Apologies for the late reporting, we have been a bit like the swallows flying ‘South’, so busy travelling, no time for stopping and thus no time to write up events. We have now reached Picton and have a three hour crossing, time to hunker down and get the last week on the ether!

Our first encounter having flown in to Dunedin from Auckland on Monday was with old friend Hayden Johnston who met us at the Airport took us into town. A cold front had just blown through straight from Antarctica, it seems however that the climate is not unlike UK in that you can get all the seasons in one day, so we moved from chilling cold to warm sun in about half an hour! Hayden commented on it as well saying that up in Cromwell the previous week they had a snow storm that left snow half way down the Pisa Range on the opposite side of Lake Dunstan to his Bendigo Vineyards. The plan was to meet up at the trendy No7 Balmac Restaurant on Maori Hill to do a tasting and use the extensive Menu to match the wine over Dinner.

Hayden has two strings to his current bow, his own vineyards in Bendigo and very good connections in Marlborough which is the source for a lot of his white wines. Later in the week we saw the lands he has in Alexandra where he is planning to add to his existing orchards and plant exciting new vineyards. As regards winemaking he works closely with Antony Worch a French born oenologist who cannot resist the lure of New Zealand in general and Central Otago in particular.

A bit of background to Hayden and his vineyards. His 4TH Great Grandfather was Capt. James Joss who settled and bought land from Chief Tuhawaiki on what is now known as Joss Cove on Stewart Island, just about as far South as he could get without settling on Antarctica! A controversial character even for those ‘Wild West’ or should I say ‘Wild South’ times, he married the daughter of Chief Tuhawaiki the Princess Kuru­-Kuru and as far as we know lived happily ever afterwards. I tell you all this to give some background and explain the unusual names that follow as we progress through the tasting. In fact the labels of Kuru-Kuru show her ‘tā moko’, the mark carved on her chin, signalling her respected position in Maori society.

But I am getting ahead of myself, back to No7 Balmac and the first tasting!

Having settled on the ‘Starter Platter’, a melange of many of the house specialities, as a suitable vehicle to accompany the first flight of wines, we hit the first offerings!

The first four wines are all 2014 and so very young, in fact the first two had only been in bottle less than a week and the other two barely four weeks! Who said cradle-snatchers!!!

Kuru-Kuru Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough 2014: – Awatere fruit, s/steel fermented, blended from five blocks by Hayden and awarded FOUR STARS by Raymond Chan. Aromas are very ‘crushed leaf’ herbaceous with clean fruit notes. The palate is zingy with sherbet* notes; clean, its young acidity is not aggressive but has a smooth feel, overall impression, elegant intense, a bit racy and delicious!Kuru Kuru

Joss Bay Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough 2014: – Same source of fruit as the Kuru above but this time matured in 2nd and 3rd use oak for 8mths and only 600 x 6 produced. The aromas much less apparent than the Kuru, more subtle and really developed as the wine warmed in the glass, still not an oak blast but a background complexity which applies both to aromas and palate. The latter has a bigger mouthfeel more texture and a concentration of flavours.The Kuru S/B sat well with the fennel salad and the latter with the sweeter beetroot salad.

Kuru-Kuru Central Otago Pinot Gris 2014: Created in Alexandra from fruit grown in the vineyards there. We visited the winery that Hayden has an interest in later to taste the components of the 2014 Canyon Pinot Noir. This has been voted best Pinot Gris by Cuisine Magazine – a very influential NZ publication – so much so that just before the release day of the magazine Hayden received 22 separate orders for the wine and is almost sold out! Again a wine that needs time in the glass for the aromas to develop from very humble beginnings to beautiful fine rose petal water, minerally, and complex. The palate will be slightly austere for some PG drinkers but for me it was perfect, real minerality, German style, a dry finish but with soft acidity and no mouth puckering astringency.

The PG sat very well with the South Island Smoked Salmon which in itself was delicious!

Starter finished we each chose a different main course to test the best match for the reds, Brian with Lamb Fillet, Hayden, South Island Venison and yours truly a Confit of Duck (surprise, surprise !!).

Joss Bay Central Otago Pinot Noir 2014: Young in every sense of the words, both in bottle age and created from Hayden’s youngest vines. Aimed at being drunk young and fresh, its shows it extreme youth in its very violet colour. Bright fresh cherry aromas and just a hint of confection, very reminiscent of a good Beaujolais Nouveau, but here I hasten to add like a good BN, both tannins and acidity are soft and not at all aggressive! This is great hot weather, summer drinking but did not sit at all well with any of the dishes, although at a push the best match was my Confit.

We now moved on the first of the deeper reds:

Kuru-Kuru Central Otago Pinot Noir 2013: Personally blended by Hayden from three Central Otago regions, 60% Alexandra, 18% Cromwell and 22% his own Bendigo Vineyard. First impression is its unusually deep colour largely given by the Cromwell component Hayden assures us, we are just learning our first lesson in how complex this buying and blending process in Otago can be! The aromas are just as impressive with intense dark cherry and subtle raspberry notes up front and the spicy of oak and tannins behind, all leading to a rich and intense fruit palate that shows a balancing acidity and a definite but not too hard tannic feel on the teeth. I suspect this will age quite well.

We were now treated to two very short supply stunners!

Tarras ‘The Canyon’ Central Otago: Created from Pinot Noir made from the Bendigo Vineyard owned and created by Hayden. Only made in the best years from selected barrels of the three clones of P/N grown by him in the valley above Loop Rd, Bendigo, the first year was 2007 of which there are only halves and Magnums left, the former of which he showed at the recent Pinot Noir Conference in Cromwell and even in half bottles it is drinking so freshly that 90% of the very expert tasters there assessed it as much younger. He very kindly let us have 12 halves which will be going into the cellar on the Coromandel! The second year was 2009 which we have sold in UK for two years, stunning wine that pipped a very famous Vosne Romanee (no names no pack drill) to take the ‘Decanter Asia, Best Pinot Noir’ last year! The third year was 2013, see below, and finally he has such good feel on the 2014 individual block barrels that he is very confident that there will be a 2014 ‘The Canyon’! We got to taste those components later in the winery in Alexandra.

Tarras ‘The Canyon’ Central Otago 2009: This is an old friend after all that we have seen and sold in UK. It was clear to us when Tarras Canyon Half Labelwe first tasted it that the wine was exceptional so it came as no surprise when it started winning more prizes than you can shake a stick at, culminating in the Decanter Best of Variety. Deep colour, it takes surprisingly little time to develop after opening but then has so much staying power that it will happily sit in the glass for two hours! The aromas are instant, rich, full notes of dark cherry and black berry fruits, now beautifully integrated with the abundant spice and pepper from the new oak elements. Still available at Amathus Shoreditch!

Tarras ‘The Canyon’ Central Otago 2007: As noted above the initial aromas are fresh and clean and very deceptive as to age of the wine. It was really interesting to taste the two early vintages together. The colour is a touch hazy with light golden meniscus, the only give away to its age is the little hint of ‘beeswax’ that is creeping in layered over the ripe ‘farmyard’ tones and the vibrant fruit this has integrated beautifully and is just a joy to drink. Hayden only has his library stock left in 70cl bottle and was kind enough to share one with us. The palate retains its acidity and freshness as well as quite firm tannins that are apparent on the back of the teeth. We look forward to sampling some of the halves when we celebrate Mum’s 89th Birthday the weekend after next, with a carefully selected few! What should be remembered is that this was from very young fruit which, with each vintage, especially this early, is just going to get better and better.

Alexandra and Cromwell Visit with Hayden: My last comment regarding the 2007 was firmly in our minds when we met Hayden two days later in Alexandra at the winery he has created together with Antony who regrettably is in Europe so we did not get to meet him. We were in Alexandra for two reasons; to look at Hayden’s land and partly to taste the cask samples (as yet unblended) of the very promising 2014 Bendigo Pinot Noir that may well be blended into the fourth vintage of ‘The Canyon’.

The land is in stunning setting (see picture); flat area for fruit cultivation and some steeper slopes facing North West which will be perfect for vineyards, and its crowning glory a large rock with a hole in it, what a perfect branding opportunity! The summit looks right across Earnscleugh Valley between Alexandra and Clyde and over towards Alexandra in whose wine region it would fall, what a place to create a future winery and home!

On to the winery and the tasting of some Dijon clone, cask samples, a 777, a 115.5 and a 667, all 2014 vintage and all a real lesson in the P1030253complexity of blending, not only is there the difference the soil in each block can make but also the clonal difference and the origin of each of the barrels (French oak) in which the wine is maturing.

115.5 Clone Sample 1: This is a very long standing clone used right back at the first plantings it ripens early, produces high yields, should have medium colour, more complex flavours, dark fruit with cherry, plum, blackberry notes, intense, fine, rounded tannin structure; full-bodied. This example showed bright, light, clear violet/purple colour tones, the new oak really was up front on the aromas, on the palate the fruit is already standing up for itself and not overwhelmed with the oak. The tannins are not as hard as we expected and the fruit has a slightly sweet note.

667 Clone Sample 1: This clone should show beautiful rich colour, have an elegant bouquet and firm tannic structure to assist with longevity of cellaring. This was in a 1yr old used barrel which Hayden pointed out was one with very tight grain, the wine had nowhere near as much oak on the aromas, a really deep colour and a softer darker feel to the fruit; the tannins felt much harder on the back palate and finish.

777 Clone Sample 1: This was from a completel y neutral barrel (more than 3yrs old) intended to create added texture in the wine without oak flavours and tannins being imparted. The clone itself should bring strong intense colours, powerful aromas, balance and round tannins. We found this example fulfilled its colour requirement very well, a bit light on aromas but with lots of sweeter fruit tones on the palate.

777 Clone Sample 2: This was from a younger but not new barrel and was more typical with much more open aromas, again deep colour and again sweet fruit, it was noticeably different to sample 1!

777 Clone Sample 3: All of the above were ‘free run’ juice so we then looked at one that had been filled from the ‘pressed’ fruit. We expected this to be much more tannic but in fact the only place that it showed through was on the top back palate, and it was really bright on the nose.

After its 10mth in barrel, Hayden is convinced that this will make a really ‘superb’ vintage of ‘The Canyon’ and has March 19th in his diary to do the blending with Antony, watch this space.

P1030269   Our final visit with Hayden was up into Bendigo to the vineyard that ‘The Canyon comes from, and what better place to taste the 2013 Canyon than where it came from! Taking a suitable supply of glasses and 2013 we set off in his 4×4 complete with mountain bikes, literally up hill and down dale over the Bendigo dirt tracks to see this very fine vineyard. High above the Lake Dunstan plain, on a ridge behind a ridge, lies this beautifully protected dip in the land. It has loess topsoil blown into the dip after the rocky valley base had been formed. This partly accounts for the wonderful intensity of the fruit. The top vineyard of the three, see picture left, is planted with the 777 clone we had just tasted at the winery.P1030272

There is no doubt that Hayden makes very good and even great wines, so although the ‘Canyon ‘ is available through Charles Mitchell in Manchester or Amathus in London and the Kuru-Kuru via Oddbin’s we would like to see a bigger range in UK for our delectation!

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  1. John Whitehead says:

    Much more interesting with the travelogue intro to set the scene.

    Think Elizabeth David!

    Keep it up guys.

    John & Doug