As the winemaker for Esk Valley, my job entails crafting fine wines from a collection of unique vineyards. It should come as no surprise that the more I get to understand the intricacies of each, the better the results. It seems as if each vintage, nuggets of site-specific knowledge are added to an imaginary library, and that interface between the vineyard and cellar is gradually erased. Ultimately, it’s as if the wines make themselves.
Nowhere in my career has this been more in evidence than the wine we have produced from The Terraces vineyard, which has a been a 30-year journey of discovery and experimentation. A long journey taken in small steps, each vintage adding to the story and ultimately the quality of the resulting wine. What started out merely as “The Terraces” evolved into “Heipipi - The Terraces”. A wine from a north facing, terraced vineyard; transformed into a wine of place, respectful of its 500-year history. A wine of Malbec Merlot Cabernet Franc that simply became “Heipipi - The Terraces”, the varieties purged from the front label to the back, as it became a wine that tasted of its place and not the three listed varieties. The unending journey of discovery including which parts of the vineyard yield the best grapes, which of the concrete fermenters produced the best wine and which cooper’s barrels best suited the wine all evolved as the vineyard aged. As did what we learnt about growing grapes on this steep limestone hillside, so unlike any other vineyard in our portfolio. The complexities are daunting, but decisions seemingly become easier and more instinctive with each passing vintage.
These thoughts are front of mind as I’m pondering the fact that the 2021 vintage of “Heipipi -The Terraces”, currently ageing in our barrel cellar, will be the last under an Esk Valley label. The vineyard of course will continue to produce wine, hopefully for the rest of my life, but it will be in the hands of others. I wish them well and know they too will get to unlock the secrets of the site and interpret them in their own way. This situation has come about not by choice but due to a change of ownership with the grapes being sold elsewhere. Sad as I am I’m not someone to dwell on the past and already my focus has shifted to a new and exciting project.
This time the focus is to be the Gimblett Gravels. Arguably there is nowhere better in New Zealand to grow Bordeaux grape varieties than in these deep gravel soils. Far from the coast and its sea breezes, these heat-retentive soils will provide the perfect base for a powerful and expressive new wine. I have targeted plots of old vines in the Ngakirikiri Vineyard. Planted in the early 1990’s these are some of the oldest of the district. Like “Heipipi – The Terraces” this also will be a co-fermented, Malbec based wine created from a single day’s harvest, something which as far as I’m aware, has not yet been attempted in the Gimblett Gravels. Of course the secrets of harvest, the intricacies of yield and barrel selection will unfold with time, but I’m also confident that aforementioned library of knowledge, forged by 30 vintages in The Terraces at Bay View, will come to the fore and offer a head start.
Truth be told, I’m hoping the toughest decision will be what to name the wine.