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Youth gone wild

An end to the wining

by Thor Iverson

This is it. The very last one. The thirty-fourth and final winery we’ll visit on this trip. Assuming, that is, we can find it.

Kaimira Estate is off the beaten path. It’s also not, at the moment, set up for visitors…or even revealing its presence with a sign. So we drive past it a few times, futilely exploring some (admittedly charming) roads through the foothills, before realizing where we’re headed and finally arriving, only a little bit late.

Co-owner June meets us, and though she’s welcoming, she seems perpetually concerned about something. Do they never receive visitors, or – remembering Glover’s – have we come at a bad time? We never find out. Eventually, the mood seems to pass.

Standing outside, we chat about the winery’s history. Their first vintage was 1999, and some of what they’re doing was apparently inspired by a trip to Alsace in 1998. But while they do indeed show a range of the major Alsatian varieties, along with sauvignon blanc, chardonnay, and pinot noir, they’ve got their eye on something a lot more adventurous: syrah with viognier. Now that would be interesting. Can they get it ripe, though?

Kaimira’s wines are from a mix of estate vineyards scattered around the area; small plots supplemented by a little contract fruit. The terroir of Brightwater, with its stony, free-draining soils, is blessed with a lack of damaging frost (about which I’ve been hearing more than I’d like pretty much everywhere else in New Zealand), but the limitation on quality viticulture is indeed the overall temperature, which rides the margins of what’s ideal.

[june & sally]

June & Sally
There’s no actual tasting room (though a new winery, complete with such a facility, is in the works), so we crowd into what seems to be the employee break room for a tasting. June seems inclined to limit us to only the few wines available in the States, but while I’m trying to convince her otherwise, help arrives in the form of Sally Albrecht, Kaimira’s freshly-minted winemaker. Like so many other winemakers we’ve met, she’s…well, she’s very young. I don’t know if it’s just another facet of this geographically and historically youthful country, but while grizzled veterans certainly exist, New Zealand’s winemaking scene sometimes seems to be one huge youth movement. Not everyone hosts weekly raves, perhaps, but this youthfulness does contribute to the pervasive energy and optimism of the country’s wine industry.

Sally may be internally optimistic and energetic, but she’s also Kiwi, and thus tends towards reserve, thoughtfulness, and a very quiet conviction. When the discussion strays towards yeasts – an embrace of the indigenous form of the little critters seems to be expanding in some quarters – she very honestly counters that she doesn’t yet feel ready for the uncertainties they bring.

And, thankfully, she decides to show a greater range of products than seemed likely before her arrival. While we taste, the other owner – Ian – joins us, full of easy jocularity and open enthusiasm for the wines. It’s an interesting trio of personalities.

Kaimira Estate 2004 Sauvignon Blanc (Nelson) – Slightly reduced, with a layer of dust and (non-TCA) must that somewhat mutes its gooseberry, lime, lemongrass, and grapefruit aromas. There’s a soda water aspect to this wine, as well. Iffy.

The riesling that follows is a true estate wine.

Kaimira Estate 2004 Riesling (Brightwater) – Almost smoky, with a foundation of quartz, dust, and gravel over which are laid the wine’s varietal aspects: lime rind, Granny Smith apple skin, and a light touch of lemongrass. Intense and ultimately stone-dominated, with a long and drying finish that brings fine balance to the wine’s residual sugar (somewhere in the eight to nine gram range). Quite good.

Moutere fruit forms the core of the chardonnay this year, which is typically a multi-site blend subject to each vintage’s conditions; this one was left in contact with the lees but not allowed malolactic. Tightly-spaced Mendoza clones dominate.

Kaimira Estate 2004 “Unoaked” Chardonnay (Nelson) – Slightly reductive. Pine forest fog, salted lemon-lime, and crisp, raw apple juice that’s especially prominent on the finish. Very salty throughout. Fun, if a little fierce, with great acidic intensity. As unwooded chardonnays go, this is a pretty good one.

From the vineyards nearest our current position, Kaimira’s pinot gris also benefits from lees contact, but – in contrast to many New Zealand wineries – not from stirring. Perhaps this helps, as so many that are stirred seem forced yet unfocused.

Kaimira Estate 2004 Pinot Gris (Brightwater) – Pear skin, lemon, and ripe fennel that shades towards anise later on. There’s also grapefruit, apricot, and pear juice. All this produce is presented cleanly and with fine acidic crispness, which helps open a window through which a little underlying minerality can be sensed. 3.5 to 4 grams residual sugar. Very promising, and one of the better pinot gris I’ve tasted on this trip.

There are two pinot noirs here. The first is “for the summer market,” and a huge seller, made in an immediately-appealing style from the 10x5 clone and aged in Hungarian oak. The second is from clones 5, 115, and others of the Dijon firmament, with 25% new French oak.

Kaimira Estate 2004 Pinot Noir (Nelson) – Bright cranberry with a touch of fennel. It’s like pinot noir juice more than wine, and though it’s a touch screechy, it’s fun and crisp, and undoubtedly benefits from a good chill. Nice enough in its style, though I wouldn’t trot it out for fine dining.

Kaimira Estate 2004 “Vintner’s Selection” Pinot Noir (Nelson) – Just bottled, and still tight…maybe even a little bit volatile. There’s mint and other herbs, and then an explosion of full-bodied red berries. This wash of summery fruit is clean and lustrous, while in the background a keening wail of minerality grows. Very, very young at the moment, but seemingly excellent.

Kaimira Estate 2004 Gewürztraminer (Brightwater) – Fun. Lychee, nut oil, peach and pear, and dried rose petal – pretty classic – though the nose is a bit hot. Honeysuckle on the finish is aided by six grams of residual sugar. Despite the hint of heat, it’s a fairly elegant and lighter-styled version, and while it’s nice now, I wouldn’t hold it very long.

Overall, this is a solid lineup, and a strong way to finish our Aotearoan oenological explorations. If there’s a hesitation, it’s the pervasive feeling of safety that renders the wines solid but lacking a spark of true individuality. However, once Albrecht gets a few more vintages under her belt and gains corresponding confidence, I expect this will change. In other words, this is a winery to watch.

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Copyright © Thor Iverson.