The Chameleon Grape

The Chameleon Grape

“Chenin Blanc is a magical chameleon of a grape”, wrote Jancis Robinson, the undoubted Queen of wine back in 1986. She followed with “It is used, in various corners of the globe, to produce exquisite sweet wines so long lived that few bottles survive to reach their peak; attractively nervy, medium-dry wines with one of the most curious bouquets known to wine tasting.

Anyone who has attended an Esk Valley wine tasting recently may well have heard me quote or read the above lines from my well battered copy of Vines, Grapes and Vines when presenting our new Chenin Blanc. It was in fact my first wine book of what would become a sizable library. It is interesting how highly Jancis and most others in the industry regarded Chenin Blanc back in the 1980s and 1990s. To the above quoted lines she also adds “The cool climate of New Zealand may well prove to have the most exciting potential outside France for Chenin Blanc”

Today it would seem that long awaited prophecy may finally be in the process of being realized. From vineyards the length of New Zealand new bottlings of Chenin Blanc are being eagerly consumed alongside the classics of France by the more open minded and curious wine lovers of New Zealand. Special mention here has to be made to my friend James Millton in Gisborne who for decades has almost single handedly championed the joys of the grape. He has had help, but we all lived in James’s shadow. Included in this list would be John Forrest, Collards and of course Esk Valley where we produced Chenin Blanc for decades before our grape supply ended in 2013.

For the ensuing six years it seemed as if Chenin Blanc would be but a footnote in the Esk Valley story, but in 2019 we were able to once again continue our production of the “chameleon grape“ thanks to the foresight of growers Ian and Linda Quinn whose Two Terraces Vineyard at Mangatahi was now coming into production. These gravel river terraces set above the Ngaruroro River seem ideally suited to growing quality Chenin Blanc and have to date provided the best Chenin Blanc grapes I have ever had the opportunity to harvest.

Our latest bottling of Esk Valley Chenin Blanc is labelled under our new Artisanal Collection and truly lives up our Artisanal ethos. Handmade, aged in large oak barrels and bottled after almost a year in the cellar, this small volume bottling is textural, complex and downright delicious and like Jancis I doubt very few bottles will survive to reach their peak.

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