Ludo has been talking non-stop about New Zealand for two years… This is his third ‘heart’ homeland where he took some of his most beautiful visual pictures in the past. So I was impatient to go there. Not (only) to be left in peace, be sure.
We decided to innovate our method of transport by renting a car with an integrated tent on the roof. The concept seemed both friendly and exciting. We could sleep wherever we wanted without the limitations inherent to the much bigger campervan. Watch in hand, the tent unfolds and installs in less than a minute. We were well on our way…
We started our journey on the South Island, rallying Picton by ferry.
Upon our arrival, we were struck by the preservation of nature and the will of many estates to cultivate the vineyards biodynamically!
At Seresin Estate, fully organic and biodynamic certified, we enjoyed a beautiful carriage ride through the vineyards to discover with surprise and wonder chickens, sheep, cows and even a few pigs, lounging at their own pace between rows of vines. They provide the best possible compost to the soil, while cleaning weeds. A true work of craftsmanship, 100% green!
At Felton Road, further south, biodynamic preparations have names similar to Harry Potter’s potions : “Horn Manure”, “Horn Silica”, or “Preparation 507”. "These are essential elements in soil reinforcement which are the foundation of biodynamics", said Blair, the oenologist. Even eggshells are kept for the vigor of the vineyard, since they are full of calcium! To our delight, Blair gave us 6 freshly laid eggs. The evening’s omelet looked royal.
As for Waimea, in Richmond, it is the grape skins which are stored for the winter compost.
A green wind breath on New Zealand and we love it. By 2020, the government would even like 20% of wineries to be certified organic (1). To follow closely.
Ludo was right, this country is full of landscapes one more beautiful than the other. Central Otago, the only continental climate of New Zealand (as it is located along the 45th parallel south) (2), remains for me the craziest place we visited in the country.
Rippon Vineyard is the perfect illustration. Surrounded by the Glendhu Bay mountains and plunging into Lake Wanaka, it is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful vineyards we have visited so far. After a meeting at dawn with employees, Nick – the oenologist of the family estate – explained the terroir of the place to us from his Honda motorcycle. "Schist is the base rock of Central Otago, complemented with greywacke and clay, offering very complex soils. And to complete the picture, anabatic winds (3) from the lake bring cool air to the vineyard, making it a more temperate environment".
Grape varieties such as Riesling and Pinot Noir seem to give the best results here. Whilst Nick spent many years studying and working in Burgundy, including a stint at DRC (4), he says, "The work we do at Rippon is based on what we learn from the land itself".
We must however be careful and learn how to listen to the weather in Central Otago. Because in this region, "the climate can be extreme, with temperatures easily reaching 38 to 40 ° C in summer, contrasted by strong frost and snow in winter", we were told at Peregrine Estate, a nearby and very talented winery.
Our tour on the South Island ended in the East. We drove along the Pacific Ocean from Pegasus Bay. During a break in Kaikoura, we met a few sea lions basking from the sun on the rocks. The current passed well and we sympathized immediately.
Reluctantly leaving our charming companions, we headed to Cloudy Bay – in the Marlborough region – where a great wine tasting accompanied by Bay oysters was waiting us. Small, fleshy and gently iodine, these oysters with nutty flavors went great with the citrus notes of the Sauvignon Blanc from the estate.
The diversity of crustaceans and fish from the bay leaves one dreaming. Stop for example at Rock Ferry estate, a few streets down and let yourself be seduced by a tarakihi (5) with toasted sesame grains on the skin for lunch. Splendid.
Before leaving, we headed to Clos Henri. This young domain was created by the Bourgeois family (Domaine Bourgeois in Sancerre). We liked the place for the willingness of its owners to find a second terroir of expression for Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir that could echo that of Sancerre. Mission accomplished: the wines are pure, racy and of great finesse.
Less known than other New Zealand wine regions, Wairarapa is full of many small producers who deserve attention. We met David Boyd, the owner of Lynfer Estate. He arrived in New Zealand 26 years ago persuing a military career and nothing predestined him to become a winemaker. That was until he learned that one of his colleagues had bought a domain. “Why not me?”, he said. A dream which came true in 2009.
Today, the army occupies three days of David’s week. He is a winemaker for the remaining time. ”Within the next 10 years, I will be a full-time winemaker”, he says.
Going back to Auckland, we stopped at Mission Estate, in Hawke’s Bay. Founded in 1851 by Catholic missionaries, this is one of the oldest wineries of New Zealand. "The region is warmer and more suitable for varieties such as Syrah, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon", Steve, the head of viticulture, explained.
The island of Waiheke is only 30 minutes from Auckland by ferry. A small, lost and preserved corner of paradise with its wild beaches and hippie culture. People live here ‘out of time. On a stretch of only 19,3 km long, the island has no less than 20+ wineries, such as Te Whau, where Tony Forsyth , a former London sociologist, who moved here for a change of lifestyle lives.
With a 25% slope and necessary handlabour throughout the vineyard, I am not sure that retirement is an easy one… Whatever, Tony is passionate. "When you love what you do, nothing else matters", he likes to say.
We ended our stay in Waiheke in apotheosis with a memorable vertical tasting (6) at Te Motu. The program included no less than nine vintages: 2014, 2013, 2012, 2004, 2005, 2006, 1997, 1999 and 1998. 98 and 99, blends of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, are at their peak and of rare finesse. No doubt, we play here in the first league.
The day before leaving, we were invited by Nicolas Goldschmidt – the director of the OIV MSc – to host a joint conference in Auckland – an opportunity to present the project for promotion to the press. A beautiful New Zealand vs France tasting, lead by Gerard Basset followed. The wine world is beautiful when it is shared in this way.
Thank you to Waimea, Rippon Vineyard, Felton Road, Peregrine Estate, Pegasus Bay, Rock Ferry, Cloudy Bay, Seresin Estate, Clos Henri, Margrain Vineyard, Lynfer Estate, Mission Estate, Te Whau and Te Motu for their warm welcome. Thank you to Nicolas Goldschmidt, director of the OIV MSc, to Gérard Basset and the Glengarry team for this beautiful conference in Auckland. Finally, thank you to Leafyridge for the memorable tasting of olive oils they organized us during our visit to Lynfer Estate.
(1) For more information : http://www.ruralnewsgroup.co.nz/wine-grower/wg-opinion/editorial/an-organic-experience
(2) The 45th parallel South crosses only land on a part of New Zealand and Patagonia. The rest of the parallel only see the ocean.
(3) A anabatic wind is an upward wind of an air mass along a geographical terrain due to the heating of it.
(4) DRC : common abbreviation to evoke the famous Domaine de la Romanée-Conti.
(5) The tarakihi is a local fish and the third most consumed in New Zealand.
(6) A vertical tasting is a tasting where you put side by side several vintages of the same wine of the same estate.