Unsung heroes: Millton Vineyards, New Zealand

gisborne map Gisborne on New Zealand’s North Island is certainly not one of the country’s most famous wine regions. Situated on the east coast 200 kilometres north of Hawke’s Bay, it is in fact the third largest wine grape producing region in New Zealand, though enjoying little of the attention reserved for Marlborough or Central Otago to the south. Its main claim to fame has been Chardonnay historically, though, somewhat unexpectedly for those brought up on a diet of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir, so is Gewurztraminer.

Climatically Gisborne enjoys moderate rainfall and similar heat summation to regions like Burgundy and the Adelaide Hills. The story goes that missionaries thought they had arrived in Hawke’s Bay and began to make a life here, including planting vineyards. By the time they realised their mistake, a fledgling wine industry had been born. It was in the 1920s that commercial grape growing and small scale winemaking took off, and by the 1960s the area had become one of the powerhouses of grape production.

It was in the 1980s that Millton vineyard was established by James Millton. He and his wife Annie returned to Gisborne having gained experience in Europe, including periods spent at Champagne Bollinger, Maison Sichel in Bordeaux and Weingut Kurstner in Rheinhessen. By 1983 they had researched and replanted major parts of the family grape growing business, before establishing the winemaking facility in 1984.

Today Millton is revered as one of the country’s finest producers, particularly for Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, and as one of the most terroir-driven. From the outset the vineyards have been farmed organically, and using biodynamic techniques, and today are certified as both organic and biodynamic. Wines are fermented with natural yeasts and rarely is acidity adjusted.

James Millton says “We do not make the glam wines that shine with bling,” referring I suspect to some show-winning wines that can be pumped up with extraction, ripeness, oak and alcohol, and indeed Millton’s wines always seem the model of balance between restrained, savoury freshness and very good fruit ripeness. Millton’s wines have impressed me again and again in both sighted and blind tastings, as honest, fresh and deliciously drinkable wines with great finesse too.

The wines

This selection of wines was shown by Millton’s importer, Vintage Roots, at a recent portfolio tasting and featured four of the ‘entry level’ wines in the Millton range priced at £12.99. I have tasted the top, single vineyard Pinots and Chardonnay from Millton in the past and they are superb wines, but I have to say at their moderate prices all four of these were hugely enjoyable.

See all Millton Vineyards wines on wine-searcher.

Millton Vineyards, Te Arai Chenin Blanc 2010, New Zealand
Just 12.5% ABV here, Hint of wax and wool, lots of dry, crunchy apple fruit, lemon at the core. On the palate fabulous juiciness and freshness. Dry and pithy, with tight fruit and gorgeous definition. What a lovely, crisp Chenin this is, feeling as if it will have ageing potential, with that great, lemony thrust on the finish. 89/100. £12.99

Millton Vineyards, Opou Chardonnay 2010, New Zealand
Fermented in oak barrels with natural yeasts, but only around 12% of the barrels are new. It has a lovely Brazil nut aroma and fine creamy character and plenty of vibrant, punchy orange and lime. Delicious wine, such gorgeous vibrancy punching through the oak, pristine, singing and vivacious and model stuff. 92/100. £12.99

Millton Vineyards, Riverpoint Gewurztraminer 2010, New Zealand
Terrific, classic Gewurz nose, with lychee and Nivea cream and lots of herbal notes coming through in a gentle leafiness. Full and weighty, though basically bone dry, the luscious or sweet character suggested by those aromatics not quite the reality on the palate with its lovely racy fruit and great core of acidity. Delicious, tangy, moreish stuff. 90/100. £12.99

Millton Vineyards, La Cote Pinot Noir 2011, New Zealand
Just 12.5% ABV suggesting quite early picking perhaps, the wine made in oak casks and fermented with wild yeast. A hint of nutmeg and dry cranberry to a little gentle earthiness, with a smooth and delicious palate showing lots of balanced, light, racy crunch and gently dry fruit and tannin. Full of flavour and delicious balance, though better in a couple of years. 89-90/100. £12.99

See all Millton Vineyards wines on wine-searcher.

Millton Vineyards Vineyard
119 Papatu Road
CMB 66 Manutuke
Gisborne 4053
+64 6 862 8680

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