This tasting was arranged for the New Zealand wine industry to celebrate the relatively high proportion of wine producers that practice organic or biodynamic viticulture and winemaking. Certain regions like Central Otago are ‘hotspots’ for organics, though the massively important Marlborough region (producing three out of four bottles of wine in New Zealand), has almost 40 wineries where all, or some, of their production is organic.
Not all of this is certified. Organic producers around the world have their own reasons not to seek certification: some don’t want the expense that it brings with a small levy on every bottle, others want the reassurance that should disasterous condition strike their vineyard, non-organic treatments can be utilised as a last resort. But the global rise of esates following systems that allow no, or extremely limited use, of synthetic chemicals is unstoppable given our better understanding of how the world’s ecology is being damaged by some aspects of our 21st century life.
I was sent six examples of wines from organic or biodynamic producers from across the twin islands, and the quality here speaks volumes about the estates represented.
Of course it is impossible to be sure that quality is down to organic practises. I do believe that farming this way, which is harder and more labour intensive than conventional viticulture, speaks of a mindset and approach – a sensitivity – in the winemakers that often shines through in their wines.
(2022) I recently tasted Pyramid Valley's 'Sauvignon+' from North Canterbury and made it my 'Wine of the Week'. Not to be confused, this is their straight Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough, and does not have a UK retail listing at time of review. Fruit is sourced from the biodynamic Churton Vineyard, north east facing slopes on loess over clay. Fruit is pressed into larger oak demi-muids (600L) barrels for fermentation with ndigenous yeast, and rests on the lees for six months. Quite subtle confit lemon and leafy, soft herb aromas like dill and parsley, then a little mango and passion fruit emerges. A very pure and intense lemon palate, but fat, ripe Amalfi lemons, lovely texture and mouth-filling weight, but super-clean to the finish.
(2022) Another of the great biodynamic practitioners of New Zealand, Millton's Te Arai vineyard is five kilometres from the sea, and experiences some Botrytis which may account for the 9.5g/l of residual sugar in this is off-dry wine. Fermentation and maturation take place in a combination of demi-muids (large 600-litre oak barrels) and stainless steel tanks. Burnished gold in colour, there's an open, and nutty character here, lots of wax and lanolin qualities, honeyed for sure, with fig and quince fruit. Glorious in the mouth - perhaps verging on medium-sweet, with toast and layers of sweet pear, baked apple and more tropical fruit, then a fine and bracing saltiness to the acids in the finish.
(2021) Very much in the style of an Alsace blend, this is composed of 67% Gewürztraminer, 22% Riesling and 11% Pinot Gris, and is just off-dry with 6g/l of residual sugar. It is a co-fermented 'field blend', with all of the varieties planted and vinified together. Lovely Gewurz spice leads the way here, then relatively subtle florals and fresh herbs, fruit quite cool but gently exotic, like Asian pear and fresh lychee. In the mouth it is the Gewürztraminer that dominates again, a big surge of grapefruit giving the required sourness and freshness to offset more tropical mid-palate fruitiness. Quite grippy in the finish, some fruit skin firmness to round things off.
(2022) From one of New Zealand's best Chardonnay terroirs, Nelson at the northern tip of the South Island. This consists of fruit from Mendoza and UCD15 clones planted on clay and river stone soils, giving intense, concentrated bunches. Fermentation with wild yeasts and high turbidity is in French oak barriques (14% new) with 10 months maturation on the lees. The wine went through malolactic fermentaion spontaneously. A bit of depth to the colour and loads of flinty character, smoky and intensely perfumed by its complex sulphides. Nutty Cox's pippin apples come through, and on the palate it is searing with both ripe, deliciously juicy fruit and salt-licked lemon acidity. The axis of toastines, sweet fruit and saline acid structure makes for a very powerful rendition of Chardonnay.
(2022) One of the best-known biodynamic certified estates in New Zealand, Felton Road's Calvert vineyard bottling comes from heavy silt soils. 25% of the blend was whole-bunch fermented, and the wine spent 16 months in barrel (30% new French oak). There is a certain wild, untamed nature to this wine, the nose lifted with wild berries and garrigue, but a sense of woodland and mushroom too. There's something firm in the aromatic picture - something vegetal perhaps, in the beetroot spectrum. On the palate much more straighforward in a way, with plenty of red and black berry fruits, firm at the core, with sweet and ripe tannins and acidity to balance. Oak is discreet, in a wine that has some genuine plushness, but always a bit of wiry but polished gravitas too.
(2022) Stonecroft boasts the oldest Syrah vines in New Zealand, planted by Dr. Alan Limmer in 1984. This flagship wine contains fruit from these vines and is a selection of the best French oak barriques, in which the wine matured for 20 months (40% new). Only 110 cases were produced. This shows little sign of the five years it has under its belt, the colour bold and deep, and the aromas surging from the glass, of thick, blue-black fruit, cedary spices, tobacco and leather. Amongst all of that there is a higher, kirsch-like bright note too. In the mouth there's plenty of toasty, chocolate-deep oak wrapped around the black fruit, but there is an elegance too, a fresh and tart plum skin bittersweetness, fine acid balance and a long, harmonious finish that's all about the intensity of the fruit. Very impressive, though no UK retail listing at time of review.