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Black Estate – Soil and Site Sophisticates

By May 21, 2012No Comments

One of the most rapid rising stars of the Waipara Valley is Black Estate, owned by the Naish family who in 2007 took over the superbly sited vineyard on the limestone and clay-rich, eastern hills planted by Russell and Kumiko Black in 1993. The Naish family have vigorously improved and expanded the operation, and the results are truly noteworthy, the wines taking a very large step up in expression, quality, and presence in the marketplace.

Any proper visit to Black Estate will involve an in-depth discourse on vines, clones, rootstock, and planting densities with a visit to the various fruit sources to see first-hand the soils, aspect and location of the vines. That’s what we got from Nicholas Brown and Alistair Blair when we called in. Nicholas Brown takes his job seriously. A Lincoln graduate, Nicholas has made wine in Marlborough, Italy and in the United States, and has 10 years of experience in the Waipara Valley, working with the enigmatic and charismatic Daniel Schuster from 2006 to 2009. A perfect foil to the former master, Nicholas is one for detail and thoroughness with practicality and focus, and he has brought this to Black Estate. As pragmatic as Nicholas is, vineyard manager Alistair Blair is enthusiastic, passionate and positive, with a view for the world and the vine’s place in it. Alistair also is the salesman for Black Estate, which takes him travelling afar. The connection these two men have is that they are married to the twin Naish sisters, thus are fully connected to the family business.

The heart of Black Estate is the 16 ha property where Omihi joins Waipara, with the original 8 ha of own-rooted Mendoza Chardonnay and 10/5 Pinot Noir planted in equal proportions. The vineyard is north-facing and sloped gently, being in the lee of the Teviotdale hills and is thus very sheltered. The site is considered a superior one with a track record of fine wines. A further 4 ha in the property extending the acreage has been close-planted, with 25,000 vines. 2 ha of this is in newer clone Pinot Noir, 1 ha among four clones of Chardonnay, and unusually for the district, 0.5 ha to Chenin Blanc and 0.3 ha to Cabernet Franc, recognising the Loire-like iron soils.

A further 8 km further up the road is the Spye Farm grape source. Black Estate has sourced Riesling from the vineyards here since 2008 and Pinot Noir from 2010. The 16 ha site has 7 ha of vineyard blocks nestled in the varied slopes to maximise exposure to sun and protection from the elements. 2 ha are devoted to Riesling with two plantings of Pinot Noir, 3 ha to a mixture of 10/5 and Dijon clones, and a further 2 ha to Dijon material. The vines are planted in accordance to their suitability to the Waikari, Mount Brown and Omihi ‘Series’ of limestone soils. The blending options from this diverse site is fabulous to consider, such that the Naish family have just taken a lease over the vineyards.

The third grape source is that of the old Daniel Schuster ‘Netherwood’ vineyard, situated between Spye Farm and the Black Estate sites, planted in 1986, with approx. 5 ha MS Pinot Noir from St Helena and a little Chardonnay. Black Estate has also taken a lease on the vineyard here, harvesting fruit for their wine from this 2012 crop. This is also where the Black Estate wines have been made since 2010. The winery has a capacity of 120 tonnes, but the low 2012 crop will see around 50 tonnes from 23 ha go through. If processing the full amount, it would be a tight fit and busy too, but I’d imagine the well-organised Nicholas would ensure the grapes flow through vinification without too many hassles. Riesling was coming into the winery when we visited. The fruit was in excellent condition and with one more day’s picking to go, and a brilliant weather forecast, it seems that a highly successful vintage will result. Nicholas and Alistair believe that the wines will show lower alcohols, a most desirable outcome.

A new cellar door complex has been in the throes of construction over the last year at the Black Estate property. Situated above the vines with a commanding view, this will allow visitors to taste and enjoy the sophisticated wines in an appropriately sophisticated setting. Driving along S.H. 1 it is very visible, being a striking black (of course) coloured building. It will be a most welcome addition to further showcase the Black Estate wines to keen consumers, as well as enhance the region as a touring destination when it opens in August later this year. www.blackestate.co.nz

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