Tasting Reviews




Grasshopper Rock – 2006 - 2012


29-Jan-2014
The five families behind Grasshopper Rock, the high profile wine producer in Alexandra, Central Otago, did it right from the beginning. Phil Handford and his business partners thoroughly researched the site and its suitability for growing vines at a time when any growing region in the country seemed viable. The land, its use, the success of neighbours, climate and frost, and water supply, and of course price were all criteria. But it was Central Otago that won their attention, especially as the Pinot Noir wines of Central Otago were quickly gaining favour on the world stage, and also because the area pulled on their heart strings. The partners simply enjoyed the region. Their involvement was going to be an affair of the heart and soul, and not just about making a profit, even though all those involved had a work connection with the Rural Bank!


Phil Handford - Grasshopper Rock

Purchasing 10.8 ha in Earnscleugh in 2002 and planting 7.8 ha of Pinot Noir in 2003, they set out to pick up the Alexandra baton of quality wine that began with Black Ridge around three decades before. The region had indeed lost its way, despite some exciting start-ups and the arrival of Sam Neill of Two Paddocks. The Grasshopper Rock got the input of the local Moffitt family in the vineyard, with Mike Moffitt in charge of tending the vines today. VinPro was engaged to make the wines, with Carol Bunn from the inaugural 2006 to 2009 vintages, and Pete Bartle ever since. The success of the wines in competitions, especially that of the 2010 vintage awarded Champion Wine of the Show at the 2012 Air New Zealand Wine Awards has cemented Grasshopper Rock’s place as the leading producer of the Alexandra sub-region, and one of the best of Central Otago.

A True Single Vineyard Wine
There are a few things that stand out about Grasshopper Rock. Firstly, it is devoted to Pinot Noir. A variety of clones is planted, predominantly 115, 667, 777, Abel, 5 and114. The vineyard is one contiguous piece, neatly separated into blocks with clones and rootstock to suit. The site enjoys a northerly exposure and is well-protected from the southerly weather by hills behind, the vigour being a little higher on those slopes, whereas the bonier soils are adjacent the road frontage. There is actually a large rock formation in the middle – Grasshopper Rock. Being devoted to the one variety, Grasshopper Rock has a comparatively large production of the one wine, the vineyard yielding around 50 tonnes. Essentially all of the fruit goes into the blend, and the wine is a full representation of the site every vintage, unlike many other ‘single vineyard’ wines which can be a selection of blocks within the site, or a selection of barrels. As a result, the wine is very vintage expressive, and no doubt truly vineyard or terroir expressive at the heart. www.grasshopperrock.co.nz

Grasshopper Rock Pinot Noir 2006 – 2012
Phil Handford and Mike Moffitt took me through a vertical tasting of every vintage of Grasshopper Rock bottled to date. Although the wine is defined by terroir, it was the vintage variation that was the most obvious feature. There is also a growing finesse, elegance and fruit brightness apparent over time. There may be a change in the wine with the transition from Carl Bunn to Pete Bartle as winemaker detectable too, but that will be intermixed with increasing vine age and the understanding and work on the vines and vineyard by Mike Moffitt. The berry and bunch sizes of the fruit can be correlated to the style of the wine produced, according to Mike and Phil. Here are my impressions of the wines:

Grasshopper Rock ‘Earnscleugh Vineyard’ Central Otago Pinot Noir 2006
Dark hearted garnet colour with some mahogany and brick hues. The nose is softly full and integrated with savoury teriary aromas of brown fruits, undergrowth and mushroomy complexities. Fullish bodied, the fruit is evolved and tertiary, with savoury red and brown, earthy, mushroomy flavours. The fruit sweetness is receding and the tannins grip is coming to the fore, while the acid line is prevalent. Drinking now, and now beginning to decline with a degree of grace. 17.0/20

Grasshopper Rock ‘Earnscleugh Vineyard’ Central Otago Pinot Noir 2007
The small berry size and thick skins evident. Very deeply coloured with dark red and garnet colour. The nose is very firm and packed with black and red fruits, the secondary earthy, dried herb characters showing great presence. This still has freshness and aromatic lift. On palate very concentrated and tightly concentrated. There’s a wealth of fruit sweetness still, and matched by considerable extract and power. The tannins are firm and driving, and the acid provides excellent relief. Drinking on a plateau and it will do so for some time. Another 5+ years ahead easily. 18.5-/20

Grasshopper Rock ‘Earnscleugh Vineyard’ Central Otago Pinot Noir 2008
A vintage overshadowed somewhat by those around it, but emerging with beauty. Light ruby-red with garnet hues, but some residual purple on rim. Very elegant on bouquet, fragrantly lifted by red florals, finely expressed red fruits, and some dried herb secondary complexity and detail. The aromatic nuance is beautiful. Elegantly proportioned on palate, with fresh and sweet fruited richness, supported by very fine-grained structure and extraction. The freshness and acidity providing real poise and length. A refined and lovely, accessible rendition of Pinot Noir. 4-5+ years ahead. 19.0-/20

Grasshopper Rock ‘Earnscleugh Vineyard’ Central Otago Pinot Noir 2009
Moderately deep ruby red with garnet hues, some brick hues. The nose is very full, solid, broad and packed with dark red fruits, along with seet earthy complexities and dried herbal detail. The volume and intensity on bouquet is the feature. Similar on palate, with mouthfilling flavours, great weight and presence. This has sweet and fleshy richness, with dark plum and ripe berried fruit. Waves of secondary nuance show, but there is underlying tannin grip with the amplitude. Well-ripened and with a robustness. Drinking now and over the next 5+ years. 19.0-/20

Grasshopper Rock ‘Earnscleugh Vineyard’ Central Otago Pinot Noir 2010
A comparative tasting shows the quality of this wine and vintage. I’ve under-rated it in the past. Very dark ruby-red colour, still youthful in appearance with purple hues. The fruit is still very primary, with bright, ripe and brilliant aromatic expression. This has intensity and elegance with great concentration and power. There’s oak infused and fully integral, and complex and intricate detail to the fruit purity. Medium-full bodied with concentration and elegance. Juicy and sweet, with stylish finesse. The bright and fragrant red fruit profile has spice, herb and oak entwined, making the wine complete. Very fine-grained tannins underline the fruit. Great length. This grows in presence in the glass and looks better with each tasting. 8+ years. 19.5/20

Grasshopper Rock ‘Earnscleugh Vineyard’ Central Otago Pinot Noir 2011
Bright, light purple-hued ruby red colour. Voluminous on bouquet with an array of aromas, the fruit in the cooler spectrum showing some herb and stalk nuances, but this has a core of dark red cherry fruit aromas, red florals and red curranty notes. Some dried herb and savoury secondary interest already. The firm structure encases the fruit, the mouthfeel bright, vibrant and sweet-fruited, this allied to an acid-lifted zesty robustness. The tannins are grainy and provide plenty of textural qualities and the palate comes together with balance. There is plenty of rugged vinosity present, and it Will evolve over the next 5-6 years. 18.5-/20

Grasshopper Rock ‘Earnscleugh Vineyard’ Central Otago Pinot Noir 2012
Bright, light ruby-red colour with youthful appearance. The nose is tightly bound with primary red berry fruit, and red and violet perfumes, with subtle fresh herb elements. This has beauty and vitality in equal measure. Medium-bodied, the wine is presented with elegant proportions and finesse. Bright, aromatic, lifted dark red berry and floral fruit profile, along with slightly elevated acidity. The acid provides fruit vibrancy and a poised mouthfeel, and a very fine, flowery tannin line carries the palate. This has concentration at the core, and it will grow in richness over the next 6+ years. 18.5+/20

What do future vintages hold in store? Phil and Mike see 2013 being similar to 2011, And the berry and bunch sizes of the 2014 fruit indicate the possibility of another 2010 in the works…

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