How dry is my gully
Working it out at Mt. Difficulty
by Thor Iverson
Perhaps this is why one’s first view of Mt. Difficulty is so jarring. Windswept dust gales across rocky buttes and steppes, looking for all the world like something out of the Old West (and this is, among other things, gold country)…but there’s vines in them thar’ valleys. The partners behind this concern – local grape growers owning and operating a sort of high-end cooperative – probably should have constructed their tasting room out of adobe. Instead, the existing structure is a window-filled white apostrophe on the crest of a hill, encompassing a café and some outdoor tables…though today’s breeze is a little extreme for al fresco noshing.
It’s not yet lunchtime when we arrive, so the room is empty except for a few employees making last-minute preparations. There’s also not a whole lot of wine on offer – much is, apparently, sold out – but we taste what we can. (Later in the year, I’ll hear an amusing story about a couple attempting to corner the market on one of the winery’s flagship pinots; a gesture neither the storyteller nor I can quite understand).
Mt. Difficulty 2004 Sauvignon Blanc (Central Otago) – I am not, at least so far, an advocate of Central Otago sauvignon blanc. From an objective point of view, it seems pointless to introduce yet another sauvignon into a country littered with them, especially when one might fight an endlessly uphill battle against the superior name recognition of Marlborough. The price comparison isn’t too healthy, either. Organoleptically, there’s been little to convince me otherwise; I don’t know that one can’t properly ripen sauvignon in these climes, but certainly the evidence supporting the effort has been exceedingly thin on the ground. This wine sorta proves my point: it shoots past spicy and zippy into the realm of capsicum, showing chile and black pepper on the nose, palate and finish. There’s a bit of dry crispness, but ultimately this is all about underripeness and harsh pyrazines. It’s “interesting” from a certain point of view, but wouldn’t be much fun to drink. Maybe with salsa.
Mt. Difficulty 2004 Riesling Target Gully (Central Otago) – From a true gully vineyard closer to Felton Road than to our current position, this a sugar/acidity balancing act at 25 g/L residual sugar. It is quite sweet, though with ripe apple, lemon and a blend of steel and slate adding their complexities to the midpalate. It dries a bit (and shortens) on the finish, and while it’s quite fun, there’s a serious undercurrent to it that bodes well for the future. It’s not a great wine by any means, but it is a good one.
The woman manning the tasting room is a little on the lecturing side, though she seems wary and a bit chilly towards responsive questions. More enticing is the spittoon, which operates with a swirl of water identical to that in a dentist’s office. It’s very clever, and I briefly wonder why more wineries don’t make use of this nastiness-avoiding device.
Mt. Difficulty “Roaring Meg” 2002 Merlot (Central Otago) – I’m not entirely clear on the nomenclature here. A second label of some sort is the gist of it, I think…but as I’ve noted, the woman doing our pouring isn’t particularly responsive when moved off-script. In any case, the “Roaring Meg” name is ubiquitous in the region, variously referring to a “waterfall” (really more of a stretch of rapids) on the Kawarau River, a gold rush-era madam, and a popular Queenstown restaurant. In any case, take what I’ve written about sauvignon blanc in the Central Otago and repeat it here. Why is this a good idea? The wine itself is barely acceptable, showing chewy baked plum, brown sugar and drying tannin with a gummy pecan paste and peach stone finish. Boil it down, you’ve got a nice and not-too-sweet dessert topping.
Mt. Difficulty 2003 Pinot Noir (Central Otago) – A multi-vineyard blend, initially dominated by mercaptans but eventually presenting itself as strawberry, earthy walnut, and chunky black loam with some structure and more than a bit of youthful truculence. Long and interesting, but not for early drinking.
The wines here – at least, those that we’ve tasted – are fine, but could use more “oomph” across the range. Previous experiences with the upper-end pinots (though one presumes the Target Gully will now be hard to find) suggest that better work is possible, but even there Mt. Difficulty is a step behind its regional compatriots.
Tasting completed, we mount our horses and mosey on down the hillside. We reckon there’s vittles, yonder.
Copyright ©2005 Thor Iverson.