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General Blog

Raymond Chan Wine Reviews ‘Winery of the Year 2013’ – Pegasus Bay

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 – Pegasus Bay
The Raymond Chan Wine Reviews ‘Winery of the Year’ for 2013 is awarded to Pegasus Bay in the Waipara Valley,North Canterbury. Pegasus Bay has a special place in the hearts of wine lovers and among the wine industry, for the wines produced are truly pleasing for to consume, providing great satisfaction and interest at all levels of appreciation. The wines have a house style of richness and approachability that enables immediate drinkability, yet they invariably have the ability to keep well and develop greater levels and layers of complexity with bottle age. The Pegasus Bay wines also faithfully represent the terroir and regionality of the Waipara Valley growing region, and Pegasus Bay’s wines must be regarded as benchmarkers for the district.

In addition to these traits, Pegasus Bay are at the forefront of taking New Zealand wine beyond fruit expression by exploring style variation, often taking inspiration from the greatest wines of Europe and the rest of the world. We are seeing more ‘funkiness’ and greater textural qualities in all of the wines, making them ever more food-friendly. It can be a matter of subjectivity whether one likes the styles that Pegasus Bay are developing, but one cannot deny the quality of the wines and the commitment to explore the frontiers of the future of New Zealand wine.

An Exceptionally Strong and Unequalled Range of Wines
It has been a joy to review the Pegasus Bay wines through the year, and every time a parcel of their wine arrives for assessment, I know that I will be in for a treat. While there are wines from other labels which have pipped the Pegasus Bay wines for the very best of their variety or style, there has been no other winery submitting wines for review that has had the breadth and depth of success seen in the Pegasus Bay range this year. Here is the roll call of the 5-star wines: Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon 2011 (18.5+/20), ‘Bel Canto’Dry Riesling 2011 (18.5+/20), Riesling 2010 (18.5/20), ‘Virtuoso’ Chardonnay 2009 (19.0+/20), Pinot Noir 2010 (18.5/20), ‘Prima Donna’ Pinot Noir 2010 (19.0-/20), ‘Maestro’ Merlot/Malbec 2009 (18.5-/20) and ‘Encore’ Noble Riesling 2010 (19.5-/20). This is a stunning selection of great wine.

A Fully-Grown Family Business Today
Pegasus Bay was established in 1985 by Ivan and Christine Donaldson who are regarded as pioneer grapegrowers and winemakers in the Waipara Valley. The Donaldsons have had a long standing interest in wine and food, being early supporters of the fledgling Caterbury wine industry, and stalwarts of the Christchurch wine and food scene, with Ivan having a distinguished reputation as a wine writer and wine judge. It is Ivan and Chris’ passion and experience for the world’s best wines that resulted in Pegasus Bay. The business is a family affair, with eldest son Matthew as the winemaker, celebrating his 21st vintage at Pegasus Bay in 2013. Edward is the marketing manager, and his wife Belinda manages the excellent winery restaurant. And youngest son Paul is the general manager, and importantly tends to the social media duties. In a country where succession is a significant issue, Pegasus Bay is an enviable model.

Today, Pegasus Bay has 50 ha of vineyards, the fruit from which goes into the Pegasus Bay ‘estate’ and ‘Reserve’ labels, as well as the sister ‘Main Divide’ brand which incorporates contracted fruit. The winery processes around 500 tonnes annually for these labels, though there is some contract winemaking for a small number of clients. There is now another 10 ha of vineyard that will contribute to satisfying the continued growth and demand for the wines. The Donaldsons have around 50 full-time staff for vineyard and winery work, this number including 20 for the restaurant. This makes Pegasus Bay the second largest employer in the Hurunui district. I’m sure Ivan and Chris are amazed by the fruits of their labour.

Contenders for Winery of the Year 2013
My choice for ‘Winery of the Year’ is never easily made due to the number of superb wines I taste made by producers with the highest aspirations. In the previous two years, I’ve had one runner-up; for the inaugural 2011 award, Kidnapper Cliffs was followed by Craggy Range, and last year in 2012, Neudorf Vineyards had Auburn Wines in second place. This year, I have a tie between Escarpment Vineyard and Craggy Range. I could not separate them.

Larry McKenna’s Escarpment Vineyard has always been in contention for the ‘Winery of the Year’ award based on his single vineyard ‘Insight’ and ‘Kupe’ Pinot Noirs from Martinborough. The 2011 releases of these wines are the most beautiful and aromatically perfumed he has made. From the early stages as barrel samples, I have always found them wonderfully expressive in their florality, and when bottled, they became complete. The wines have proven to be consistent in their terroir expression as well, and in an elegant vintage such as 2011, the clarity and precision is superb. The ‘Te Rehua’ is a complete wine and my favourite capturing a score of 19.5/20. The ‘Kupe’ is the most structured, earning a 19.5-/20 rating, and the ‘Kiwa’, ‘Pahi’ and Martinborough district blend Pinot Noir also earning 5-star ratings.

The Craggy Range ‘Prestige Collection’ wines are the standout Hawke’s Bay wines of 2011 that I tasted. They are bold, statement wines, but not as the first wines of a decade earlier were. With time, Steve Smith MW has steered a course towards greater refinement and finesse, whilst still retaining the house style of strong and ripe fruit with matching structure and winemaking inputs. They too showcase their origins, whether the Gimblett Gravels, or Martinborough as is the case with the Pinot Noir. Consider the ratings: ‘Beaux Cailloux’ Chardonnay at 19.0/20, ‘Aroha’ Pinot Noir with 19.0/20, ‘Sophia’ at 19.0/20, ‘The Quarry’ at 19.0+/20 and ‘Le Sol’ Syrah with 19.5/20. The last three wines were the highest in their categories. All this from a vintage others found difficult.

Other Outstanding Producers
I must point out the continued excellence of the following wineries. Every wine made by them is of superb quality and style. Ata Rangi in Martinborough, Dog Point and Greywacke in Marlborough, Greystone in the Waipara Valley and Valli in Otago. They are faultless in their wines and they are truly exciting. On any other day, any of these could also be ‘Winery of the Year’. Last year’s runner-up, Auburn Wines from Central Otago has just released their 2013 wines which will be in consideration for the 2014 title.

Also notable for their excellence this year are Vinoptima in Gisborne, Trinity Hill in Hawke’s Bay, Dry River and Palliser in Martinborough, Waimea Estate in Nelson, Framingham in Marlborough and the Central Otago group of Grasshopper Rock, Maude, Misha’s Vineyard and Mondillo. These producers have wines in their portfolio and ranges that rival any of the wineries mentioned so far.

As always, there are the rising stars, and I’ve been impressed with Rod McDonald Wines in Hawke’s Bay, The Elder Pinot in Martinborough, Woollaston in Nelson, Lawsons Dry Hills, Two Rivers, Yealands and Tiki in Marlborough, the latter with wines from Waipara, plus Doctors Flat in Central Otago. These labels have been making noteworthy progress from what I’ve seen from them this year.

The number of imported wines submitted for review has increased markedly this year. The standouts are the Quarisa red wines from Australia, distributed by Procure Liquor, the Bascula whites and reds from Spain, imported by Caro’s, and the Domaine Lafage reds from the Roussillon district in France, imported by Wine Direct.

Clearly, what I review and publish is not comprehensive and fully representative of the marketplace, as there are many wine producers who do not as yet submit wines for ‘Feature Review’ with Raymond Chan Wine Reviews. A number of top producers choose not to send their best wines for review all the time. So there are many other wineries which have the potential to be in the above listings, and I hope to be able to include more of them for consideration in the future.

Previous ‘Winery of the Year’ Winners
The inaugural ‘Winery of the Year’, Kidnapper Cliffs (click here to see the article) has been in a hiatus. Since the mother Te Awa winery was sold to the Villa Maria group, all has been quiet as far as the Kidnapper Cliffs releases go. I have heard that the Villa Maria group is in the process of planning the consolidation and growth of their Hawke’s Bay operations, using the Te Awa site as the base for a winemaking, cellar door and hospitality complex. This bodes well for Te Awa and Kidnapper Cliffs, and already a number of Te Awa wines have claimed wine show successes under the Villa Maria group umbrella. I would assume that the super-premium Kidnapper Cliffs brand will be continued, expressing the stylistic uniqueness that made it outstanding for myself, many commentators and consumers.

Neudorf Vineyards, last year’s ‘Winery of the Year’ (click here to see the article) is as strong as ever, and although I have no rules about a winery being awarded the title more than once, I wanted to recognise another producer. Neudorf Vineyards had the quality and style to take the title again this year. The following 2012 vintage wines make a case for it, all with 5-star ratings through the year: Sauvignon Blanc, Moutere Dry and Moutere Rieslings, Moutere Pinot Gris, Nelson and Moutere Chardonnays, and ‘Tom’s Block’ Pinot Noir. Also, the 2011 Moutere Pinot Noir was a 5-star wine, with a 19.0+/20 score. Neudorf Vineyard remains a truly great producer operating at the very highest level.

Outstanding Wines of 2013
Here are the outstanding New Zealand wines I have tasted as ‘Feature Reviews’ during the period of December 2012 to November 2013. 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, this year there being three Rieslings. 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 2012.
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