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Michael Fagin looks at the weather trends in Walla Walla and how climate change might impact wine production in the future.
After a four hour drive over the Cascades Mountains, coming from Seattle, you arrive to Walla Walla passing Washington’s other wine regions of Yakima, Tri-Cites (Richland-Hanford-Pasco), and Prosser. Surrounded by mountains, this is the dry part of Washington state which makes it an ideal spot for vine growing.
Parts of Walla Walla have desert-like conditions with just 170 mm of rain a year. However, there are many areas near the foothills of the Blue Mountains that get closer to 560 mm. Fortunately, much of the precipitation is in winter so there are no mildew issues during the growing season (April to October) and generally a good supply of water.
Summer brings great growing conditions in Walla Walla. Because it is so far north the region gets over 15 hours of sunlight and average growing season temperatures of 17.2 C which is the sweet spot for Cabernet Sauvignon production.
Source of table: Greg Jones, “Climate Grapes and Wine.”
Revisiting the historical climate of Walla Walla
While chatting with winemakers and vineyard managers I always ask about weather trends and impacts on their grapes. More often than not I get a response of: “weather patterns seem extreme every season.” I decided to take the scientific approach and look at some historic weather data.
The goal is to find official weather stations within the Walla Walla AVA that have a long record of weather data. We picked the Walla Walla Airport and Milton-Freewater, Oregon, which is 22 miles south of Walla Walla town and in The Rocks AVA, which is part of the Walla Walla AVA. We also used a relatively new site in Walla Walla, the Ag. Met station. The data we reviewed and all the graphs can be found here.
The goal is to review key weather trends since 1949 and some cases since 1928. We are looking at these weather variables: yearly temperature trends, temperature trends during growing season (April through October), yearly precipitation trends, changes in frost free days, looking at changes in extreme conditions- days over 100 F (38 C) and days under 32 F (0 C).
Temperature trends growing season
In Milton-Freewater, the mean temperature for the April to October growing season has risen 1.2 to 1.8 C since 1928, with more recent years averaging around 18 C. The lowest recorded mean temperatures haven’t dipped lower than 16 C. In the next few years, the mean temperature may surpass the past ninety years of records. Walla Walla has shown similar trends in terms of a steady increase.
Frost Free Days in Walla Walla
Walla Walla Ag. Met station over the past 25 years annual count of frost-free days has declined in the late-1990s but has more than rebounded since the mid-2010s, climbing over 240. The count of frost-free days is a meteorological parameter for measuring the length of a growth season.
Growing Degree Days in Walla Walla
When determining whether a particular crop will grow in a particular area, agriculturalists use a heat index known as Growing Degree Days or GGD. The GGD units are calculated by a formula that subtracts that specific crop’s reference temperature from the daily mean temperature of the area. This formula provides a GGD number for the region. In our data we used 50 degrees Fahrenheit as the base.
Despite a slight decline since three years ago, the count of growing degree days at the Walla Walla Ag Met site from 2008-2017 has steadily increased with an average of 2,794.
The Milton-Freewater station, has, on average, been increasing slightly over the past ninety years, up around 500. The Walla Walla station on average increased slightly from 1949-2017, up around 300.
Days at or below 32 F (0 C)
At Walla Walla the count of days at or below freezing from 1947-2017 has declined sharply, especially since the late-1990s, with most years seeing none. Before then, two to 13 frozen days were typical and years seeing none were much more uncommon. In Milton-Freewater, the count of days at or below freezing over the past ninety years has declined sharply, especially since the late-1990s, with most years seeing none. Before then, two to 14 frozen days were typical and years seeing none were rare.
Rainfall trends in Walla Walla
Milton-Freewater’s average rainfall has risen since the late-1930s, but the spread of the data makes it difficult to accurately define a true trend. There was around 76 mm more rainfall in the mid-1980s to early-2000s comparatively, but the late-2000s to present day has consistently been only an 25 mm higher than the pre-1980s average.
Walla Walla average rainfall since 1959 tells a different story from Milton-Freewater. While the average also rose around 76 mm in the mid-1980s, it fell sharply in the late-1990s to around 51 mm lower than the consistent pre-mid-1980s average of 457 to 483 mm. Other than a slight decline in the 2000s, an average of around 445 mm has been maintained.
Future trends and what climate change in Walla Walla means for wine
For climate change, most experts look at temperature trends since 1880. Best estimates are that worldwide temperatures have increased about 0.8 C since 1880.
The recent report by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) suggests that unless major changes are implemented to reduce greenhouse emissions temperatures will continue to increase, even as much as 3 C by 2100. We have 12 years to limit climate change catastrophe, warns The Guardian.
An upward trend in temperatures and plantings
The million dollar question is what temperature trends can Walla Walla area expect? If we take the data from Milton-Freewater the temperature increased close 1.2 C over the last 80 years. Walla Walla has had a similar increase over the last 60 years. So if we assume over the next 80 years we are looking at an additional increase of 1.2 C. Thus the average temperature for the growing season increases from the current estimate of 18 C to 19 C by 2100. This temperature is well within the range for Cabernet Sauvignon, which is good news for any producers of this popular variety!
However, some climate experts would expect greater temperature increases than we have listed and many significant impacts beyond just our wine regions.
Fortunately water is in good supply in Walla Walla however winemakers are beginning to make adjustments for higher temperatures – managing the canopy climate and vineyard management systems.
The wine industry is also already making adjustments by planting at cooler locations on north facing hills and at higher elevations, likely a trend set to continue in the future.
Guest post by Michael Fagin
Michael is a freelance wine writer and meteorologist who travels different wine regions around the US with his wife, and fellow wine writer, Elizabeth. He is operational meteorologist for West Coast Weather and provides weather forecasts for the U.S. West Coast which includes agricultural forecasts for some of the major wine regions in California and Oregon. He was attending Walla Walla recently for the Wine Bloggers Conference.
Main photo of Walla Walla by Richard Duval, Walla Walla Wine Alliance
Take a look at some of our winemaker interviews from Washington to get their perspective on the region:
Islands in the sea. That’s the Dolly Parton-esque term that locals use to describe the massive volcanic humps of land dotted around the Padovan-Venetian plains. Some call them child-sized mountains, some call them giant anthills, others – probably Italian men – say they look like women’s breasts. No matter what comparison you’d like to make, Colli Euganei is a distinctive landscape and it produces distinctive wines.
Visiting the Euganean Hills & waters
Morning mist is part of the reason the hills are likened to islands, because they rise up out of the sea of mist. Another factor – at least going by the view from my hotel room – is because of rising steam. While visiting the Colli Euganei, I was based in the conveniently-located Abano Terme, which happens to be the largest spa town in Europe.
The first morning I woke up in my hotel in Abano Terme, I was surprised by the billows of what seemed like smoke rising from between buildings and clouding the horizon. In fact, it wasn’t smoke at all, but steam. There are over 100 thermal pools here, as the faint and lingering smell of sulphur testifies.
A popular destination for golden-agers, this is unashamedly a bathrobe town. And between the peeking bare flesh, robes, steam and theatrical Italian expressions, you get a taste of what life might have been like in bygone times for the wealthy Venetians, who have been holidaying here since the Middle Ages.
For centuries, the Euganean Hills were the pleasure destination for Venetians, who came to escape the heat of the city and enjoy thermal pool parties in the hills. Casanova was apparently a regular. Grape growing and winemaking were already in full swing – historians believe that wine has been made in the Euganean Hills since prehistoric times.
The stark reminder of nature, invading the landscape and your olfactory organ, isn’t just apparent when you visit the thermal pools – it’s also right there when you go to the vineyards. There are over 100 volcanic hills within a 200 square kilometre area and vineyards are planted on and around this unique landscape. Colli Euganei is one of the few volcanic wine regions in Italy (and one of relatively few in the world), which is arguably what makes the wines of Colli Euganei so unique.
Terroir of Colli Euganei
The story of the Euganei Hills starts underwater, more than 45 million years ago. Back then, the region was a seabed. Corpses of sea life and crustaceans became encrusted on the seabed, forming what would later become an important layer of calcareous soils and limestone.
Some 35 million years ago volcanic activity and lava flows underwater created a new layer of land – of volcanic origin – which, when the sea retreated, left the unusual formation of conical hills (or “islands”). The result is a complex and mixed terrain of limestone, clay and volcanic soils. There are 3000 hectares of vineyards planted in Colli Euganei and the terrain can be dramatically diverse within a small area.
“Within 90 metres I have three totally different soil types,” explains Franco Zanovello (of Cà Lustra), talking about one of his vineyards in the Colli Euganei. “I have to plant three different rootstocks for these soils – all within the space of 90 metres!”
The other variable in the Euganean Hills is whether the vineyard is on a flat plain or on the slopes of the volcanic outcrops. If it is on the slopes, then the vineyard’s exposure becomes important (whether it faces more sun to the south or hides away from the sun by facing north).
The different mesoclimates between the hillsides means that there’s a rich diversity of flora that can grow here. With more than 1,400 species of plants in the Euganean Hills, over a fifth of all of Italy’s plant varieties are grown here. This great diversity also extends to grape varieties. In the Euganean Hills you can find varieties ranging from Riesling to Cabernet Sauvignon. Winemakers have quite the palette to play with.
Bordeaux varieties in Italy
Although there are hundreds of different varieties grown in Colli Euganei, the most notable are the Bordeaux red varieties – which makes the Euganean Hills an oddity in Italy. While Italy has one of the most diverse spreads of native varieties (over 2000 native varieties in fact), Colli Euganei has been known for its Bordeaux varieties for some 150 years.
In 1868, Count Corinaldi of Lispida brought vines from France, Austria and Germany. Riesling, Traminer, Gamay and Furmint were all planted, as were the Bordeaux varieties of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Carmenère. It was the first time many of these varieties had ever been planted in Italy. All of them grew well but success in the 1900 Paris Exposition with a Cabernet blend set the region’s future in stone. Colli Euganei became Italy’s wine region for Bordeaux-style blends.
Some say the Bordeaux varieties do so well because the Euganean Hills are approximately 60km from the sea, similar to the vineyards in Bordeaux. But the maritime influence here is entirely different (the warm Adriatic versus the cold Atlantic). It is likely they do so well because of the free-draining soils, abundant sunshine and warm temperatures. Ripening is rarely an issue in the Euganean Hills and Colli Euganei Rosso wines can sometimes top 15% alcohol.
Merlot is the most planted of the red varieties (it takes up about 20% of the region’s plantings), followed by what is grouped together as the Cabernet varieties. Cabernet Sauvignon is one – and often made as a single-variety wine – and Cabernet Franc and Carmenère are also common here (and have historically been confused for one another). The oldest vineyards in the region are in fact field blends of these major varieties.
What makes Colli Euganei red wines stand out is their mineral edge. “The volcanic soils gives us wines with a more mineral note, which are vertical in style,” explains Filippo Gamba, winemaker and owner of Alla Costiera. He makes field blends from single vineyards planted in different types of soil. “The soils with more of a limestone component make wines that are much more open and fruit-driven. I think the terroir has more importance than the variety in many cases.”
This mineral edge contributed by the volcanic soils doesn’t just apply to reds though. Their Yellow Muscat (ubiquitous in Italy) has a particular scent, which some say stems from the volcanic soils. “Moscato Giallo [Yellow Muscat] grown on our volcanic soils and with our climate has this particular orange blossom scent, it isn’t like Moscato Giallo from anyone else,” says Alessandro Facchin, from Ca’del Colle. “The soils also give our white wines higher acidity, even in the sweet wines.”
Orange blossom is undeniably the dominant character – whether in the dry white wines, the sparkling sweet wines or the intensely sweet passito versions. Whichever way it is vinified, the Moscato Giallo is Colli Euganei’s only DOCG – Fior d’Arancio (named after the orange blossom note). There are 230 hectares of it grown in the Euganean Hills and it makes a very distinctive wine.
The other white wines of the region share the volcanic character of the area (just like the reds), showing texture, palate weight, acidity and structure. All of these attributes help to build a wine – be it white or red, sparkling or sweet – making it not only capable of ageing but quite distinctive.
Colli Euganei has just 3,000 hectares of vines set within the ginormous region of Veneto (which consists of 90,000 hectares of vines). Colli Euganei doesn’t just have a landscape of islands in the sea. Its distinctive wines too are a true island in the sea of Veneto and certainly warrant recognition.
Wines to try from Colli Euganei
Wines with a 🌟 are considered Outstanding (or 95+ points, or 18.5+)
One of my favourite producers in Colli Euganei, Alla Costiera is the boutique natural wine production of young gun winemaker Filippo Gamba. Working with old vine field blends and some single varieties, Alla Costiera is biodynamic and organic.
Trachite Bianco 2017 A rich and complex old vine field blend of Moscato Bianco, Pinella and Garganega on volcanic soils. Aromatic on the nose with grip and tension in the palate.
Terreni Bianchi 2017 Coming from limestone soils, this wine is more about minerality than acidity. With a chalky texture and freshness on the finish, this white is a blend of Garganega, Marzemina Bianca and Moscato.
Carmenère 2017 Carmenère on limestone soils, this is a rich red wine with deep berry, spice and floral notes. A lovely length and freshness on the finish.
Gerardo 2016 A typical Colli Euganei blend of Merlot and Carmenère, this is a fruit-driven and smooth wine. The vines are on limestone soils and the wine has buckets of fruit aromas and an elegant, long finish.
Trachite Rosso 2017 🌟 My absolute favourite of a great collection of wines – this blend of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon is on volcanic soils and is an energetic red wine. A vibrancy of fruit and a long finish sizzling with tension.
Another of my favourites, Franco Zanovella started his winery 40 years ago with three hectares of vines planted outside an old summerhouse. He has now expanded to 40 hectares and follows an organic – and somewhat biodynamic – principals.
Pedevenda 2016 🌟 Manzoni Bianco from 1981 vines. There’s a nuttiness and complexity to the nose with aromas of green almond, hay and gunflint. This wine is full bodied but has a vertical acidity and a really long finish. A beautiful wine grown on volcanic soils.
‘A Cengia 2016 This blend of white muscat (90%) and yellow muscat has appealing aromatics of apricot and orange blossom. In the palate it has intensity, length, freshness and a slight salinity. Appetising indeed.
Moro Polo 2014 This is Colli Euganei Rosso old style, according to Franco. A classic blend of 50% Merlot, 33% Carmenere and 13% Cabernet Sauvignon, this wine shows some age (or rather an extended period in cask). Deep spice, great length and very interesting.
Sassonero 2013 This is 100% Merlot and the best-seller of the farm. It has a nice savoury note on the nose with spice and pepper. A lovely complexity and spicy tannins. A wine which ages well, retaining character for many years.
Girapoggio 2013🌟 This is a Cabernet Sauvignon and Carmenère blend, it has wonderful dusty notes of forest floor and spice. Spicy, long and stylish. A taste of the 2007 vintage showed great ageing potential with notes of underbrush and spice with a lively and long finish.
This biodynamic family winery was another favourite of mine and it focuses on making natural wines with low sulphur additions.
Serprino Serprino is what locals consider the true Prosecco, made from 100% Glera, and this for me is an exceptional example. Vibrant and lively with some complexity coming from 50 year old vines and two months on the lees during the Charmat method. It leaves a lingering mineral finish.
Dulcemara This is a blend of 70% Sauvignon Blanc and 30% Garaganega. Pure gunflint and bones – it’s an austere style of wine that really shows the volcanic origin with a long and lean finish. Stylish.
Cabernet This is a dark and spicy Cabernet blend with 80% Cabernet Sauvignon and 20% Cabernet Franc. Lovely length and texture with an appealing graphite note on the finish.
Brolo delle Femmine 🌟 Brolo is a Venetian word for a secret garden, and this wine is a 60% Merlot, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Cabernet Franc blend. There’s floral perfume and red fruit on the nose and in the palate it has mineral weight and great length with fine and integrated tannins. Another delicious, vibrant and energetic wine.
Vignale di Cecilia
Paolo Brunello swapped his cello for his grandfather’s vineyard in 2000 when he came home after many years as a musician on the road. He is a natural wine producer who also practices biodynamics in the vineyard.
Poldo 2017 This Garganega, Tai and Moscato blend is sold in a litre bottle, making it ‘ideal for a lunch for two’ says Paolo. Dried flowers, apricot and stone fruits invade the nose, while freshness and structure lead the palate.
Còvolo 2016 This Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon blend is crunchy and fresh with intense notes of red berries and some spice.
Third generation wine family in the northwest of Colli Euganei making a wide range of varieties (as still, sparkling and sweet wines) from their 20 hectares vineyard.
Raboso Frizzante This is a charming sparkling red wine – deep black cherry in colour and similar in the nose. Filled with notes of red berries, roses and cherry jelly. Tannins lightly tickle in the palate along with the light foamy bubbles, leaving you with a fresh and bright finish.
Colli Euganei Rosso This Merlot (70%) and Cabernet Sauvignon (30%) blend has an appealing nose of red fruit, herbal spice and gunflint. It is fresh, bright and long.
This family-owned winery is named after its position in altitude (101 metres above sea-level). They have two different estates and have an organic and ‘biodynamic-friendly’ production with a good range of wines.
La Gobbetta 2017 This Garganega is made in the Col Fundo method, cloudy and unfiltered with rich aromatics of lemon sherbert, fuzzy peach and red apple.
Quota 101 Dry Fior d’Arancio DOCG 2017 This is an exuberant dry yellow muscat with bright notes of orange blossom, jasmin and apricot. It is lively and fresh with some length and a slightly briny finish.
Quota 101 Fior d’Arancio DOCG 2017 This sparkling yellow muscat has distinctive notes of elderflower, Mediterranean herbs and essence of orange flower with a slightly more herbal finish and freshness complimented with creamier bubbles.
Martino is a third generation winemaker and he has a ten hectare estate where he works with organic practices. His philosophy is focused on returning to the same techniques his grandfather used and he makes low-sulphur, artisanal wines.
Vigne al Colle Serprino Millesimato This sparkling wine is made from 100% Serprino (Glera) with a long fermentation. The result is an appealing, precise and crisp sparkling wine with creamy mousse. Bright orchard fruit and mineral notes, and a delicious way to start a meal.
Vigne al Colle La Prima Volta Surlies This is a cloudy Serprino made of 100% Glera grapes with an unfiltered bottle fermentation. It is cloudy in appearance with great structure and richness in the palate. Notes of..
There are over 200 different varieties of Muscat in the world and it is one of the oldest and widespread family of grape varieties in the book. Some believe the origins of Muscat can be dated back to the Ancient Egyptians circa 3000BC. In the last two thousand years at least, Muscat has become ubiquitous in wine regions around the world.
Despite its long history, Muscat is rarely put on a pedal stool as a remarkable grape variety, nor is it hailed as one of the ‘terroir-transparent’ varieties. Muscat, whichever sibling, always smells like Muscat.
‘Smelling like Muscat’ means it actually smells like the very grapes. Muscat wines are some of the few that seem to smell of fresh grapes. This gives it an obvious appeal for the wine novice, and its fruity, flowery character makes it a pretty easy wine to swallow too in most cases. Although Muscat is probably the world’s best-travelled grape variety, I’ve never found myself thinking of Muscat as a ‘terroir wine’. I’ve, admittedly, been a bit of a wine snob about Muscat. My trip to Colli Euganei last week changed that.
Colli Euganei in the DNA of Fior d’Arancio
Fior d’Arancio is the only DOCG in the Euganean hills, and it is for Muscat. Yellow Muscat (or Moscato Giallo) can be used to make still, sparkling and sweet wines according to the DOCG rules.
It was likely one of the early grape varieties in the region and locals believe it has been growing here since the Middle Ages – brought from Greece by the Venetian merchants. How it got here is of little consequence but its suitability to the terrain and its unique expression in these volcanic hills is what makes it stand out.
“Moscato Giallo grown on our volcanic soils and with our climate has this particular orange flower scent, it isn’t like Moscato Giallo from anyone else,” Alessandro Facchin from Ca’del Colle told me last week.
It’s certain that of the two dozen Fior d’Arancio wines that I tasted (dry white wines, sweet passito wines and sweet sparkling) there’s a common – quite pervasive – note of orange blossom.
There’s also a higher acidity than commonly found in Yellow Muscat, which leaves a freshness on the finish, balancing out even 100 grams of sugar per litre commonly found in the Fior d’Arancio sparkling wine. “Our soils give white wines with acidity, even in the sweeter styles,” explained Franco Zanovello from Ca Lustra on my observation.
Fior d’Arancio was quite unlike any of the other Moscato wines I’ve tasted before. It’s a no-brainer as to why the DOCG for Moscato Giallo took the name of orange blossom (Fior d’Arancio DOCG).
But Fior d’Arancio isn’t one dimensional on the nose. It is also abundant in notes of apricot and sometimes elderflower, mountain herbs and citrus peel depending on the site/vineyard. It offers an exuberant and aromatic wine which is unsurprisingly popular at local weddings.
Fior d’Arancio is a new DOCG, established in 2010. But the vines in Colli Euganei are old (most well over 50 years) and the tradition runs deep. At first, it struck me as unusual to permit almost any style of wine to be made under the same DOCG name. Fior d’Arancio wines can range from about 200 grams of sugar per litre for a passito sweet wine to a bone-dry white wine, and includes sparkling wine. However, on tasting over 20 different Fior d’Arancio wines of different styles, it became clear that there is an aromatic consistency and identity across the styles.
With just 230 hectares of Fior d’Arancio (Moscato Giallo) planted in Colli Euganei, it’s a small and local production, but one which is worth hunting down. Especially at this time of Christmas, when a glass of sparkling, sweet, refreshing and aromatic Fior d’Arancio spumante doesn’t go amiss with a slice of locally-made panettone.
A simple, delicious and festive terroir pairing which would still the tongues and warm the souls of even the Ebenezer Scrooge of wine snobs.
There has never been a more exciting time for English wine. After the UK’s long and glorious summer of 2018, the harvest was a storming success and the vintage is already set to be a classic, meaning that even more eyes are going to be on English wine in the very near future. If these warmer summers are a sign of things to come, English vineyards will be able to start producing wines that we’d sooner associate with Spain and Portugal. In fact, one winery in England is growing Albariño already.
An English terroir at Chapel Down
Despite all of the comparisons made with Champagne – the climate, the soils, the grape varieties that can be grown – Chapel Down is unmistakably English. Looking across at the vast swathes of lush green vines in Tenterden, Kent, it is (with the exception of a field filled with Andean alpacas blithely munching on the grass) the image of the Garden of England, the land of picnics and cricket. ‘Englishness’ is key to Chapel Down’s charm. It isn’t France and it isn’t pretending to be. Being ‘different’ is what Chapel Down CEO Frazer Thompson attributes their success to.
But, we’ll start with the comparisons, for those who still grimace at the thought of English wine. Like Champagne, Chapel Down is just on the northern cusp of 50 degrees latitude, just 90 miles north of Champagne. Both regions possess those iconic chalk soils and a similar climate which can grow the same grapes, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Blanc. The grapes are hand harvested and are fermented using the Traditional Method and winemaking practices such as cool fermentation, malolactic fermentation and lees treatment are employed. It’s no surprise that some more established producers in France are buying land here.
Yet, as Frazer says, there’s pride in being different – Chapel Down don’t simply want to make English Champagne. There are factors that make the wine here unique, like the sea minerals from deep down in the soil. This area used to be called Smallhythe, meaning Small Harbour, and not too many centuries ago, the land here would have been underwater. The area was turned into a vineyard in 1977, when Stephen Skelton planted around five and a half acres of Müller-Thurgau, Reichensteiner, Gutenborner and Seyval Blanc, vines that were originally from Germany.
Since then, Bacchus has become the grape king of English wine, as it can create wines that can reach powerfully pungent levels of aroma that have distinct tropical fruit elements. Thought to be a crossing of Müller-Thurgau and a Silvaner x Riesling cross, it is incredibly characterful when able to ripen fully, taking English wine to new heights of flavour and complexity. However Bacchus and the Champagne grapes aren’t the only varieties doing well in Chapel Down’s vineyards – Albariño, Regent and Rondo are staples in their wine portfolio now too.
Working with the British weather
There’s also another aspect to the Englishness that makes it an industry you feel compelled to rally behind. A bit like the loveable fop played by Hugh Grant in the film Notting Hill, winemaking in England can only be done with a hopeful heart each spring and there’s a real chance of heartbreak if the weather takes a turn for the worst. Most English winemakers will probably want to erase all memories of 2012, when the rain made for a miserable harvest, jeopardising profits for the coming years and throwing an entire year of work down the drain.
Of course, there are measures taken to stay ahead of the good old British weather, including sourcing fruit from a wider geographical area that stretches beyond Kent and into Essex and Hampshire, which reduces the risks of crop failure and allows consistency to be maintained. Team these practicalities with the British sense of humour, hardiness and innovation, and you’ve got an industry that can not only survive but can thrive into the future.
Case in point was in 2017 when the Chapel Down Three Graces 2010 vintage received the highest award at the Ultimate Wine Challenge, beating many top Champagnes to the Chairman’s Trophy. Leading figureheads in the US wine industry judged the sparkling wine to be worthy of 94 points, commenting, ‘Beautiful fruit is magnified by classic flavours of brioche and brown spice with incredible minerality and structure.’
But the good news is that the English wine industry is growing, and Chapel Down is one of the many English wineries that is acquiring more vineyards. The company plans to have access to 385 hectares of grapes by 2021. And, as the vines mature, they expect to be doubling their production. After this year’s bumper harvest, I don’t doubt they will – and then some.
Chapel Down wine tasting notes
Chapel Down Bacchus 2017
Their signature still white wine. Pale lemon in colour and highly aromatic, reminiscent of a Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc. Notes of gooseberry and elderflower hit the nose and it is clean, fresh and zesty on the palate. There are tropical fruits, but not overbearingly so – I get some zippy kiwi – and there’s some grassiness too. It all ends on a crisp, dry finish.
Kits Coty Bacchus 2016 North Downs Kent
2016 was a warm, sunny, dry vintage which produced high quality fruit in the Kits Coty vineyards. The result is a very ripe style of Bacchus, expressing guava, melon, white peach and passionfruit. The grapes were whole-bunch pressed before wild fermentation in 3rd and 4th fill barrels where the wine stayed for nine months, and this wonderful complexity comes through on the palate, showing the oak influence and creamy, brioche notes, finishing with exceptional length.
Chapel Down Vintage 2017 English Rose
This still, salmon-pink rosé is the English summer in a bottle. A blend of Bacchus,Pinot Noir, Regent, Rondo and Pinot Meuniert, it’s all about the strawberries and cream on the nose. There’s a good, juicy acidity on the palate, where citrus fruits and white peach come through pleasantly.
Kits Coty Blanc de Blancs 2013
A sparkling Chardonnay, the Blanc de Blancs from Kits Coty shows typical aromas of cool climate wines in this style – green apple and freshly baked bread. The palate shows development from maturation on the lees and a toasty character from partial barrel fermentation, also bringing out some notes of dried apricots and raisins. The finish is savoury with fine persistent bubbles.
Chapel Down Three Graces 2014
The classic Champagne blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, Three Graces has benefitted from cool fermentation in stainless steel, then full malolactic fermentation, then further maturation on fine lees for six months before bottling. It has had a minimum of three further years ageing on lees in bottle, resulting in a deep, complex wine. Aromas of ripe apple, red berries, blossom and brioche fill the nose and follow through to the palate, creating a sensation of richness with fantastic length and fine persistent bubbles.
Chapel Down Union Red 2016
This blend of Rondo, Pinot Noir and Regent benefitted from a dry, warm and sunny growing season which produced extremely high quality fruit. The result is a spicy, full-bodied wine, brimming with cherries and blackcurrants. Smooth and rounded on the palate, it’s juicy, meaty and very tasty – a complete revelation to me!
Written by Sophia Longhi
Sophia Longhi blogs at skinandpulp.com. She has just completed her WSET 3 and is looking forward to a lifetime of learning and writing about wine.
A clos is a common concept in France but rarely seen in the New World. Historically a clos referred to an enclosed vineyard, or vineyards, which might have been owned by one person or several. The vineyard owners worked together to build the surrounding wall to protect the clos from thirsty thieves. Although thievery isn’t the main concern today, the concept of Clos de los Siete in Mendoza was inspired by this historic practice of creating a wine community and has resulted in the world’s largest clos.
There’s no brick wall around Clos de los Siete in Vista Flores but it is easy to see the boundary. A dirt road separates the property to the east, there is scrubland with wild horses to the south and north, and if you look to the west you have a wall of mountains. From a bird’s eye view, it looks like someone has laid down a colourful rug in the middle of nowhere. Which isn’t far from the truth.
Devising Clos de los Siete: A patchwork of vineyards
The story of Clos de los Siete starts with the arrival of Michel Rolland in Argentina. The French flying winemaker started consulting in Argentina in the late 80s. The more he came to Argentina, the more he saw the potential for great wine – especially in the relatively unexplored territories of the Uco Valley in Mendoza. The economic crash at the turn of the century made prices cheap and Rolland saw an opportunity to invest in what he was convinced was prime vine-growing territory.
“He realised the huge potential of the foothills of the Andes to produce high end wines and how Malbec played a key role on those terroirs,” Clos de los Siete CEO Ramiro Barrios explains. “He wanted a virgin land and high elevation, and he discovered the perfect place two kilometers west of Vista Flores town. There was virgin land placed among two alluvial funnels: Campo Los Andes and Chacayes. Poor soil with sand, clay and large pebbles and a proper slope to East/North-East were the perfect conditions for growing vines.”
Rolland knew that this was where he wanted to lay his hat, or plant his patchwork of vines in Argentina. He convinced six other wine families in Bordeaux to invest in a large 850-hectare property with him, and Clos de los Siete (clos of the seven families) was born.
The power of working together as a clos enabled the families to build roads and irrigation channels in the vineyard, and open up marketplaces and distribution channels abroad. The collaboration of everyone working together is celebrated in one wine – the Clos de los Siete red blend which is made from grapes from each different family vineyard.
The diversity within one estate
While the Clos de los Siete blend shows the unity of the project, there are also very different identities of the family wineries within the clos. Today Monteviejo (owned by the Péré Vergé family from Pommerol’s Chateau Le Gay and Chateau La Violette), Cuvelier Los Andes (owned by the Cuvelier family from St Julien’s Leoville Poy Ferret), DiamAndes (owned by the Bonnie family from Pessacc Leognan’s Malartic La Graviere) and Bodega Rolland (owned by the Rolland Family) all have their own wineries in the clos and make their own very different portfolios of wine.
Part of the diversity within the clos is because of the different people. Each winery has their own winemaker with distinct vision and taste, reflected in the wines. There is also a diversity within the 850-hectare territory.
“Every parcel tastes different,” explains Marcelo Pelleriti, who has been making wine for Bodega Monteviejo since its first harvest in 2002. “We have two different soils here but every parcel is also different. You can see it in the vines and then in the wine.”
The main soils in Vista Flores are poor, rocky soils with varying proportions of sand and clay, however, each plot has its own different compositions and microclimate. “We have lots of petite terroirs,” says Adriàn Manchòn, the winemaker at Cuvelier los Andes (who has also been there since the very beginning). “That’s why we vinify everything separately. When it comes to picking each different lot we go by our senses, tasting the grapes. The winemaking and blending is the same, all done by tasting each individual barrel.”
Each winery uses their blocks of vines as diverse ingredients for making their own wines – whether it be a single variety or blend. In many ways, what each winemaker does in their own winery is a microcosm for what happens when together they make the Clos de los Siete blend.
Visiting a village
A visit to Clos de los Siete feels like visiting a village. To put it in scale, the Clos de los Siete estate is bigger than the Pomerol appellation in Bordeaux. You need a car (or horse) to get between the wineries.
It’s easy to spend a whole day here visiting the four different wineries as they each offer different experiences and outlooks. Cuvelier los Andes is understated and minimalist-chic, while Bodega Rolland is purely practical and functional. DiamAndes and Monteviejo are the most flamboyant of the quartet: DiamAndes has a metal sculpture diamond as its central showpiece and a mesmerising cellar beneath its deluxe restaurant, while Monteviejo has vines carpeted up its side leading to a rooftop terrace and restaurant where rock concerts and art exhibitions are a regular occurrence.
The differences aren’t only in the architecture of the wineries, but also the wines. It’s perhaps surprising that there are such differences as on paper you might make a different assumption. You have four French families from Bordeaux, who have all worked with the same consultant winemaker (Michel Rolland), use very similar winemaking techniques and have vineyards in the same place. However, each wine and each winery has quite a distinct personality. And that’s what makes this clos interesting to visit.
My visit to Clos de los Siete was in association with Wine Paths: offering luxury and exclusive wine tours and experiences in wine regions around the world. You can book your own Mendoza wine experience online here.
In wine, we often reduce things to numbers. Most articles on the Central Otago wine region in New Zealand will include, at some stage, ‘45th parallel south’ and ‘southernmost wine region in the world’. It is true that Central Otago is on the 45th parallel, and that it is the world’s southernmost commercial wine region (although experimental plantings in Patagonia are giving this claim a run for its money). However, this statistic could mislead you into believing that Central Otago is the final wine region following on from a gradual extension of wine regions further north. While it would be almost impossible, or let’s say inadvisable, to make wine on the 46th parallel, it is, in fact, challenging to grow vines on the 44th and even the 43rd parallels. Central Otago is an isolated wine region and what makes it unique is not its latitude but precisely because it is an anomaly.
Why Central Otago works as a wine region
There’s a common saying in New Zealand that I’ve gathered when visiting winemakers: “If it’s terrible farmland, you know it’s good wine land.” While cows and sheep like fertile soils and luscious green grass to graze on, vines do better when they have to struggle a bit – with poor soils and only enough water to just quench their thirst.
Central Otago is a dry patch (terrible farmland) surrounded by mountains and rolling green hillsides (excellent farmland). The chain of surrounding mountains give a distinctly Lord of the Rings vibe, but they also create a special mesoclimate and cast a rain shadow, protecting the region from the wet weather coming from the coast either side. The Milford Sound, just 100km to the west of Central Otago, for example, is one of the wettest places on earth. Last year it received over 9 metres of rainfall! Central Otago, on the other hand, sometimes barely scrapes together 300mm of rainfall in a year, making it New Zealand’s driest wine region. And it is sunny. (I know which side of the mountains I’d prefer to live on.)
Its other anomalous quality is that Central Otago is New Zealand’s only significant inland wine region. The north and south islands of New Zealand just aren’t wide enough in most parts and the influence is unavoidably coastal. However, Central Otago is in the middle of the section with the greatest girth, and that gives Central Otago a totally different climate. The wine region is semi-arid, with an almost continental climate, with hot, dry summers, and cool, dry winters.
All these factors combine to make it great vine-growing territory. In the 1970s, the first pioneers began planting commercial vineyards down here, convinced the bright skies would make for great grape-growing on the ground. What they hadn’t realized was that vineyards would also benefit from what was going on underground.
From a gold rush to a Pinot rush
Central Otago was founded as a mining town, becoming popular during the Gold Rush of the 1860s. And while the gold days are over, you’ll still see signs for stone quarries as you drive around. The rich mineral content of Central Otago is what makes it a gold mine for wine production, too. “Some of the soils have never been farmed before, so there’s a really high mineral content,” explains Paul Pujol of Prophet’s Rock.
Schist, pedogenic lime, alluvial gravel, rounded gravel, clay, silt, sand – it’s all found in Central Otago and often within the same region or even vineyard. “Along the length of Felton Road, which is only 3km, we have up to 10 different soil types,” explains Blair Walter, winemaker at the eponymously named Felton Road, which helped put the road and Bannockburn wine region on the vinous map. “From pure clay to pure sand, to alluvial gravel and rounded pebbles, to angular schist gravel and heavy silts. The soils can be very diverse and very complex.”
This rich diversity of soils lend very different profiles to the wines, especially as the vines grow deeper roots as they age. Today the vines are still, however, relatively young.
While the first vineyard plantation in Central Otago happened with the gold rush, in the 1860s, it wasn’t until the 1980s that Central Otago saw its first commercial plantings. And, in fact, most people thought those pioneers were batshit crazy.
“Those were fun times!” remembers Grant Taylor, who was one of the early winemakers in Central Otago, arriving in 1993 to work at Gibbson Valley winery, which had already been producing wine for ten years (releasing the first commercial wine from Central Otago in 1987). “No-one had made wine in a serious way down here before. So we couldn’t do anything wrong; it was like kids in the sand pit – just play! It’s not like being the first man on the moon, but it’s probably as close to it as any winemaker can get.”
It turned out they weren’t just playing, but actually making seriously good wines. As critical acclaim gathered pace in the early 90s more winemakers and investors were drawn to the area. And by the late 90s, there was a Pinot Noir rush underway in Central Otago.
In 1993, there were only four wine producers in Central Otago and 16 hectares of vineyards planted. Just ten years later Central Otago boasted over 75. And today, in 2018, there are 138 producers in Central Otago and almost 2,000 hectares planted. On the back of a few successful vintages from early producers, the Central Otago wine region was quickly put on the map as one of the New World’s most exciting and up-and-coming Pinot Noir terroirs.
Central Otago Pinot Noir: a match made in New Zealand
Pinot Noir is one of those infamous Goldilocks grapes – it doesn’t like to be too hot, nor too cold. Paul Pujol explains: “Pinot is famously fussy: too hot and it loses definition (and stops being Pinot), too cold and it’s aggressively vegetal and unripe. We sit in the window of where we get Pinot Noir ripe successfully – even in our cool vintages.”
The extreme diurnal temperature range and consistently cool nights make Central Otago a verifiable cool climate, which Blair Walter believes is fundamental for quality Pinot Noir. “I think for Pinot Noir you really need to have a cool climate for it to excel, and we definitely have that here in Central Otago,” Walter says, as a biting polar wind whips around us in the vineyard. “The problem with a lot of cool climates when you go to find them is that they can tend to start to become wet climates, particularly in the autumn. In Central Otago, we are the driest part of New Zealand, with only 350mm of rain annually. So we have very clean fruit that ripens in a cool climate.”
The freshness and high acidity is a trademark of Central Otago Pinot Noir. The other trademark is vibrant fruit expression and bigger tannins. The high levels of UV light mean that the grape skins thicken for protection and this can result in chunkier tannins, which makes tannin management in the winery an important task.
The vibrancy of the fruit is attributed to the sunshine, too. Most sunny New World climates tend to err towards the fruit-forward style and Central Otago falls into that category, at least for now. As the vines become older, winemakers are beginning to see more of the savoury nuances of Central Otago Pinot Noir emerge.
Taking Central Otago Pinot Noir in a new direction
“Our Pinots are definitely influenced by the young vines at the moment,” agrees Blair of Felton Road. “The oldest vines in the region are barely more than 25 years old, and so that is a component that we are working through. As the vines age, the fruit becomes a little more suppressed and we start to see more complexities coming through.”
The style of Central Otago Pinot Noir is definitely evolving and not only due to vine age. “As the vines get older and the winemakers become more experienced, there’s been a movement of style – a case of growing up, I guess!” says Prophet’s Rock winemaker, Pujol, who has been at the forefront of the movement towards making lighter styles of Pinot Noir in Central Otago. “The profile of the wines of the region has moved towards elegance and refinement, and away from bigger structured, perhaps later-picked styles.”
As producers come closer in vineyard management and winemaking style, what’s really beginning to shine through in Central Otago Pinot Noir is the different profiles of the sub-regions. Central Otago Pinot Noir is quickly becoming a true ‘terroir wine’ in the geekiest sense of the phrase.
Other grape varieties in Central Otago
“When I turned up, Pinot Noir probably only accounted for 20% of plantings,” explains Grant Taylor, talking about what he found here in 1993. “People planted almost everything at the time – Chasselas, Müller-Thurgau, Cabernet Sauvignon… almost everything! But Pinot Noir just stood up and said ‘I like it here!” And that’s what we focused on.”
While Pinot Noir dominates today, accounting for almost 80% of the plantings in Central Otago, there are some small plantings of other red grape varieties, including Syrah and Gamay. However the marginal climate, and small frost-free window, is much better suited to shorter-cycle white wine varieties. Notable other varieties in Central Otago are Riesling, Pinot Gris and Chardonnay, which are all the leading grape varieties after Pinot Noir.
“I think Riesling is the shining star of Central Otago,” says Pujol, who spent three years in Alsace making Riesling and other aromatic varieties there. “You get a wonderful acid structure but you also get really ripe aromatic flavours and they age extremely well.”
He’s similarly enthusiastic about Pinot Gris, for which Prophet’s Rock is consistently listed in the Fine Wines of New Zealand list: “With Pinot Gris we’re really lucky down here because we can ripen Pinot Gris into that aromatic spectrum of flavour but we retain acidity, which can be a difficulty with Pinot Gris in warmer climates.”
While Pinot Noir still takes centre stage in Central Otago, there’s a lot of excitement about the interesting white varieties being produced there. What the Central Otago wine region doesn’t have much of, making it a further anomaly in New Zealand, is Sauvignon Blanc. And this wine region, the southernmost wine region in the world (on the 45th parallel south), is all the better for it. A true anomaly in New Zealand.
What makes Central Otago wine region (and its wines) unique? According to the winemakers…
Best Central Otago wines to try
What are the best Central Otago wines to try? I would definitely recommend starting with a series of terroir Pinot Noirs and then move onto some of the aromatic white wines and Chardonnay. Here’s a list of my recommended Central Otago wines to try from the producers that I visited:
Top Pinot Noirs from Central Otago for a terroir experience
Get to grips with the different sub-regions of Central Otago through its Pinot Noir. Bear in mind each winemaker has their own approach. However these Pinot Noirs offer a great experience of the different vineyard expressions:
Prophet’s Rock Rocky Point
This is from the poor schist vineyard of Prophet’s Rock and you can feel the power on the palate: tongue-tingling tannins and tension. On the nose you have bright and aromatic berry fruits, but the vineyard speaks for itself in the mouth. Read more.
Prophet’s Rock Home Vineyard Pinot Noir
The same winemaking (as above) but a completely different wine. The vineyard might only be a couple kilometres away from Rocky Point but the soil profile is as different as night and day. On the home vineyard, the soils are clay with chalk. Fragrant and delicate aromatics on the nose give way to fine-grained tannins with grip. Less weight on the palate than Rocky Point but more length. Read more.
Felton Road Cornish Point Pinot Noir
This is a moderate site for Felton Road, where the vineyard overlooks the lake and temperatures are less extreme. The soils are loess on alluvial gravel and the resulting wine is the most feminine of Felton Road’s Pinot Noirs – floral, fruity, fresh, with smooth tannins. Read more.
Felton Road Block 3 Pinot Noir
This special block has been highlighted by Felton Road since the early days. It has schist soils and the grapes are always distinct from the rows surrounding it. There’s some weight to this wine but it has quite a silky finish. An interesting – and delicious – comparison point. Read more.
Valli Gibbston Vineyard Pinot Noir
You really ought to taste all of Grant Taylor’s terroir series of Central Otago Pinot Noir together. However, if I were to pick two, I would start with Gibbston Vineyard – which is close to Taylor’s heart, as the region he started out in. Higher rainfall and higher elevation make this a much cooler wine with more marked acidity and also more floral notes. Coming from a terrace with loess and alluvial soils over river gravels, it is usually lighter in alcohol and expression than the wines from the Cromwell Basin. Read more.
Valli Waitaki Vineyard Pinot Noir
Technically this is North Otago, but I’ll include it here as it is certainly worth trying to give you an idea of what Pinot Noir tastes like beyond the semi-continental climate and protected bubble of Central Otago. This is a maritime wine and from a cooler climate, which gives you wild red fruits and forest herbs on the nose with a fresh and almost salty finish. Read more.
Recommended white wines from Central Otago
Central Otago isn’t just about Pinot Noir, so be sure to try some of these stellar examples of top white wines from Central Otago.
Prophet’s Rock Pinot Gris
There’s no doubting Paul Pujol knows his way around the Alsatian varieties and this example of Pinot Gris is testimony in the glass. A rich, off-dry style with fullness on the palate and finish with abundant aromatics of white pepper, pea shoots and white pear. Read more.
Felton Road Block 2 Chardonnay
I really enjoyed Chardonnay in Central Otago and this was one of the highlights. Lean and mineral-driven with a long, chalky finish. This wine has drive and there’s just a little generosity of fruit to please the palate. It comes from schist gravel soil. Read more.
Prophet’s Rock Dry Riesling
I love a steely, bone-dry Riesling and this is one of them although, when it gets some age in the bottle, the wine unwinds and reveals blossom, citrus peel and crushed gravel. It has great complexity in the mouth and a mouth-filling texture, although linear acidity underpins the wine throughout. Read more.
And for something a bit different…
Valli Orange Pinot Gris
Why not go orange in Central Otago? This Pinot Gris spends 40 days and 40 nights on the skins to give it a depth of colour and aroma. Apricot, blossom, honey and hay fill the nose and there’s some structure and freshness in the mouth which would work well with many dishes. Read more.
Felton Road is one of the better known names in New Zealand wine. A true trailblazer as it was the first winery in Bannockburn, Felton Road helped put Bannockburn as a wine region on the map. It stormed onto the scene with its first Pinot Noir vintage in 1997, winning trophies and rave reviews, and remains a firm fixture on the list of top-scoring Pinot Noirs in the New World and one of New Zealand’s most prized Pinots.
Bannockburn as a wine region of 325 hectares produces less than a fifth of the wine made in Central Otago (which has around 2000 hectares) but has one of the most organized wine routes and is one of the better known sub-regions, with several wineries back to back along the roads. That, however, doesn’t mean to say that it is homogenous as a wine region: “The soils are incredibly variable throughout Bannockburn,” explains Blair. “Just along the 3 km of Felton Road we have 10 different soil types!”
These different soils are what inspired Felton Road to vinify by block, and this has resulted in some of their best known wines, which are produced from single lots in order to reflect the particularity of the terroir. Blair uses Pinot Noir to express the site difference but also the terroir-transparent varieties Chardonnay (which he sees as “extremely underrepresented in Central Otago”) and Riesling.
I interviewed Blair on a rather windy day in the Bannockburn vineyard about why Pinot Noir works so well in Central Otago and his thoughts on the future GIs of New Zealand, including that of Bannockburn:
Bannockburn & Central Otago terroir: Blair Walter interview from Felton Road
What attracted you originally to come to Central Otago and make Pinot in the late 90s, or mid 90s actually?
I studied at Lincoln University in Canterbury in the late 80s, and I finished in 1990. At that time, the first wine from Central Otago had only just come out. It was a 1987 vintage. And there was very tiny quantities, there really wasn’t very much about. I’d heard of it and only tasted a couple of wines. But there seemed to be something about the early wines that I did taste that showed a lot of potential. There was a real spark in the wines. And in particular, the early wines from Rippon in 1991, 1992, were Pinot Noirs that I thought were of incredible quality and had enormous potential. So, those were instrumental wines for me.
What is the affinity that Central Otago has for Pinot Noir? Why is it a great Pinot land?
I think for Pinot Noir you really need to have a cool climate for it to excel and we definitely have that here in Central Otago. The problem with a lot of cool climate areas when you go to find them is that they can tend to start to become wet climates. And particularly in the autumn when you are waiting for that last degree of ripeness to occur.
In Central Otago we are the driest part of New Zealand. We have only 350mm of rain annually. And when we do get rain it is always associated with winds. Being a small island in the middle of the southern ocean, it’s always very windy here. So our threat of disease is extremely low. So we have very clean fruit that ripens in a cool climate. Even after a cool summer we can still harvest perfectly ripe fruit, we just wait a little bit longer and we will eventually get the ripeness.
How would you characterize Central Otago Pinot in the glass?
Our Pinots are definitely influenced by the young vines at the moment. The oldest vines in the region are barely more than 25 years old, and so that is a component that we are working through. And we are starting to see much greater improvements from the older vines. They tend to be quite fruity but, again, as the vines are ageing the fruit is a little more suppressed and we are starting to see more complexities coming through.
There’s always good acidity from the cool climate and the cool nighttime temperatures that we have. And the dark cherry, black fruit spectrum is quite common. In the warmer temperatures we tend to get more of the red fruit spectrum. And I think the fruit tannin is relatively moderate so the wines have a suppleness and an elegance to them.
Felton Road is very well known for putting Bannockburn on the map as a sub-region of Central Otago. Can you explain to us, what is the Bannockburn wine region about and what differentiates it from the rest of Central Otago?
In Central Otago we have seven sub-regions that make up the greater Central Otago region. And it’s quite a large area. We have a series of valleys and basins. For example, from Bannockburn to the Wanaka area, you have to travel 55km but over a 2000m mountain range. We are at, our elevations are at 200 to 300m here. So the sub-regions are really quite distinct.
I think its really important in the future that we identify these sub-regions and get them labelled and mapped and GIs applied for. To give us that protection. The difference between them, you are going to get different climatic effects in these basins. The soils are different. We also have to say that we’ve got a lot of variation within the sub-regions as well so you can’t just generalize about the soils.
How many different soil types do you find within Bannockburn wine region?
Along the length of Felton Road, which is only 3km, we have up to 10 different soil types. From pure clay to pure sand, to alluvial gravel, rounded pebbles, to angular schist gravel, heavy silts. So the soils can be very diverse and very complex.
You are biodynamic wine producer as well. Can you tell us what you think is the opportunity for producing biodynamic or organic wines here?
We produce, well have done since 2002, our vineyards under organics and biodynamics. The dry climate and low rainfall are very conducive to it. We have very low disease pressure, so it just makes sense to farm organically and biodynamically.
Do you see a trend in New Zealand going towards that direction?
Yes, definitely. I mean in an informal survey that we did in Central Otago, we found that just on 25% of the vineyards here are now being farmed organically or biodynamically. Now that’s pretty significant for a wine region to have that high a percentage. I think overall nationally in New Zealand it’s around 7% and every year there are more and more vineyards converting when they see the benefits from the producers that have been doing it some time.
This is Felton Road’s main Pinot Noir and it is a blend from all four of the winery’s Bannockburn vineyards. With dark fruit and spice on the nose, this wine has quite peppery tannins with great length and a crunchy feel. An attractive Pinot Noir that gives you a well-rounded option for dinner.
Felton Road Cornish Point Pinot Noir 2017
Felton Road’s Cornish Point vineyard (FeltonRoad.com)
Overlooking the river (just meters away from the glacial river), Cornish Point produces their softest Pinot Noir as the temperatures are moderated by the nearby river and the windblown loess on alluvial gravel vineyard helps soften the acidity and fruit expression. This wine has nice perfume on the nose with bright red fruit and floral aromas and a freshness on the palate and smooth tannins. This is the fruitier, softer and more inviting style of the single block Pinot Noirs.
Felton Road Block 3 Pinot Noir 2017
This is the block that Blair has isolated as distinct ever since his first vintage in 1997 and is part of the schist-based Elms vineyard. The wine is distinctive, carrying some weight on the palate but with a fine texture on the finish and quite silky tannins. Dark fruit, dried winter herbs and spice.
Felton Road Bannockburn 2017 Chardonnay
This is the estate Chardonnay with a blend of 90% Elms vineyard and 10% Cornish Point, and it includes 25 year-old vines and also 12 year-old vines. With just over a year in barrel and just under a year on the lees, there’s some opulence to this wine. However it also has lots of bright stone fruit notes with fresh blossom. It is a lovely style of Chardonnay – balanced, appealing, with good acidity and ultimately very inviting.
Felton Road Block 2 Chardonnay, 2016
This block comes from a vineyard with schist gravels and the poorer soils are evident in the leaner style of the wine. The nose is driven by mineral notes and delicacy, while the palate reveals some fruit but is mainly focused on texture, drive and a long, chalky finish. Stylish Chardonnay.
Felton Road Dry Riesling 2017
This Riesling all comes from Block 2, on schist gravel. It is their entry level Riesling, which is bone dry (rather than the off-dry style of the Bannockburn Riesling). It has a really vibrant nose with bright notes of citrus, lime and a little bit of trademark kerosene creeping in. A great food wine.
Felton Road Riesling Block 1 2017
This is definitely a geekier Riesling with a much more mineral-driven nose, although some white apricot notes add a little warmth. The acidity is striking but the touch of residual sugar helps balance it out. A Riesling worth ageing. It comes from north-facing slopes on the heavier soils.
Read more on Central Otago wines and wine producers:
Get to grips with the terroir essentials of Veneto’s Colli Euganei wine region – including the main soil profiles, climate, grape varieties and wines of Colli Euganei.
Where is Colli Euganei anyway?
In the northeast of Italy, Colli Euganei is 60km from Venice. In the Padovan-Venetian plains, the geography surrounding Colli Euganei is flat however the region itself is characterised by large volcanic hills.
Latitude: 45.3° N
Longitude: 11.7° E
Guide to Colli Euganei: The Essentials of Terroir
The climate in Colli Euganei
Colli Euganei has a Mediterranean climate with warm and dry summers and mild, wet winters. The southern region of Colli Euganei is warmer and drier than the north. The southern-facing slopes, which face the sun during the day, are warmer with longer sunlight hours compared to the north-facing slopes.
The sirocco wind, a hot wind which comes across the Mediterranean from the Sahara desert, often reaches Colli Euganei in the summer months. It increases the average temperature and can dehydrate the grapes.
In this video Andrea and Roberta of Quota 101 discuss the climate of Colli Euganei:
Annual rainfall in Colli Euganei
850 mm per year, usually in the winter months
Average temperatures in Colli Euganei
Average temperature during the year 13.6 °C
Average temperature in the summer: 24°C
August night time temperature minimum 17 °C
August daytime maximum 30 °C
Average temperature in the winter: 4°C
January night time temperature minimum 1 °C
January daytime maximum 6 °C
The landscape of Colli Euganei
It is the landscape which makes Colli Euganei stand apart from neighbouring wine regions in Veneto. Large volcanic hills are described as islands in the sea, reflecting how they are the sole protrusion on the otherwise pancake-flat landscape.
The hillsides offer better drainage, poorer soils and different sun exposures to the flatlands in between and the more prized vineyards are found on the slopes or towards the hills. Inclines range up to approximately 35%
Colli Euganei soils
This is what really sets Colli Euganei apart from its neighbouring wine regions in Veneto. The Colli Euganei is one of the few volcanic wine regions of Italy, however, the soils aren’t entirely volcanic – there is also a mix of limestone and clay soils. The important geological formations of the Euganean hills can be simplistically broken down into two major periods:
The ancient seabed & underwater lava flows
The whole region was underwater and an ancient seabed. This is where the marine deposits built up (which later formed limestone). Approximately 43 million years ago, underwater basaltic lava flows began the first volcanic phase of the Euganenean hills. As the lava emerged it solidified and forms some of the basaltic soils found in the central parts of the Euganean hills. Limestone and clay is also a key component in the soils from this earlier geological period.
Volcanic cones form the Euganean hills (still underwater)
Several million years later, after a period of dormancy, volcanic activity reshaped the geology of the region once again. Approximately 35 million years ago, there was another volcanic phase which saw flows of acid lava. Following the cooling process, steep cones of volcanic rocks remained with rhyolite, trachyte and latite rocks. The thrust of the magma also pushed up layers of limestone (seabed) soils.
A unique landscape revealed
After all the volcanic activity underwater, the sea retreated and the unusual landscape was revealed with complex and diverse volcanic and sedimentary soils.
The bare volcanic peaks, the trachyte faces of the rocks, are notable in visiting the Euganean hills – especially with those which have been carved off by quarries for building purposes (until the region became protected in the 70s). The volcanic stone was particularly valued for building locally and also in Venice. If you visit Venice’s famous San Marco Piazza you’ll be walking over volcanic stones brought from Colli Euganei.
Winemaker Franco Zanovello describes the geological formation of the region in this video:
A former quarry exposing the volcanic soils of Colli Euganei
What do the Colli Euganei soils mean for wine?
I’ll let winemaker Filippo Gamba, and export manager Mauro Businaro, from Alla Costiera (which makes wines on both volcanic trachyte and limestone), take this one:
Colli Euganei sub-regions
There are 15 different sub-regions of the Euganean hills and each has a slightly different climate to the other, however, within each sub-region the microclimate and soils can also vary.
In general, the southern sub-regions of Colli Euganei are slightly warmer and drier than the northern sub-regions.
What matters most in terms of vineyard location is not the sub-region but the position of the slope – north-facing slopes are cooler with less sun exposure and are usually planted with white grape varieties, while the warmer and sunnier south-facing slopes are planted with red grape varieties.
In this video interview winemaker Paolo Brunello discusses making wine on the southern wine regions of Colli Euganei:
Vineyard management in the Euganean hills
As an old wine region, there are many different vineyard management systems in place. The older vineyards are generally trained very tall VSP training systems, whereas modern plantings are on lower systems.
Old vineyards are commonly planted as field blends, whereas modern vineyards are planted by variety.
Approximately a fifth of the wine producers in Colli Euganei manage their vineyards organically.
Other regional notes
Colli Euganei is overrun with wild boar, which can destroy vineyards and a year’s crop. The main management technique for the wild boar is hunting them and making local salami!
Grape Varieties in Colli Euganei
Main red grape varieties in Colli Euganei
The most important red grape varieties in the Euganean hills are the red Bordeaux varieties. Some say these varieties were first planted by the Count of Sambuy in 1820, others credit the Corinaldi family with first planting them in 1870.
Most planted variety in Colli Euganei
Used predominantly for single-variety or blends of still red wine
Used predominantly for single-variety or blends (usually with Merlot or Cabernet Franc/Carmenère) for still red wine
Cabernet Franc & Carmenère
Historically Carmenère was planted and mistakenly identified as Cabernet Franc. Many old plantings contain a mixture of both varieties and they are both considered a ‘Cabernet blend’. Some producers are now vinifying them separately as single-varieties however the majority use these vines in blends
Ancient Venetian variety with two sub-varieties: Raboso Piave (aka. Friularo) and Raboso Veronese
Used to add acidity to red blends or occasionally for sparkling wine (rose or red)
Main white grape varieties in Colli Euganei
Glera (the prosecco grape) is the most planted white grape variety in Colli Euganei and Serprino is a local biotype (which can be called glera, prosecco or serprino)
Used for sparkling wines made under Charmat method and occasionally for still white wines
Fior d’Arancio (yellow muscat/moscato giallo)
Fior d’Arancio is the local name for yellow muscat/moscato giallo
It is the only variety permitted to produce Colli Euganei’s only DOCG, which can be a still, sweet or sparkling white wine
Usually used for dry white wines
Other grape varieties in Colli Euganei
Including white varieties Garganega, Manzoni Bianco, Tai (formally known as Tocai Friulano), Pinot Bianco, Chardonnay
Including red varieties Corbinella, Marzemina, Pattaresca, Turchetta
Colli Euganei DOC rules
Colli Euganei DOC was established in 1969 and includes still, sparkling and sweet wines. The main categories under the DOC rules are:
Colli Euganei Rosso DOC: Blend of Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Carmenère, and/or Merlot (max. 85% of any one variety); maximum 10% Raboso
Colli Euganei (single variety) DOC: Single variety wines must have a minimum 85% of said variety and can be Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Carmenère, Chardonnay, Garganega, Manzoni Bianco, Pinello, Pinot Bianco, Sauvignon (Sauvignon Blanc), Serprino, Tai or Moscato (which has to be 90% minimum of Moscato Bianco)
Colli Euganei Bianco DOC: Minimum 30% Garganega; minimum 30% Glera/Serprino and/or Sauvignon Blanc; minimum 5–10% Moscato Bianco and/or Moscato Giallo. A maximum of 30% of other permitted regional varieties.
Colli Euganei DOCG rules: Fior d’Arancio DOCG
The Fior d’Arancio DOCG was established in 2010.
Minimum of 95% of moscato giallo (yellow muscat)
Can be sparkling, still or passito (sweet)
Colli Euganie wine production & wine producers
Total bottles DOC: 3.5 million bottles per year
Approximately 900 growers in Colli Euganei (over 600 of which supply to the local co-op, Cantina Colli Euganei)
Syrah from Gimblett Gravels has become one of the most promising categories of red wine from New Zealand. After a 16-year vertical tasting of Craggy Range’s iconic Syrah, Le Sol, it was easy to see why. But before delving into the experience of tasting this vertical line-up of a very noteworthy wine, let’s look at why Syrah is thriving in Gimblett Gravels in New Zealand’s Hawke’s Bay.
Why Syrah in Gimblett Gravels?
“Syrah is a very important grape in New Zealand even though, in terms of size, it is tiny,” says Craggy Range winemaker, Matt Stafford. Indeed, Syrah accounts for less than 1% of New Zealand’s total production but receives a disproportionate amount of praise and acknowledgement. For instance, it represents 6% of the Fine Wines of New Zealand listings and it has also been crowned champion in several recent wine competitions and tastings. The fuss is particularly about Syrah from Gimblett Gravels.
What sets Gimblett Gravels apart from many of the wine regions of New Zealand is that it has an incredibly poor soil – a dried up river bed with deep gravels. Whereas too much rain can be a problem in most of New Zealand’s wine regions, in Gimblett Gravels the free-draining soil means that irrigation is a necessity – even though it is common to get up to 500mm of rain in the summer.
Syrah always seems to do well on the rocks (hence its affinity with the Rhône). But it isn’t just the lower yields that result from the free-draining gravel that set Gimblett apart. There’s another trick up the sleeve of the gravels of Gimblett. Most of New Zealand’s wine regions would be considered cool climate, which is why white wines and early-ripening red wines (like Pinot Noir) dominate.
Hawke’s Bay, however, offers a pocket of sunshine and warmth in a protected inlet on the east coast of the North Island. The warmer average temperatures, temperate maritime climate and longer growing season make Hawke’s Bay New Zealand’s hotspot for red wine varieties, including Bordeaux blends. The dark stones of Gimblett Gravels also absorb the heat during the day and radiate that heat at night, giving this sub-region a warmer edge over the others.
Craggy Range winemaker Matt Stafford explains the Gimblett Gravels terroir and its suitability for Syrah in this vineyard interview:
Why Gimblett Gravels became the first Syrah of New Zealand
Syrah first made its way to New Zealand in 1832 with James Busby, who also brought the first Syrah vines to Australia. Shiraz boomed in Australia but almost disappeared entirely in New Zealand. The blockbuster, fruit-bomb style of Shiraz in Australia just couldn’t be done in New Zealand and it appeared that this variety had set sail for warmer lands on the other side of the Tasman Sea. By the 1980s, there were only a handful of Syrah vines left in an experimental vine garden at a wine institute.
In 1984, those last Syrah vines were destined for the bulldozer. It was serendipitous that a professor, Dr Alan Limmer, rushed to rescue them and happened to plant them in a new wine region in Hawke’s Bay – Gimblett Gravels. In the warmer soils, the Syrah vines thrived. And in 1989 he released the first New Zealand Syrah, from Stonecroft in Gimblett Gravels.
Syrah had experienced a change of fate, and it was largely to do with its success in the unique terroir of Gimblett Gravels.
Hawke’s Bay Syrah & the taste of Gimblett Dust
Here the wines can achieve full ripeness to give vibrant berry fruit aromas. There’s always fresh acidity, often floral notes and dark spice. However concentration and colour are also a key part of the identity of Gimblett Gravels Syrah.
There’s another particularity of Gimblett Gravels Syrah that local winemakers like to call the ‘Gimblett Dust’ character. It’s a fine dusty texture, and a mineral, hot stone aroma. It may be hard to describe but there’s a common graphite note and earthy character to the wines which seems consistent across the board.
There are variations in winemaking, but most would liken Gimblett Gravels Syrah as akin to Syrah from the Northern Rhone.
Craggy Range Le Sol Syrah 2001 – 2016
Wines with a 🌟 are considered Outstanding (or 95+ points, or 18.5+). All other wines listed are above 90 points (or equivalent). This vertical was purchased by and provided by Air New Zealand in promotion of their Fine Wines of New Zealand programme.
Craggy Range Le Sol 2001
Showing nicely for its age, this Syrah has moved onto more savoury and tertiary notes with olive and peppery salami aromas making it quite appealing. The lucky virgin vintage from young vines!
Craggy Range Le Sol 2002
This was a riper year and there’s primary fruit still on the nose – dense black forest fruits with spice on the finish. An attractive note of cigar box adds complexity.
Craggy Range Le Sol 2004
The first vintage to have some of the trademark violet aromas from the region, alongside rich, sweet fruit aromas with Christmas spice and peppery tannin.
Craggy Range Le Sol 2005
This was a very good year for Hawke’s Bay and it is riper in the glass with notes of prune and some leathery, cedar notes too. Silky and smooth.
Craggy Range Le Sol 2006
This vintage opens with attractive notes of lavender on the nose backed by a well-balanced wine with blue fruit and black pepper. A long finish with bright acidity. One of the most elegant of the earlier vintages.
Craggy Range Le Sol 2007
There is a lot of tension to this wine and it is holding up really nicely after over a decade in bottle. Spice, balance and some of that ‘Gimblett dust’. This wine has a lot of potential.
Craggy Range Le Sol 2008
This was a warmer vintage and the wine has a real richness of fruit with both prune and fresh plum notes. Cocoa and baking spices add complexity.
Craggy Range Le Sol 2009 🌟
One of my favourite wines of the line-up, the 2009 vintage has a great combination of heady violet perfume, dark cassis and graphite. There is finesse and great length to this wine.
Craggy Range Le Sol 2010
The 2010 vintage was more savoury in style with notes of tar, dried bay leaves and cedar. Black pepper and liquorice also meddle with blackcurrant notes. Attractive vintage.
Craggy Range Le Sol 2011
A dense and concentrated wine with rich berry notes and tight, peppery spice. It still feels quite young to drink, with a drier tannin. Give this one some time in the cellar.
Craggy Range Le Sol 2013 🌟
Another excellent vintage which has all the engaging elements of Gimblett Gravels Syrah – wild forest herbs, black pepper spice, tar and a real brightness of bramble fruit. Dark, long, elegant and interesting.
Craggy Range Le Sol 2014 🌟
This warm and dry vintage has a wonderful density of fruit with a leafiness and perfume adding some interest. Dark fruit, dusty tannin and a complex finish. Still young but great potential.
Craggy Range Le Sol 2015 🌟
Darker fruit on the nose with floral notes of violets and dried rose petals. There’s some sweet spice in this wine too but with the classic black pepper on the finish. Nicely balanced.
Craggy Range Le Sol 2016
This is still a baby but the tight tannin structure, dense fruit and intense spice shows a lot of promise for the years to come. Cellar for a few more years.
Gimblett Gravels has become one of the most celebrated sub-regions of Hawke’s Bay in New Zealand. What brought this region up from drag racing to racy reds?
Hawke’s Bay is the oldest wine region in New Zealand, but the sub-region within it that is causing the most buzz is actually relatively new. The first vineyards were planted in Gimblett Gravels in 1981 and there wasn’t a commercial release focused on single-vineyard Gimblett Gravels wine until several years later. Today, however, there are over 800 hectares planted in this special sub-zone, with over a dozen award-winning wines and the clue to why these wines are unique is very much in the name.
Gimblett Gravels is named after the a land owner in the area, Gimblett, and the gravel soil composition of the sub-region. The region is in fact a dried river bed and the gravel soils run up to 30 metres deep in certain areas, making it perhaps one of the poorest, best-draining soils in New Zealand. “It was originally known as a terrible farming area,” explains Matt Stafford, winemaker at Craggy Range, “while most soils in New Zealand are very fertile (and great for farming), this soil is really poor – people just called it bad farming land.”
Before any vineyards, Gimblett Gravels was actually used for quarries and cement-production. The warm weather and dry land also made it a popular spot for drag racing at the weekends. But that’s not all, there was a landfill and an army firing range in the area. Not the most glamorous beginnings for one of New Zealand’s most prized wine areas. But while gravel is good for both drag racing and cement-mixing, it is also particularly good for vine growing (think Graves in Bordeaux). Once the first commercial wines were released, this zone instantly became one of the most sought-after terroirs in New Zealand and vineyard plantings grew rapidly.
Gimblett Gravels: Ideal red wine territory
“This is one of the warmest parts of New Zealand, and the gravel retains even more heat – which is great for our cool climate here,” explains winemaker Warren Gibson, who has been making wine in Gimblett Gravels for 20 years with Trinity Hill.
The combination of free-draining and heat-retentive soils makes it New Zealand’s top spot for Bordeaux red grape varieties and Syrah, which struggle to ripen in most other wine regions across both islands. The deeply coloured, robust red wine varieties that Gimblett Gravels is known for is also what sets it apart in a sea of Sauvignon Blanc elsewhere. Just 10% of Gimblett Gravels’ production is white wine, the rest is mainly focused on Merlot, Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon.
A purity of fruit expression with an intense colour, refreshing acidity and balance are almost a given in Gimblett Gravels red wines. The Syrah, in particular, has great vibrancy of fruit aromas with lively acidity and freshness. As the vines get older, the wines are beginning to show more complexity and structure – hinting at the promise of what’s to come for this young wine region.
Of course, the red wine tradition in Hawke’s Bay isn’t new and isn’t limited to Gimblett Gravels (Te Mata Estate, for example, has been making red Bordeaux varieties for 150 years in Hawke’s Bay). However, the hype around Gimblett Gravels is more than just excitement about a new kid on the block.
This is one of the few appellations in New Zealand that has been defined by soil type and geology – a distinction which the Gimblett Gravels Winegrowers’ Association, formed in 2001, is keen to protect. Any wine with Gimblett Gravels on the label must have at least 95% of their fruit coming from the defined zone, based on gravel soils.
That importance of provenance and evidence of that provenance in the glass set Gimblett Gravels apart as one of the most cohesive appellations in the New World today.
Gimblett Gravels wine region guide: Fast Facts & Terroir Essentials
Around 800 hectares planted
Soil: Gravel beds with sand, silt and clay (of various depths and proportion). Topsoil is usually only 10 to 40cm.
Climate: Temperate maritime
Annual rainfall: 880mm (although some years there is drought)
Irrigation is essential
Altitude: 30 metres above sea level
Distance from sea: Less than 10 miles
Latitude: 39.6° S
Longitude: 176.7° E
Appellation rules: For ‘Gimblett Gravels’ to appear on the label, over 95% of the fruit must come from within the permitted zone.
Soil in Gimblett Gravels
A reasonably new viticultural area, the Gimblett Gravels is one of the few wine regions in New Zealand that is defined by its soil type (gravel). It is an old river bed that was exposed as the Ngaruroro River changed its course following a flood over 150 years ago. The poor soils require irrigation. However they also retain heat, allowing later-ripening red grape varieties to thrive.
Climate in Gimblett Gravels
Hawke’s Bay has a temperate maritime influence, like Bordeaux. However Gimblett Gravels is one of the warmest sub-regions of Hawke’s Bay and can be 2°C or 3°C warmer than wine regions closer toward the coast. In general the weather here is warm and dry during the summer, and Napier is in fact one of the sunniest cities on the North Island. In the summer, daytime temperatures average 19°C–24°C, although they can sometimes reach up to 30°C. Winters are mild (with 10°C–15°C during the daytime).
Main grape varieties in Gimblett Gravels
Gimblett Gravels is very much red wine territory, with over 90% of plantings dedicated to red grapes.
15% Cabernet Sauvignon
4% Cabernet Franc
9% ‘Other Red’ varietals (including Grenache, Montepulciano and Tempranillo)
10% white wine varieties (mainly Chardonnay and Viognier)