A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of helping judge the Colin Harrison Memorial Trophy for Nelson’s top chardonnay, however, rather than selecting an outright winner as we have in previous years, we selected our top three wines from those entered and took those along to the recent Nelson Tasman Chamber of Commerce Aspire Conference and asked attendees to select the wine they liked the most.
Not every winery entered a wine in the competition and the wines entered were from three different vintages (2014,2015 and 2016), however the three wines chosen by the judges were a great representation of the outstanding quality of Chardonnay being produced in the Nelson region.
Attendees at Aspire didn’t need to be wine experts, just wine consumers, we wanted to find out which wine they thought tasted best. This was a bit of a risk for Wine Nelson, the danger was, would consumers vote for a good quality wine with easy drinkability or would they go for a wine that was well made, beautifully balanced and showed the skill of the winemaker.
The results were reasonably even with a spread of votes across all three wines however there was a definite preference for one wine and last week the trophy was presented to Rimu Grove for their 2016 Nelson Chardonnay at the annual Wine Nelson winemaker’s dinner. And this is the wine the judges picked as their top wine of the three finalists too so the risk paid off for Wine Nelson.
The awards dinner was held at Harbour Lights Bistro where chef Steve Coyne and his staff developed a special menu to celebrate the event, four courses of stunning food paired with seven wines.
The Rimu Grove 2016 Chardonnay was paired with poached groper, smoked potato puree, a sous vide egg and wood sorrel. As each course was served with two wines the Rimu Grove Chardonnay was served alongside a Chateaux de Puligny Montrachet Meurault 1er Cru Porusots 2012, a wine that retails for more than $100.
Everyone at our table preferred the Rimu Grove both as a wine and with the food so it just goes to show Nelson wine producers make wine that can hold its head high with the rest of the world.
I asked Meg Matthews, the marketing manager for Wine Nelson why Nelson wine is so good. She told me there are many factors “but the true secret difference for this region is family.
“The vast majority of the Nelson wineries are locally & family owned and some are multi-generational producers.
“Pioneers such as Hermann Seifried (Seifried Estate), Tim Finn (Neudorf Vineyards), Gary Neal (Brightwater Vineyards) & Andrew Greenhough (Greenhough Vineyards) continue to earn international accolades for their wines. With over 130 years of experience between them, they provide stewardship and collaborative leadership across the region, exchanging ideas and sharing knowledge.
“The size of our producers allows them to be nimble, to make gutsy calls when mother nature plays it tough. It’s not competitive; they share knowledge and encourage excellence. And that excellence gets bottled.”
It goes without saying you need the right conditions to grow great grapes and the high sunshine hours in Nelson, especially in January, February and March when it is most needed to ripen wine grapes is vital but the soil conditions also play a huge part.
“The gravel threaded clay soils of the Moutere Hills are renowned for producing wines of richness and texture. And the stony soils of the Waimea Plains provide a great terroir for aromatic whites” says Matthews.
How do you quantify the quality of wines in the region? “Although small in terms of New Zealand’s volume of grapes produced (2%), Nelson produces some of NZ’s most inspired wines. The list of awards for Nelson wines is extensive.
“In 2015 Neudorf Moutere Chardonnay 2014 received the first ever perfect score (100/100) given out by Bob Campbell MW.
“In 2016 British Master of Wine, Jasper Morris MW, an expert on the wine of Burgundy, named two Nelson Pinot Noir wines as the best two Pinot Noir in New Zealand (Greenhough and Neudorf as first and second best respectively).
“New Zealand’s most awarded dessert wine is Seifried Sweet Agnes Riesling. Wine producers in Central Otago are acclaimed for their great Pinot Noir. Marlborough with Sauvignon Blanc. Gisborne with Chardonnay. Nelson with….all of them?
“For many, Nelson may not be where you expect to find some of New Zealand’s most inspired wines; the first ever perfect score Chardonnay, New Zealand’s top two Pinot Noir and the most awarded Riesling in New Zealand. But spend some visiting Nelson wineries, meet the family of producers and you’ll start to understand why.”
Back to the Colin Harrison Trophy winning wine, I asked Patrick Stowe, owner and winemaker at Rimu Grove, what made this wine so special.
Without hesitation, he said “the vineyard manager, Luke Sivak, he is outstanding and he works so hard all year to make sure we get great fruit to play with in the winery and then all I have to do is not stuff it up” he says with his trademark grin.
The vineyard location and soil type helps a lot too, “I just love the characters we get from the vineyard, especially the textural components we end up with in the finished wine”, the vineyard is on the coastal inlet near Mapua with an north facing aspect that slopes down to the coast, “this means we make the most of the wonderful Nelson sunshine, have very few frosts and when it does rain the water flows down the hill away from the vines but the clay and gravel Moutere Clay soils also retain moisture deep below the surface so we don’t need to irrigate and the vines don’t really struggle too much in the summer heat.”
Stowe says he is also certain vine age has a huge part to play, “the vines were planted in 1996 so we are working with 21 year old vines and I think that has a lot to do with the flavours and structural components we are seeing in our Chardonnay, and other wines, now.
When it come to the winemaking Stowe lets his Chardonnay go through a full secondary malolactic fermentation and “the oak we use has a huge impact on the finished product, of the nine barrels of this wine we made four were brand new French oak barrels, using high quality barrels means the oak integrates nicely into the wine.”
For me it is all of these things added together that made the 2016 Rimu Grove Nelson Chardonnay award worthy, it is packed with delicious fruit flavours, is beautifully balanced and just a damn fine glass of wine to drink.
As a final note, Pat Stowe has now won this trophy three times, proving he makes consistently high quality wines for you and me to enjoy.