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Posted by on Jun 24, 2013

Passion Flows through Martinborough Winemakers

 

You can make money making wine, but few people I know who are in the business are in it to get rich. One of my favorite people is Randle Johnson,  a winemaker for Hess Collection in Napa crafting delicious Zinfandel and Petite Sirah (among other things) under the Artezin label. You will never meet someone who is more generous with his time and willing to talk about and explain all things wine. I’d like to think we got along well because he understood I also had a passion for wine and everything that goes in to make a special bottle.

I was thinking about Randle during our time in the Martinborough region of New Zealand because Jill and I were fortunate enough to be introduced to some New Zealand winemakers who share that passion.

Our best experiences in New Zealand have come in face-to-face contact with winemakers, and the ones we met in Martinborough were quite special. Nowhere was the passion more present than at Cambridge Road Vineyard, where winemaker Lance Redgwell arrived at the end of our tasting with his partner Bridie McKenna, who had taken us through the lineup. The winery produces only 1,000 cases per year so it’s quite tiny and exporting just a small amount to the U.S. We mentioned how much we enjoyed tasting a Vin Gris of Pinot Noir that he made mostly for fun and how his wife had told us about the 2013 version that was a blend of Riesling, Sauvginon Blanc and Gruner Vetliner. Lance immediately became excited to talk about the wine and how he was making it in an all natural, non-filtering style that is gaining in popularity in Europe. Though the wine had only been bottled weeks before, Lance happily suggested we open a bottle (bottle top style).  The wine won’t be a finished product until the New Zealand spring or summer, but was definitely the most interesting wine we had on the trip, with some light carbonation and some great flavors of banana made even more interesting by being non-filtered and a little cloudy. Truly a treat, made even more special because they were just as excited to try it as we were.

Excitement over the new experimental vintage.

Excitement over the new experimental vintage.

Showing no less enthusiasm for her label was Poppy at Poppies winery. Poppy has done her time working at wineries in France, Oregon and California before setting in Martinborough. Poppies’ first vintage was such a hit that most all of it was sold out, yet that didn’t stop Poppy from talking about some guest wines she was pouring while also including a still young 2012 Poppies Pinot Noir in the tasting. Her enthusiasm was so contagious that after we left Jill talked about working next year’s harvest with her. From your lips to Poppy’s ears I say.

Poppy pouring in the front of the house.

Poppy pouring in the front of the house.

We were treated to another special tasting at Escarpment Vineyard, owned by one of Martinborough’s pioneers, Larry McKenna. Escarpment does not have a cellar door (the term used for a tasting room here) so one of their winemakers, Huw, allowed us to sample wines straight from the barrel. We were quite excited since all we’ve heard while we’ve been here his how great the 2013 vintage will be and even young you could tell there is loads of potential with this vintage.

Huw distributing barrel samples to the lucky few.

Huw distributing barrel samples to the lucky few.

We had other nice tastings at Ata Rangi, Brodie Estate and Schubert Wines and thoroughly enjoyed our three-day stay in Martinborough. Wine is what keeps this small town alive between all the wineries and the town wine bars and shops. We found no shortage of interesting people and enlightening conversations, which kept us sticking around day after day.

Chardonnay Showdown tasting at the Martinborough Wine Centre.

Chardonnay Showdown tasting at the Martinborough Wine Centre.

The Pinot Noirs from Martinborough you find in stores in the States may still need a couple of years to develop. We’ve had more of the 2011 vintage than any other and the wines seemed young.

I was expecting to include Hawke’s Bay in this post, but felt the outstanding experience in Martinborough warranted a stand-alone. Cheers.