chairs with their names on the back rests. This cover photograph (which my photo here hasn’t done justice to) was taken by Jane Ussher.

The book is a tribute to small town New Zealand. When I started to write about returning to the country, to Martinborough, I had to explain that I had lived here before, so then I described what that was like, in the late 1970s living in a large old wooden homestead where poets, artists, photographers – numerous political activists and protestors would visit and stay, and generally create mayhem.

So it’s a sort of memoir, but really I am just the vehicle for a narrative of why tight communities are so important in terms of keeping us happy; healing us, and restoring our trust in humanity. The book also gives some history of where I have lived, both European and pre-European.

I love Martinborough. I was brought up on a farm, not in Wairarapa, but in Hawke’s Bay, and I always wanted to return to the land, be surrounded by animals and a big garden. My dreams have come true, thanks to Colin Carruthers, my husband. This book is a tribute Martinborough and it’s people through my lens.

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