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General Blog




Villa Maria’s Super Winery in Hawke’s Bay


27-Apr-2018
I’m writing this piece on Villa Maria’s super winery in Hawke’s Bay on May the 4th, which to some is International Sauvignon Blanc Day, but to the wider world it’s ‘Star Wars Day’ (May the 4th = May the Force be with you). So I couldn’t help but think of the line of what appears to be an uncompleted, gigantic ‘Death Star’ space station is actually fully operational, in comparing it to the Villa Maria winery. The comparison may be a little unfair, but essentially, the winery is enormous, and looks far from finished, but was operational for the 2018 vintage! www.villamaria.co.nz

New press, Villa Maria Hawke's Bay winery

An Enormous but Logical Investment
It was a logical decision to have all of the Villa Maria groups’ Hawke’s Bay production conducted on one site. The Vidal Estate, Esk Valley, and Te Awa wineries were all functioning well, but the Villa Maria wines had no ‘home of its own’ apart from the Auckland winery. A significant amount of vinification was also conducted in Gisborne, so it made sense to bring that to Hawke’s Bay, and base it at the Te Awa site, close to the company’s Gimblett Gravels vineyards. There have been concerns about each of these labels losing their identity, something that the Villa Maria group has worked hard at attaining over the years. The Esk Valley winery had its unique concrete fermenters, and for the more geeky, the micro-fauna and yeasts at each winery site are considered to contribute something unique to the styles of the wines.

Owner Sir George Fistonich certainly listened to all the arguments for and against, but in the end the one super-winery complex was the way forward. The bringing in of the latest equipment with the newest technology must be one of the most beneficial factors towards raising wine quality. New equipment would also negate the need for maintenance and repairs. The sharing of equipment, plant, resources and personnel would bring significant financial savings (to one day off-set the massive investment). The economies of scale and the improvements in logistics will all contribute to a very positive result in practical and financial terms. And the site offers the potential for each brand to grow; as limits were being reached at the existing wineries. And for the Hawke’s Bay, it is a gigantic vote of confidence for the region and its wine industry.

Concrete fermenters - a la Esk Valley
Villa Maria Hawke's Bay winery

Small Specialised Lots and High Volume Wines
The call for the preservation of brand style and individuality has been heard, and special concrete tanks have been imported to replicate the fermenters used at the original Esk Valley winery. This has appeased many of the concerns that Esk Valley fans have had. Probably more importantly, the fruit sources for each of the different wines, especially at the top level have been maintained. Over the years, each of the winemakers for each brand – at Villa Maria, Vidal, Esk Valley and Te Awa have had certain parcels of fruit committed to them to make their wines individual. So in a very large winery, small parcels of fruit are able to be kept separate, vinified and elevaged to suit the condition of the fruit and towards the style required by each winemaker. As a wine enthusiast, I await the new wines with great interest to see if individuality has been preserved!

Before one gets the impression that this is a winery set up only for the production of small lots, one will see that the winery is geared for large quantities of fruit too, this being the ‘bread and butter’ for the Villa Maria group. The grape receival area and presses take up nearly the full width of the winery. I’m a fan for the way that the Villa Maria group can consistently produce good quantities of high quality wine for excellent prices. The new winery and equipment will only enhance this ability. The tonnage of fruit crushed this year, in 2018, was approx. 5,000 tonnes, but there is the ability to expand the capacity significantly. There are four barrel rooms, one exclusively for Chardonnay, which will be added too, soon, and three red barrel rooms which can hold a total of around 2.000 barrels of maturing wine.

Barrels in the Processing Winery, Villa Maria Hawke's Bay

Visiting Hugh Crichton of Vidal Estate
On this trip to Hawke’s Bay, I felt it important to catch up with Hugh Crichton of Vidal Estate to shake his hand and congratulate him being awarded my ‘Winery of the Year’ in 2017 (click here to see my report). Although in the throes of the tail end of the vintage, Hugh made time to show my partner Sue Davies (a former Villa Maria girl) and myself around the winery. He apologised for the construction nature of the site, but we could easily see past such things and see the scope of the winery.

Operating for the first time in this site, there were many adjustments to make, not only in location and equipment, but also in working with the staff. Many of the personnel are working for more than one team, almost in a generic role, and this required more personal supervision and input in the actions taken, whereas in a small, tight team, most of the people were more aware of what was going on specifically with their wines. I’m sure time will sort out such issues.

Hugh Crichton, Sue Davies, Raymond Chan
in helmets and hi-viz gear

Tasting Some 2018 Wine Samples
Hugh took us for a tasting of a few 2018 vintage samples, some from barrel and some from tank. At this young stage, it didn’t really matter what type of vessel the juice was taken from. However, what was obvious was the quality of the fruit. It was ripe and healthy, with plenty of componentry for making very smart wines. I’m not too experienced in assessing such young juice, but it was very clear this had quality. The samples tasted supported the impression of very high quality for 2018 from samples I tasted earlier at Trinity Hill and Elephant Hill (and to a degree at Red Barrel). Hugh was particularly impressed with Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon. I can’t wait to try the 2018 vintage wines in due course. Here are my impressions on what we tasted.

Chardonnay 2018: Clone 15, ‘Lyons’ vineyard, Gimblett Gravels, 1 y.o. barrel. A little opaque. This has intense pungency on the nose, tight, but very refined. Lovely citrus fruit, grapefruit, enlivened by bright acidity, and a little flinty funkiness adding interest.

Chardonnay 2018: ‘Section 5, Ohiti Vineyard, new oak, clone 95, wild yeast. Opaque colour. Very powerful with intense stonefruit and nutty aromas, very toasty. Rich on palate, lively, brilliant power and depth of flavour, fruit, oak, and a little funk. A sensational blending component.

Chardonnay 2018: ‘Section 5, Ohiti Vineyard, new oak, clone 95, as above, but inoculated yeast. Opaque colour. This is beautifully pure with citrus and stonefruit aromas, delicacy, but with underlying power. Very tightly bound on palate, and very elegant in presentation. Lovely clarity and purity, with fine acid vitality. Remarkably different to the above sample.

Cabernet Sauvignon 2018: ‘03’ ‘Legacy Block’, Omahu Gravels: Impenetrable black-red colour. This has ripe blackcurrant, blackberry and cassis fruit with complexing layers and other dimensions. Very rich and succulently fruited, pure varietal expression here, beautifully fine tannins and fine acid balance. This has it all.

Cabernet Sauvignon 2018: ‘05’, Omahu Gravels, new plantings, close-planted. Very dark and saturated black-red colour. Fine and penetrating aromatics with blackcurrants and dark herbs on nose. Very elegantly presented palate with penetrating and piercing flavours, all lifted by crisp acidity. Still sweetly fruited and luscious.

Syrah 2018: Destined for the ‘Reserve’ label. Lighter dark-red colour. This is fragrant with violet floral perfumes, very refined and elegant. Elegant proportions on palate too, fine-grained tannins and brisk, lively acidity enlivening the dark raspberry fruit.

Syrah 2018: Omahu Gravels, co-fermented with Viognier. Very dark black-red colour, Complex and savoury dark-red and black fruit aromas, with florals, and also some reduction. Bright and exciting on palate, lively and vitality showing, with great underlying concentration and very refined tannins, fresh, balanced acidity.

 Villa Maria Hawke's Bay winery Site Plan
 
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