Mister and Te Awanga Estate 2017 Releases
The Boneline 2017 Amphitheatre’ Cabernet Franc and 2015 ‘Iridium’
Yalumba ‘The Scribbler’ Cabernet Shiraz 2015
Fairbourne Estate Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2017
Cambridge Road Martinborough 2016 ‘Animus Noir’ and 2017 and 2013 Pinot Noirs
Greenhough ‘Hope Vineyard’ 2017 Sauvignon Blanc, 2016 Chardonnay and 2014 Riesling
Lamont Central Otago 2017 Pinot Gris, 2016 Riesling, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir
Nine Stones McLaren Vale Shiraz 2016
Vidal 2017 ‘Soler’ Chardonnay and 2016 ‘Legacy’ Syrah and Cabernet Merlot
Brennan 2017 Riesling and ‘Trio’, 2015 ‘B2’ Pinot Noir and 2014 Pinot Noir
Prophets Rock 2017 Pinot Gris. 2016 Dry Riesling, 2017 ‘Infusion’ and ‘Rocky Point’ Pinot Noirs and 2015 ‘Home’ Pinot Noir
Rapaura Springs ‘Reserve’ Marlborough Pinot Gris 2017
Barrington ‘River Block’ Pinot Rosé 2017 – A Re-Look
Sherwood ‘Stoney Range’ and ‘Sherwood’ 2018 Waipara Sauvignon Blanc
Spade Oak ‘Voysey’ Pinot Gris 2018
Jackson Estate – A Broad Selection from a Marlborough Pioneer
Dunnolly Estate Waipara 2017 ‘Reserve’ Chardonnay, and Pinot Noir
Dunes & Greene Sparkling and Yalumba Reds
Villa Maria ‘Cellar Selection’ Hawke’s Bay Chardonnay 2017
Mudbrick 2017 ‘Reserve’ Viognier, Chardonnay and Noble Riesling
Wairau River Marlborough Pinot Noir 2017
Three Miners Central Otago Riesling 2017
Tasman Bay, Latitude 41 and Goose Bay Wines from Spencer Hill
The Hedonist 2016 McLaren Vale Sangiovese, Shiraz and Cabernet
Trinity Hill Hawke’s Bay Pinot Gris 2017
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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.

Copyright © 2011 Raymond Chan Wine Reviews
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