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Gisborne Garagistes

By January 15, 2014No Comments
The Gisborne Garagiste Wine Co. is part of the re-emergence of the artisan winemaking movement following the pull-out of the large producers in the region. It is the brainchild of three winemaking mates, who after many discussions over many glasses of wine, and getting the go-ahead from their wives, decided to make some wines that they liked to drink, affording them the chance to do things a little differently. Russell Walsh, of Indevin, Brent Laidlaw at the Tairawhiti E.I.T. and Peter Bristow of Pernod-Picard all worked together in the same office back in Montana days and along the way have made some sensational wines, with considerable input in the styles of Lindauer, the ‘Terroir Series’ Chardonnays and ‘P’ Gewurztraminer in the Gisborne region.

In those days, having little pet projects and personal labels was frowned upon, especially if you were part of an enormous corporate-structured, multi-national conglomerate. It was deemed a conflict of interest and a distraction from duties that could affect one’s performance, and usually employment contracts prohibited such behaviour. It’s definitely a lot more relaxed now, and bosses realise that a little self-expression and tangential interest can perk and improve an employee or contractor’s work, often providing lateral thinking and innovation to their primary job. In this case, the Gisborne Garagiste Wine Co. is developing fledgling client relationships with both Indevin and the E.I.T., where the wine is made and stored.


Russell Walsh, Brent Laidlaw and Peter Bristow – Garage dwellers

The Garagiste Model and Method
The ‘garagiste’ moniker was felt to apply to Russell, Brent and Peter’s way of thinking, making small amounts of wine, quite possibly and literally in a garage, that would be different to the mainstream models. Brent worked with Jean-Roger Calvet in Maury, France in 2000, Calvet being associated with the original garagiste Jean-Luc Thunevin of Saint Emilion. The three want to craft wines that “express vintage and vineyard”, and reflect their personal preferences in styles. With many years of experience behind each of them, and developing their own ideas and philosophies, one might think that getting a consensus among three strong individuals would be difficult. They admit that they are very particular about the attributes of good wine, and have found in general, there’s agreement. Otherwise, a bit of discussion on technical and pragmatic parameters seems to lead quickly to decisions that are acceptable to each of them.

2012 marked the first vintage releases of the Gisborne Garagiste Wine Co., with a Gewurztraminer and a Chardonnay, made in a tin shed in Stout Street. The wines were instantly successful, the Gewurztraminer winning a silver medal and trophy, and the Chardonnay a bronze at the 2013 Gisborne Regional Wine Awards. The 2013 harvest sees a Viognier added to the portfolio. The fruit is sourced from selected parcels in consistently high performing sites in the district, the Gewurztraminer from Patutahi, the Viognier from Ormond and the Chardonnay from the Hexton Hills. In both years, around 1 tonne of each of the varieties has been processed, but this should double for 2014. Even so, the quantity of wine made is truly tiny and limited. With Gewurztraminer and Viognier, the three winemakers are looking at the wines being based on phenolics rather than acidity, and are happy with higher pH and lower acid levels than the norm. Chardonnays sees pressing to barrel for higher solids and the use of wild yeast fermentation, and minimal sulphur.

The trio are carefully considering their next step, which is logically the introduction of a red wine to the range. To that end a small parcel of clone 470 Syrah has been obtained for the 2014 vintage from a vineyard in the Patutahi region. The variety seems to be suited to the Gisborne vignoble only after a few vintages, and it seems to offer more potential than other red grapes. Brent has a 5 ha property where he intends to plant a small parcel of grapes in 2014 and from which Syrah could be sourced in the future. Malbec is a good performer in the district too, and Merlot, though a little more variable, could be a possibility. In any case, The Gisborne Garagiste Wine Co. will focus on the best of the region.

Tasting the Wines
Russell, Brent and Peter took me through a tasting of the wines. The Gewurztraminer [GTR] 2013 is 14.0% alc. and 8.7 g/L RS, and appears a classical, off-dry Gisborne expression with an array of aromas and flavours that spread across rose-petal florals, spices and root ginger. There’s plenty of fruit depth and extract here, but the phenolic handling is beautifully done, the wine very smooth flowing and textured. Next was an as yet unbottled sample of Viognier [VIG] 2013, made at the Indevin facilities, at 14.4% alc. wild yeast fermented and fully handled in seasoned oak barrels, 40% of which were large cuves, the wine receiving significant lees work, and undergoing full MLF. This featured subtle and interwoven layers of apricotty fruit, exotic florals harmoniously melded into the mouthfeel. This opened up in the glass revealing detail and greater interest.

It was fascinating to compare Chardonnays from the challenging 2012 and outstanding 2013 vintages, the latter wine still to be bottled. The Chardonnay [CHD] 2012 was all hand-picked Mendoza clone fruit, one-third wild fermented to 13.8% alc. and one-third MLF, with 10 months in 15% new oak, the wine given lees stirring. Again a clear varietal expression with citrussy fruit and spicy oak, along with some MLF butterscotch, the wine carrying a good core with bracing acidity. The Chardonnay [CHD] 2013 is 90% wild fermented, but handled similarly to the 2012, but the vintage has imparted greater depth, concentration and textures, yet retaining a sense of accessibility. These demonstrate the trio have attained a consistency of style and level of quality despite the conditions they’ve met.

Where To From Here?
The wines are made to be drunk and enjoyed, as Russell, Brent and Peter have made them to be so. Commercially, the wines are priced very sensibly, at around $20.00 a bottle at retail level, but ordering directly sees a better price. The trio are very aware of the expectations and sensitive nature of the market. So far, it has been friends, family and acquaintances who have taken the majority of stock, though the wines can be found in some local outlets. A national distributor has made advances, so we may expect to see the wines more widely available, as far as the production allows.

To me, the wines are absolutely correct and attractive in interpretation showing all the attributes they should. They’re very positive in character and texture, and certainly not mainstream as the wines they have made in their past lives. I believe they’ve set out to prove they can do it well from the start, and I’d say they have achieved that initial goal straight away. The next step in my opinion is to flirt with more funkiness, maybe introduce some subtle corruption, for example, by employing some reductive complexities. How far could they take it? I’m not sure about going down the path of ’natural’, ‘orange’ or ‘unprotected’ wine, but who knows, there could be elements of this incorporated.

The ‘garagiste’ title refers to the small quantities made, the extrovert nature and high quality of the wines. The Gisborne Garagiste Wine Co. is on that path, and will be a label to watch. I recommend you visit their up-to-date website to keep abreast of the developments. www.garagiste.co.nz

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