Connection and the spirit of Community have always been a powerful force in the New Zealand wine industry, and it is often the case that new beginnings are forged over a bottle of wine or pint of beer. So it was for us, with Chardonnay grapes in 2018. Finding a source of Chardonnay grapes in Central Otago is often likened to finding Unicorn poo, improbable and most likely mythical. After our hiatus from Chardonnay since 2014, you can imagine the excitement when our good friend and fellow winemaker, Jen Parr from Valli, mentioned she knew where there was some Chardonnay available. Rob Vandermark has planted a very high elevation site, approximately 400 metres up, facing north on the upper slopes of Bendigo. This was the first crop and Rob has planted wisely with Mendoza, 548 and 809 clones of Chardonnay. While the hot summer threw challenging conditions at vignerons across Central Otago, it was perhaps the elevation of this vineyard that has given us the wine we have. The diurnal variation and cooler daytime temperatures from this stratospheric site have given us another variation to add to that of the season.
2018 will go down as the earliest vintage on record to date, with harvest starting one month early in many of the vineyards in Central Otago. Searing January temperatures had most of New Zealanders feeling like they were somewhere in the Australian Outback, and the sight of tourists flocking to the shallows of Lake Wakatipu in Queenstown was definitely unusual.
In the vineyard the warm spring and almost instant start to summer had the vines working at maximum capacity from day one. An important metric to measure seasonal variation is the Growing Degree Days (GDD) recorded over the growing season (Sept to April). This is a measure of warmth in the season and therefore the rate at which plants and insects will grow. 2018 was about 30% above the long-term average, hence the early start to harvest.
The wines from 2018 show a generosity and richness that stands out for us. Acidity is gentle and flavour abundant. These are wines that challenged our viticultural know-how and our winemaking acumen. The results, however, speak for themselves and while different, they are wines that are very hard to keep in your glass.
For this Chardonnay our winemaking has remained simple and minimalist with the hope of highlighting site and variety over winemaking hand.
Hand-picked on 15th March 2018 from the 400m-high Vandermark vineyard at Bendigo, Central Otago. Clonal composition: 47% Mendoza; 40% 548; 13% 809. Whole Bunch pressed and settled post press for 24 hours before racking to one 500-litre puncheon and 2 old barriques. Wild fermented and kept on lees until February 2019. Complete malolactic fermentation finished in February 2019. SO2 added just before bottling on 13th March 2019. Alcohol 13.5%; pH 3.34; TA 6.4 g/L.
A lot like the 2018 summer this wine is straight out of the blocks, generous and lifted with ripe stone fruit and layers of complexity. My first thoughts go to the golden weather of childhood summer. Juicy ripe peaches and nectarines straight from the tree and the faint hint of orchard dust on a warm afternoon while throwing said fruit at my brother instead of putting it in the picking bucket. Heady, idyllic and sentimental all at the same time. Once the sun drenched sepia glow lifts there is complexity and slate, dusty quartz and that ever so subtle sense of glacier dust that you get with proximity to the Southern Alps. Go to Central Otago in late summer and you will know what I mean. Buried deep behind all of this is a very delicate floral Muscat note which is from the 809 clone.
There is a glide to the entry, but some real texture through the mid-palate to finish which keeps the wine structured and persistent. The exit is textured and perhaps even a little staunch at the moment, but that gives presence and power, like Meursault. The acidity is completely woven into the core of the wine giving a subtle resonance.
I think this wine will drink best over the next 36 months and should be on the table with crustaceans, Blue Swimmer Crab Linguine or a Scampi Cassoulet for the cooler months. - PJ Charteris