The annual Air New Zealand Wine Awards dinner was held in Nelson a couple of weeks ago and it was an absolute triumph for all concerned but especially for Nelson wineries.
While there are a number of wine competitions in New Zealand these awards are recognised as the pinnacle awards in this country. Organised by the New Zealand Wine Growers organisation, sponsored by Air New Zealand for the 29th consecutive year and with about 1400 wines entered this year they really are a big deal for the industry.
For anyone who has been to a sporting event at the Saxton Stadium it is difficult to imagine the venue being converted in a classy dining room for 630 people all dressed in black tie finery and with magnificent audio visual effects. The organisers and decorators performed nothing short of a miracle, guests entered through a native forest-like tunnel to a huge dining room packed with decorated tables laden with fine glassware and everything else needed for a premiere awards ceremony. None of this could have been achieved without the significant support of Air New Zealand.
Producing five courses of fine food for 630 people was no easy task and Petite Fleur did a good job delivering a menu created by Air New Zealand consultant chef, Peter Gordon.
But it was the wines of New Zealand that were the true focus of the night and Nelson wines were the shining stars. While I may not have agreed with some of the trophy winning wines there was no doubt among those in attendance that the three trophies awarded to wines form this region were richly deserved.
Before I talk about the wines let’s put Nelson’s results into perspective; Nelson produces less than four percent of the country’s wines yet the three trophies represented almost 18 percent of the varietal trophies awarded on the night and most importantly they were for a range of varieties. This is a very big deal for Nelson wines, the best the region has done before is one trophy at a time at this competition, three ensures the rest of the country sits up and starts taking Nelson wine very seriously.
Waimea Estates won the Port Nelson Limited Trophy for Champion Other White Styles, a trophy designed for lesser known or less popular wine varieties. Albarino is a variety that is reasonably new to this country and is a variety that I think doesn’t start to show its true characters for a few years, now that Waimea have been producing it for about five years the 2015 example (RRP $ 29.99) they won a trophy for is exhibiting some lovely citrus and stone fruit characters with a beautiful palate weight and fine-textured acidity.
Seifried Estate have won gold medals, trophies and best sweet wine in the world with many vintages of their Winemaker’s Collection Sweet Agnes Riesling (RRP $26) but have never been awarded an Air New Zealand trophy for the wine, they now have one tucked safely in their trophy cabinet. The winemakers at Seifried’s put a huge amount of effort into making this wine, the grapes are harvested when they are very ripe, the grapes are frozen and then pressed in their frozen state. This means only the sweetest juice is squeezed from the fruit with any frozen water remaining in the press. The wine is rich, succulent, packed with lemon and mandarin characters and the intense sweetness is exquisitely balanced with a touch of juicy acidity which means the wine avoids seeming too sweet. This is one of the very best dessert style wines, not just from New Zealand but also from around the world.
Brightwater Vineyards have won many gold medals and trophies over the years, including a Best Wine in Show trophy for their 2009 Lord Rutherford Chardonnay however the latest trophy is one to be truly proud of. The Air New Zealand Wine Awards JF Hillebrand New Zealand Champion Pinot Noir trophy is arguably the most sought after varietal trophy awarded at any competition in New Zealand. Making the perfect Pinot Noir is often referred to as a winemaker’s Holy Grail and the Brightwater Vineyards win in this category is richly deserved.
I was lucky enough to taste the raw juice the wine was made from just after it was harvested and remember telling winemaker Tony Southgate that I thought the vineyard team had delivered exceptional fruit to the winery so he had a responsibility to not stuff up the winemaking, he didn’t!
The Brightwater 2014 Pinot Noir is simply packed with wonderful ripe fruit flavours of black cherries, soft dried herbs and earthy savoury characters. A richly textured and complex wine that now has four gold medals and a very special trophy.
Finally while owners and winemakers get plenty of recognition at times like this let’s not forget the hard working vineyard staff who have to deal with everything mother nature throws at them to ensure they can deliver great quality grapes to the winery, in fact if the fruit is outstanding the winemaker has a pretty easy job so here’s to Ben Bolitho at Waimea Estates, Hermann Seifreid at Seifried Estates, Dale Stringer at Brightwater Vineyards and their teams who did just that so Nelson Wineries could achieve the unbelievable and bring home three trophies from New Zealand’s most prestigious wine awards.