Fruit, wine, Antichrist
Old (and new) frontiers in agriculture
by Thor Iverson
There’s certainly industrial winemaking in New Zealand, but one doesn’t expect to find it in the smallholder-dominated Central Otago. Thankfully, the giant corrugated airline hangars at Central Otago Wine Company (“CowCo” to the locals), just down the street from Quartz Reef, hold not the worst excesses of mass-market vinification, but the very essence of small-estate winemaking. CowCo is a contract facility for wineries too small to have their own, and serves as both winemaker and stand-in tasting room for over a half-dozen producers.
It would be nice, then, if a few more of the available wines were on offer. I’m sure calling ahead would have arranged this, but our enthusiasm for tasting is flagging at the end of a long day doing just that (Theresa opts to sit this venue out in its entirety), and so I buzz through the four options as efficiently as possible.
Kawarau Estate 2003 Chardonnay “Reserve” (Central Otago) – An organic winery, working with Lowburn fruit. It’s wood-spicy, showing orange peel, clove and apricot with a short-ish finish. Fine in its idiom.
Central Otago Wine Cellar 2003 Pinot Noir (Central Otago) – Blended from four parcels (I fail to ask who owns them), showing lemongrass, red cherry, strawberry and the classic regional orange rind, with pretty good acidity. Fresh, fun and easy-drinking pinot.
Dry Gully 2003 Pinot Noir (Alexandra) – Powdery chalk, strawberry leaf, banana skin and chewy celery over a bed of gravel. The tannin’s slightly underripe, leaving the wine with a bitter aftertaste, and overall it’s depressingly light.
Two Paddocks 2003 Pinot Noir “First Paddock” (Gibbston) – A winery owned by actor Sam Neil, though it’s most definitely not just another vanity project. This (from the One Paddock vineyard, their oldest parcel) is a fine effort, with elegant strawberry, plum, raspberry, red cherry and orange with very slightly touchy tannin and a long, zingy finish. Tasty stuff. (The brief disconnect of tasting wine from a guy who played the Antichrist is a little jarring, but I get over it. Anyway, the winery’s web site is frequently hilarious, which helps ease the struggle.)
After a full day with glass to nose, the highs push out the lows and we remember a rather packed day with appreciation. Comprehensive thoughts on what we’ve tasted are still coalescing, and I resolve to put them to paper after I’ve visited the third – and most remote – sub-region of the Central Otago. What lingers is the feeling that, while the whites continue to lag, the reds are showing a real spark, and finally starting to justify the regional excitement in sufficiently convincing numbers. But at the moment, we’ve got something other than grapes on our minds.
For the Cromwell/Bannockburn area is only recently known for its wine. Historically, what excelled here was produce, especially fruit. Old-timers, in fact, rather bemoan the general loss of the region as a berry Mecca, and consider winemaking more than a bit arriviste. In any case, proof of this history towers into the Cromwell sky in multicolored majesty: a giant, rather lurid sculpture of fruit. We’ve got a bit of a fetish for the kitsch represented by such things – with pictures of us hanging from giant kiwifruit (and kiwis), garlic, apples and even wheels of Munster – so we can’t resist a brief photo stop.
From there, it’s into Cromwell itself to pick up some items for dinner, and then to its historic outskirts for a few minutes in “Old Cromwell,” which is a faithfully- (if somewhat cheesily-) restored frontier town from the gold rush days. We also hit a few fruit stands (today littered with busloads of Asian tourists, for reasons that aren’t particularly clear to either of us) on the way out of town, just to check out the selection, after which the wonderful desolation of the Cromwell-Queenstown road brings us home.
Amisfield “Lake Hayes” 2004 Riesling (Central Otago) – Green apple and yellow-green citrus, clean and crisp but simple.
For “dessert,” I pop open something acquired at Akarua, which makes me wish I’d spent more time tasting through their brewed lineup.
BannockBrew “Wild Spaniard” Black Lager (Central Otago) – Chocolate and hickory-smoked espresso. Incredibly intensity. This is an aptly-named pit of dark, brooding blackness, and I rather love it.
Tomorrow, we work off the excesses of today. And, along the way, embrace some new excesses at a strong contender for the world’s most beautiful vineyard.Disclosure: the beer is a gift.
Copyright ©2005 Thor Iverson.