Hawkshead 2017 Pinot Gris. 2015 Riesling and Bannockburn Pinot Noir, and 2014 ‘First Vines’ Pinot Noir
Smoking Loon, La Crema, McManis and The Crusher Releases
Two Sisters Central Otago Pinot Gris 2016
Clearview Estate 2016 ‘Old Olive Block’, Enigma’ and ‘The Basket Press’
Ceres 2017 ‘Swansong’ Pinot Gris and 2016 ‘Composition’ Pinot Noir
Vicarage Lane Canterbury Pinot Noir 2016
Paddy Borthwick 2017 Riesling and Chardonnay, and 2016 Left Hand and Right Hand Pinot Noirs
Trinity Hill Hawke’s Bay Chardonnay 2016
Villa Maria ‘Ngakirikiri’ Cabernet Sauvignon 2014
Paxton ‘NOW’ Shiraz 2017 and Hogshead Cabernet Sauvignon 2015
Kuru Kuru and Tarras Vineyards Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2017
Red Queen Marlborough Pinot Nor Rosé 2017
Waipara Valley Wines Blanc de Blanc, 2016 Sauvignon, and 2016 Pinot Noir
Elephant Hill 2016 Sauvignon Blanc and Reserve Chardonnay
Aix Rosé, A Torres Selection and Lustau Vermut from EuroVintage
Mills Reef 2017 ‘Reserve’ Pinot Gris and Chardonnay
Nevis Bluff ‘Duke of Cromwell’ Pinot Blanc 2017, and 2017 Rosé, 2014 Pinot Gris and 2013 Pinot Noir
Smith and Sheth ‘CRU’ Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Syrah Releases
Palliser Estate Martinborough Pinot Gris 2017
Karikari Estates 2014 ‘Calypso’ and 2015 Chardonnays, 2016 Viognier and 2015 Syrah and Pinotage
Auntsfield 2016 ‘Single Vineyard’ Chardonnay and Pinot Noir
The Crossings ‘Wild’ Awatere Sauvignon Blanc 2016
Pisa Range Estate‘ Black Poplar’ Central Otago Pinot Noir 2015
Z Wine ‘Rustica’ ‘Reserve’ Barossa Valley Shiraz 2015
Grava Wines 2016 Martinborough Sauvignon, Rosé, Riesling and Pinot Noir
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General Blog

Sea Level Rising in Nelson

Forgive the play on imagery and words but knowing the increased market presence of the Sea Level brand and the siting of the Smail family vineyard in Nelson, I reckon the title of the article is quite appropriate. The Smail family of Christchurch is behind the Sea Level brand and vineyard. Taking his family to the Nelson region for regular holidays, Mike Smail noted a particular site occupied by an apple and pear orchard on the coastal highway between Tasman and Motueka at Mariri, opposite the Kina peninsula. The soils there are Moutere clay, and the proximity to the water and accompanying sea breezes seemed to make it ideal for a healthy vineyard. In 2006, the family purchased the 14 ha site and planted 8 ha of grapes in 2008, the first crop yielding in 2011.

The Sea Level brand was in existence before the wines from the ‘Home' Nelson block came on stream. Mike's son, Sam, the chief winemaker at the substantial Whitehaven Marlborough winery, and with the company a dozen years, used his sources to obtain Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc fruit to produce a gold medal winning wine in the 2010 vintage. You couldn't ask for a better start than that. Whitehaven are happy to let Sam play with a small amount of fruit, up to 200 tonnes, to allow him the freedom to try his own thing. Whitehaven crushes around 4,500 tonnes, producing nearly half a million cases of wine, so Sea Level's not exactly going to be a threat to them! Sam leases the Whitehaven facility to make his Sea Level wines from hand-picked fruit. The machine-harvested fruit (the Pinot Gris) is made at the nearer Anchorage winery to minimise any possible excess skin contact effects.

The Sea Level ‘Home' vineyard is a beautiful one. Starting at sea level (of course), it rises into the hills away from the water's edge. Around half of the plantings are dedicated to Pinot Gris, with smaller amounts of Gewurztraminer, clone 95 Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc and Pinot Noir. Some 0.6 ha of pears remain around the buildings near the main road at the bottom of the vineyard, and Sam has thoughts on making some pear cider. The Smails have a full-time vineyard manager, Dan Manuge, who lives on site, and the vines look very well-tended.
Tasting the Sea Level 2011 Wines
The 2011 ‘Home Block' wines were released quietly, but they caused a stir when the Pinot Gris and Gewurztraminer took golds at different wine competitions. Sam took us to the top of the ‘Sea Level' vineyard, and with views out to Tasman Bay, we tasted the range of 2011 wines, the first from the vines in front of us. The Pinot Gris 2011 is extremely refined with stonefruit, mineral and saline flavours on a palate with seamless textures, all in an elegant proportion. The Gewurztraminer 2011, made with some skin contact is truly exotic, but exuding wonderful finesse and featuring a sleek palate flow. The Chenin Blanc 2011 indicates that Sea Level wishes to join the small band of producers dedicated to making something special out of this classic variety. James Millton, Gordon Russell, John Forrest and Strat Canning will be pleased to have Sam in their ranks. The wine combines tropical fruits with the taste of steel, all on a very fine palate. The Chardonnay 2011 has the complexity gained from barrel-fermentation. Spices, biscuits, nuts and citrus fruits, all presented with stylishness. The Pinot Noir 2011, made from clones 5, 115 and 667 possesses distinctive raspberry liqueur and lozenge fruit flavours, with spiced cherries, quite supple and elegant, as all the wines from this site are. Sam is beginning the path of understanding the site, and it's clear he has treated the fruit sensitively, without putting too much of a winemaker's stamp on things.

The attention Sea Level wines have garnered has increased considerably since the show results. These first wines from the Nelson ‘Home' block are already exciting and very good. Sam sees them only getting better as the vineyard matures and he gets an even better handle on making them. During my visit to the Nelson district, all the wineries and winemakers we saw expressed their pleasure that a star winemaker (particularly one from Marlborough) had the faith in the Nelson region and the confidence to invest time and money in a good vineyard to make top quality wine. It could only strengthen and raise the reputation of Nelson.

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