(The original version, with more photos, is here.)
The road pointlessly taken
According to my at-hand references, only three wineries in the entire Clyde/Alexandra area are open for drop-in tasting. Having just left the best-known of the triad, full of unresolved gewürztraminer must and wacky theories about Otago cabernet, I leave the eroding forests of rock formations behind and travel a long, straight dirt road across a flat plain to number two: William Hill.
Make that two wineries open for drop-in tasting, for William Hill is – despite its quite clear exterior signage to the contrary – closed to visitors. There’s even a short bus full of disappointed wine tourists pulling out of the driveway as I arrive, and only the shouts of a vineyard worker alert me to the fact that the locked and darkened tasting room is not that way by accident. He has no explanation to offer, either, aside from a bewildered shrug. I return his shrug in kind, and move on.
Woodless and fancy free
Springvale Estate (Dunstan Rd., Alexandra), just a short distance away, is most definitely open, and the expansive tasting room is surrounded by gardens and tables currently undergoing a pre-lunch setup. I arrive just early enough to get the attention I need before lunching tourists (and, by appearances, quite a few locals) arrive in force, because the staff is unquestionably spread a bit thin once that occurs. Nonetheless, my welcome is friendly, and I’m offered a table and an organized flight of wines to study at my leisure, rather than fighting the growing crowds at the tasting bar/lunch counter.
Springvale Estate 2001 “Unoaked” Chardonnay (Central Otago) – Strong apricot – and perhaps very slightly botrytized? – aromas with white plum and peach. There’s a nice core of fruit here, and while the wine is perhaps a touch sweet, it’s got good structure, length and balance. Pretty and fun…and, it turns out, the best wine I’ll taste.
Springvale Estate 2001 “Oaked” Chardonnay (Central Otago) – A touch of charred lemon and apple shrinks from intrusive oak on the nose. The effect of the wood on the palate, however, is tactile rather than organoleptic, as it flattens out the spectrum, hides the spiced (and dried) orange fruit, and abrades the finish to something tannic and dull. It’s long, but things are neither as integrated nor as pleasant as they should be, and the oak ultimately damages the wine more than it adds to its complexity.
Springvale Estate 2003 Sauvignon Blanc (Central Otago) – A shy nose, with green pepper and grass on the palate, and a tart, green finish: all the unwelcome signs of underripe sauvignon. I’ve said it before and I’ll likely say it again: Otago sauvignon may not be the best idea…which is not to say that it can’t be done well (as, for instance, at Carrick), only that the chances seem slimmer than normal. Not everyone in New Zealand is honor-bound to produce sauvignon blanc, a fact that sometimes seems to be lost on certain bottom line-focused wineries.
Springvale Estate 2003 Gewürztraminer (Central Otago) – Light rose petal, lychee skin, dried apricot pit and almond form an enticing nose that falls completely away on the palate and that provide absolutely no finish whatsoever. Initially pleasant, but ultimately disappointing.
Springvale Estate 2002 Pinot Noir (Central Otago) – Gentle plum and baked strawberry turn quickly bizarre, with bark, green olive sourness, and a sandy texture. This wine is light to the point of being watery, both insubstantial and insufficiently aromatic, and is shot through with a nasty green streak. No good.
Springvale Estate 2001 Pinot Noir (Central Otago) – Dirty plum, raspberry, rotten strawberry and more of that green olive note, with tarry tannins and a syrupy texture that adds to an impression that the remaining fruit in this wine is starting to turn to liqueur. This is “better” than the 2002 only in the academic sense, and I’d avoid either version.
Like Mt. Difficulty, this is a cooperative venture between vineyard owners. But to an even greater extent than that Bannockburn winery, it seems that grape quality is an issue…which makes me wonder how an equal partnership between otherwise competing growers can effectively encourage viticultural improvements. It’s not as if the threat to turn to other grape sources would be an effective one. Also of concern, or at least questionable: the age of these wines. Tasted in March of 2005, only the sauvignon and gewürztraminer are of what other wineries would call the current vintage, and it’s not as if the remaining products are Fromm-like and in need of extra aging to shed their youthful ferocity. One wonders about the reasons for this delayed presentation, because it certainly doesn’t appear to benefit the wines.
Ultimately, Springvale Estate is a pleasant place to visit and lunch (though I can’t vouch for the food, which I do not try), and their unoaked chardonnay would appear to have the qualities necessary for a nice picnic wine, but there’s a lot of work to do here…mostly in the vineyard, but perhaps also in the cellar.
Driving the friendly skies
The drive back to Cromwell, and then towards Queenstown, is done during some sort of midday lull, and as traffic is virtually nonexistent, I speed homeward at an unforeseen pace. Thus, I’ve got a little extra time before I’m scheduled to meet Theresa, so I endeavor to sneak in a little bonus tasting back in the Gibbston Valley. A tasting where I am, quite literally, taken under someone’s wing.
Disclosure: tasting fee is waived.