The ‘Winery of the Year' award is my way of recognising the best performing wine producer who has submitted wines to Raymond Chan Wine Reviews for independent assessment in ‘Feature Reviews' over the year from the start of December the previous year to the end of November in the current year. The criteria for the award are based on the qualities and significance of the wines in terms of excellence as seen in my descriptions and ratings, as well as how the wines have appealed to me on a subjective and hedonistic level as a wine enthusiast and consumer. In addition, the award can take into account innovation and style, and the progress the producer has made in making fine New Zealand wine, as well as the setting of standards for this country's industry. Taking these factors into account, I presume that readers who follow Raymond Chan Wine Reviews will find great enjoyment in the wines made by the ‘Winery of the Year' too. The nominated wine producer is sent a commemorative engraved brass plaque.
Winery of the Year 2012 – Neudorf Vineyards
The Raymond Chan Wine Reviews ‘Winery of the Year' for 2012 is awarded to Neudorf Vineyards of Upper Moutere, Nelson. Neudorf Vineyards already has the reputation as one of the finest producers in New Zealand and I can only see there will be wholehearted agreement from their winemaking peers and from the wine consumer for this award. Although Neudorf Vineyards is a small producer with 33 ha of vineyards and an annual harvest of 150 tonnes making around only 13,000 cases, everything they release is of the highest quality. Neudorf has the Midas touch with every variety they handle, the wines all being outstanding examples of their kind. The ‘Nelson' wines which are made from fruit not exclusively from the Moutere Hills stand tall with the ‘Reserve' and super-premium wines of any other winery. The ‘Moutere' wines, made from fruit from the original home blocks and managed sites very nearby are in a league of their own, and are shining examples of how New Zealand can compete with the world's very best.
Working through the varieties reviewed, I rated the Moutere Pinot Gris 2011 19.0-/20. The Moutere Dry Riesling 2011 and sweeter Moutere Riesling 2011 were scored 19.0/20 and 19.0+/20 respectively. I believe the Neudorf Pinot Noirs are among the country's very finest. The ‘Tom's Block' Nelson 2010 I assessed at 19.0/20, the Moutere 2010 at 19.5/20, and the ‘Home Block' Moutere 2010 at 19.0+/20, noting the requirement for some time in bottle. The Pinot Noirs are as much a flagship for Neudorf as their Chardonnays in my opinion, but Chardonnay has a longer track record, stretching back a quarter of a century. I rated the Nelson Chardonnay 2011 18.5+/20 and the Moutere Chardonnay 2011 a perfect 20.0/20. This latter wine deserves mention on how it has supremely sensitive expression of the complex sulphide reductive complexities that are all the rage in modern Chardonnay. The sophistication and refinement of this wine makes drinking it an emotional experience.
Tim and Judy Finn established Neudorf Vineyards in 1978 and their operation quickly became recognised as the leading producer in the Nelson region. Its reputation has grown such that it is now a globally recognised brand for extremely high quality wine. This is due to the unfaltering vision and drive of the Finns, and their goal of attaining the very highest standards possible. They've always believed in the potential of the Nelson vignoble, and the terroir of the Moutere Hills as being able to deliver world class wines. Their stringent viticultural regimes and detailed winemaking clearly preserve what the land gives them. Being a family and small business, it's hands-on from the start for Tim, Judy and daughter Rosie. They've had some outstanding staff helping them on their journey. Richard Flatman the viticulturist is guiding Neudorf Vineyards to organic certification, even though they've followed organic and biodynamic practices for a number of years in respect for the environment. Todd Stevens has just taken over the winemaking role from John Kavanagh, these two, and their predecessors all extremely talented and working brilliantly with Tim and Judy.
With Nelson experiencing outstanding vintages in 2010, 2011 and 2012, we can expect more superb wines from Neudorf Vineyards. I offer my warmest congratulations to Tim and Judy Finn and their small, but dedicated and talented team for a superlative effort in 2012. www.neudorf.co.nz
Contenders for Winery of the Year 2012
As with last year's inaugural award, it was incredibly difficult to choose the ‘Winery of the Year' for 2012. The outstanding contender vying for the top place was the newcomer Auburn Wines
of Central Otago. This is the specialist Riesling operation of Max Marriott, who began releasing his vineyard and sub-regional expressions of Central Otago Riesling with the 2009 vintage. Max is a Riesling fanatic, and his wines owe more than a nod to the decadent expamples from the Mosel in Germany. The production of Auburn wines is minuscule, each bottling no more than 75 dozen. The fully sweet wines are made in quantities of 10-20 dozen 375 ml bottles. These wines are truly hand-crafted and micro-vinified. This approach allows Max to scrutinise every action in their making, and the results are spectacular. I had the great fortune of appraising two of Max's releases in the course of the year: the 2011 wines in December 2011, and the 2012 wines in October this year. I rated all four of the 2011 Rieslings 5-star, with the Auburn Bendigo Riesling 2011 gaining a 20.0/20 score from me. The 2012 vintage release had four sub-regional expressions and three sweeter bottles. All bar one of the sub-regional wines were awarded 5-star ratings, and the Auburn Bendigo Riesling 2012 received a 20.0/20 rating. Clearly, I find perfection from that site! www.auburnwines.com
There was an amazing choice of wineries that could be considered for the ‘Winery of the Year' award for 2012. Following are the producers that were also considered worthy of the title, working from north to south in each of the growing regions. Based in Auckland, Villa Maria continues to turn out benchmark examples with everything they make. The Villa Maria ‘Reserve' Gimblett Gravels Hawke's Bay Merlot 2010 was my other 20.0/20 wine of the year, so far not mentioned. Sacred Hill had a mind-blowing set of ‘Special Selection' 2010 reds, which Tony Bish and Jenny Dobson crafted. The wines are bold statements of Hawke's Bay. Working through a very difficult year, Larry McKenna and Huw Kinch of the Escarpment Vineyard released a magnificent collection of 2010 Pinot Noirs under the ‘Insight' series and ‘Kupe' label. Martinborough Pinot Noir doesn't get much better than these single-vineyard wines. A host of Marlborough producers put their hand up, and my pick, a most unenviable one due to the closeness of the choices, would have to be Greywacke. Kevin Judd is pushing the boundaries with his wines, building in wonderful layers of complexity and texture. The wines are reminiscent of great European styles. From the Waipara Valley region, the stand-out this year was Pegasus Bay. For sheer hedonism and crowd-pleasing wines, you can't go past what the Donaldson family make. This applies to the ‘Main Divide' tier, the ‘estate' wines and the ‘Reserve' bottlings. From Otago, the clear contender was Grant Taylor's Valli Vineyards. His 2010 sub-regional Pinot Noirs from Gibbston, Bannockburn, Bendigo and the Waitaki Valley brought tears of joy to my eyes and the largest smile ever.
Other wineries should be mentioned based on other criteria. For consistency across the range, kudos must be given to Babich Wines, based in Auckland, sourcing fruit from Hawke's Bay and Marlborough. Likewise to Mills Reef in Tauranga, making Hawke's Bay wines, Waimea Estates in Nelson, and Saint Clair in Marlborough. These wineries have more than their fair share of success too. Notable for their rapidly improving quality are Te Mania and Richmond Plains in Nelson and Rapaura Springs in Marlborough. In the value stakes, watch out for Haha wines and Lil Rippa, you won't be disappointed with any of these. They perform above their station. The number of imported wines being sent for review has increased dramatically, and the standout overseas label I have tasted is Mr. Riggs made by Ben Riggs in the McLaren Vale, Australia. His style is for ripeness and richness, while retaining varietal and regional character. They're big wines from a big personality.
Last Year's Top Wineries – Kidnapper Cliffs and Craggy Range
How have last year's ‘Winery of the Year' winner Kidnapper Cliffs and runner-up Craggy Range fared in the last 12 months? The Te Awa winery, vineyards and its flagship brand Kidnapper Cliffs were recently purchased by Villa Maria, and pleasingly, Ant Mackenzie and the staff have been retained. I understand that the distinctive styles of the wines are to be continued, and the identity of Te Awa and Kidnapper Cliffs preserved, rather than being absorbed into the Villa Maria Estates stable, as can happen in such acquisitions. This shows insight and sensitivity by Sir George Fistonich, who celebrated his 50th vintage this year.
would have rated a mention in the contenders for this year but for the superlative release of the Sacred Hill ‘Special Selection' wines from the 2010 vintage. The Craggy Range ‘Prestige Collection' wines, also from 2010 that I tasted were practically on a par. Again, I feel that Steve Smith and his team must be a little peeved at not quite being there as seen by me, but the standard of the wines from Craggy Range remain at the very top level in anyone's eyes. I remain one of their biggest fans. Click here
to go to the ‘Winery of the Year 2011' article from last year.
Outstanding Wines of 2012
Here are the outstanding New Zealand wines I have tasted as ‘Feature Reviews' during the period of December 2011 to November 2012. The following wines are presented according to variety or style. On occasion where there are ties in the scoring, I have listed more than one in that particular category. Due to the larger number of high scoring Pinot Noirs, I have listed the top four. Not every varietal or wine style merited listing.
Favourites of the Year from the Wine2Trade Portfolio
Wineries that are distributed by ‘Wine2Trade', the company that Raymond Chan Wine Reviews' operates under, are not eligible for the ‘Winery of the Year' award. (Click here
to see these wineries.) In way of compensation, I will list separately my ‘Favourites of the Year from the Wine2Trade Portfolio' in a follow-up article next week. Click here
to see my favourites from 2011.