Wine Tastings & Tours

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Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Pioneers in New Zealand's Smallest Region

The Wine Anarchist is back on the road again, this time exploring the wines of New Zealand.  You will hear more in the next couple of weeks about his exploits.  He started not at one of the big famous wine regions, such as Marlborough or Hawke's Bay but a relative newcomer to the scene, the small region of Matakana, about an hour's drive north of Auckland on the north of the North Island.

The Matakana wine region is the smallest wine region in New Zealand with a mere 80 ha planted by some 25 boutique vineyards, not all of which have their own winery.  It is located around the lovely little town of Matakana, which is a bit of a weekend retreat for Aucklanders with its pretty landscapes, Farmers Market and quirky restaurants and pubs.

The climate is temperate with mild winters and warm, but not overly hot summers tempered by the Ocean.  The soils of the region are challenging, with heavy clays dominating.  One of the first producers of the region was Providence, which was run by two Croatian Brothers.  However some family feud meant they split their properties, one leaving winemaking altogether and the other setting up a new venture, still making good wines to this day.  As a young man Toby Gillman worked on the Providence vineyards and it awakened in him the dream of starting his own vineyard.  He spent another year at Ch. Angelus in St.Emilion to hone his skills, where he became know as the Spy, because of all the notes and pictures he was taking.

In 1989 he planted his first vines and Gillman Estate was born.  Toby went for old world methods, training the vines very low, and he went for Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Malbec as his grape varieties, to produce a Pomerol-style wine.  The vineyard is tiny, only about a hectare under vine on a north-facing slope, but they have already managed to get an international reputation, being represented in the best restaurants in New Zealand and the largest export market being Hong Kong.  Yields are being kept low, so average production is only about 200 cases a year, in some years only about 100.  Bottles are individually numbered.

The vines are trained low in the French style.  According to Toby they pick up reflective heat off the soil, which means they ripen a week or two earlier than they otherwise would.  Given the danger of botrytis and and powdery mildew late in the season in this humid climate, that appears a good thing.  However, he says his best vintages are the ones when he just about manages to ripen the grapes.  That's when you get the best complexity balance of tannins and fruit.

The wine is fermented and aged on site in what is officially New Zealand's smallest winery.  There is a basket press, but Toby's children are happy to 'pre-trample' his grapes.  Fermentation happens initially in a large tank, where the skins are pushed back down by hand every 4 hours for 21 days.  After that the must is transferred to new oak barrique to finish off their fermentation, undergo the malo-lactic and mature for 2 years.

As you can imagine, there is only one style of wine made from such a small property, however, there are small quantities made of a style they call Clairette, which is the name for rosé wines made in the Bordeaux region.  This quite different from any rosé you may have ever tasted though.  It is made from the same grapes as the red, except that skin maceration is only 24 hours instead of 21 days and oak ageing is only 1 year instead of 2.  Toby makes this style, because his Dad quite liked a rosé, whilst Toby didn't.  So he ignored all the advice he was given by well meaning friends and kind of made an in-between thing between a red and rosé.

Here are the Wine Anarchists notes on the 2 wines he got to taste whilst visiting Toby and his lovely family:

2009 Clairette: Orangey to garnet in colour; the nose displays hints of marzipan with some distinct nutty, wild strawberry characters; the palate is very dry with strawberry jam flavours and a nice, long and spicy finish.  This is close in style to a traditional Rioja rosé such as Marqués de Murrieta with some deliberate oxidative notes, it would do well with some tapas involving nuts and olives.  Delicious and unusual.

2009 Red:  75% Cabernet Franc with the rest Merlot and a dash of Malbec.  The colour is deep ruby with just a slightly paling rim; the bouquet brings out smoky characters of tobacco and herbs underpinned with some lovely ripe fruit-of-the-forest juiciness; the palate is defined by firm, but ripe tannins, notes of liquorice and more ripe dark berry flavours, finishing long and satisfying.  This is a wine that will continue to evolve for some years.

A great example of what this young wine region is capable of, and the Wine Anarchist islooking forward to seeing more exciting wines coming from this area.  If you want to get hold of some of these goodies it would be easiest to contact the estate direct at:

+64 21 037 3445

and check out their website on

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