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Mapua, missing

Is everyone tasting at Neudorf?

by Thor Iverson

[Mapua estuary]

Politically incorrect, but buoyant
Off the grid

New Zealand’s South Island is largely devoid of people. (Lots of sheep, though.) And its population is mostly clustered around a few cities: Christchurch, Dunedin, Invercargill…and can one even call Queenstown a city? Which means that even in the midst of “civilization,” solitude is a constant companion.

The Nelson region is deceiving in this regard, because it feels thickly-settled…especially along the coast. Yet the apparent density turns out to be relatively porous, quickly petering out in the agricultural valleys, forested hillsides, and mountains. Only the geographically limited confines of Nelson itself show any real concentration of people, and even then the only real effect is occasional difficulty finding a place to park.

It’s also true that wine country towns are usually little more than villages. In the New World, wine has such a cosmopolitan, urbane reputation that it’s too easy to forget that much of the best of it is made by farmers in the most traditional sense; farmers with a deeper connection to their land and their grapes than to the teeming hordes that buy their wines. Stylized “wine country” tourism is dismaying because it fools the wine drinker into a disconnect between wine’s source and its retail presentation, much like many city dwellers seem unaware that the plastic-wrapped rib chops on their table came from the fluffy lambs capering across a country hillside. That disconnection is what leads to the abuses of industrial agribusiness, and in the oenological world it pumps up the profits of mega-corporate wine conglomerates and their ubiquitous supermarket dreck.

Sorry. Where was I? Oh, yes: empty South Island. Wine country villages. And then there was a rant. Anyway, the point is that there’s not much here in Mapua.

No, really. That was the point. Trust me.

Mapua memories

Under a big, blue sky, with a peaceful inlet of strikingly blue water slowly receding with the tide, we picnic in the heart of Mapua’s bustling waterfront commercial district. There must be, oh, at least two or three people within sight, and half of the four visible businesses are open for commerce. A few birds flit by, and we hear the occasional “plop” of a fish. I tell you, the noise in these urban areas is oppressive. Can’t a guy enjoy a quiet picnic without all this din?

With high-quality hare rillettes and venison sausage (both made by Philippe Meyer in Christchurch), we drink another memory, this from a visit only a week old, but already starting to fade from immediacy:

Peregrine 2004 Pinot Gris (Central Otago) – Ripe and lush, with fine spiced pear and flaky minerality. Round and rich, yet medium-bodied thanks to lingering acidity. The finish is quite lovely. This is probably the best pinot gris we’ve tasted on this trip.

What’s Neu?

After a most satisfying midday respite, we drive to a winery that’s open for drop-in visitors, but that was absolutely impenetrable while trying to set up an in-depth visit. Neudorf represents a branch of Nelson winemaking royalty, having garnered a great deal of praise as a local quality leader. And not just local; I’ve seen more of their wines in the States than anyone else from Nelson. Still, they are reputed to be somewhat difficult to reach, so while I’m disappointed, I’m not particularly surprised.

Our tasting is conducted by a serious young man, who pours quickly and with little ceremony, but who answers every question with confident brevity. There are quite a few people around – the winery’s reputation does precede it – and some are enjoying full pours on a nearby patio. It’s possible that the entire population of Mapua is visiting this winery…

[Neudorf winery]

Neudorf 2004 Riesling (Brightwater) – “How many grams of residual sugar here?” “No grams.” Clever answer. There’s ripe lemongrass, but mostly there’s a slate-dominated minerality, plus a long, clean finish. Nicely done.

Neudorf 2004 Sauvignon Blanc (Nelson) – Green peas and other Kermit-tinged vegetables, spicy gooseberry, and white plum. More crisp than rich, but not in an entirely appealing way. A misstep.

Neudorf 2003 Chardonnay (Nelson) – Mercaptans and butter, followed by much more appealing orange and tangerine, with a bright and balanced finish. This isn’t doing all that well at the moment, but a little time might help.

Neudorf 2004 Merlot Rosé “Kina” (Nelson) – Medium-weight blueberry and raspberry. Fruity, soft, and fluffy. Not at all serious, and it occurs to me that I’ve never had a rosé of merlot that I’ve much liked.

Neudorf 2003 Pinot Noir (Nelson) – Made from younger vines. Mineral-infused (mostly graphite), with strawberry, raspberry, and nicely crisped apple. Excellent balance. For fun, good quality drinking over the near term, this satisfies.

Neudorf 2003 Pinot Noir (Moutere) – Reductive and tight, with leafy earth tones and waves of beautiful graphite. Very structured and narrow up front, but it grows on the palate, showing strawberries inside a smooth velvet interior. The finish is even more expressive, bringing spiced grapes and spicier black cherries in an ever-expanding blend. Beautifully balanced and ageable…in fact, it needs age.

Neudorf 2003 “Botrytis Selection” Riesling (Nelson) – 100 grams of residual sugar. Wet and shy, with lime, grapefruit, and light minerality. And then, it builds. It’s OK now, but the length and subtle concentration of the finish suggest an improved future.

Excepting the rosé, which (perhaps incorrectly) I don’t view as serious, it’s a fine lineup except for that indecorous sauvignon blanc. Another rumor we’ve heard during our time here is that Neudorf is slipping, though the reasons are unconfidently speculated upon. I haven’t tasted previous vintages comprehensively enough to judge that rumor either way, and we also don’t get to taste the top-of-the-line pinot noir (no real shock, as it’s expensive and limited in quantity).. But I do know that what they’re actually pouring is of very high quality, with a certain confident professionalism infusing everything.

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Copyright © Thor Iverson.