Ulrike Kurenbach and Denis Marshall – Hawkshead
Denis Marshall and Ulrike Kurenbach, owners of Hawkshead, the small Gibbston Valley vineyard in Central Otago were in Wellington for a flying visit to show the current releases to a select group of trade and media. I’ve reviewed all of the wines recently, and indeed caught up with them at the Central Otago Pinot Noir Celebration earlier this year, but it’s always a pleasure to see the wines with some more time in bottle. And usually it is Denis that I seem to talk to the most, maybe partly because of his public service background and strong skills in communication. On this occasion, Ulrike took centre stage in the presentation, and it completed the picture in seeing her dedication, passion and direction in the development and evolution of Hawkshead.
Ulrike has a hands-on role in the home vineyard, and is intimate with viticultural issues. And clearly, Ulrike’s experience of wine in Germany is part of the drive and style preferences in the Riesling and Pinot Gris wines. The freshness, purity and elegance of the Hawkshead aromatics is no doubt a reflection of what she personally likes. Ulrike is also aware of the market, and she is presently in the process of persuading Denis to have a rosé wine added to the range they offer…
Originally, Hawkshead was a Pinot Noir-focussed project, but with time, Pinot Gris was added to the Gibbston plantings, and Riesling has been sourced from friendly growers. The Pinot Noir range has grown so that there are now three labels, a more accessible ‘Central Otago’ wine, usually a blend of regions, a new ‘Bannockburn’ single vineyard sub-regional expression, and the flagship ‘First Vines’ Gibbston wine made from the first plantings on the home vineyard. The winemakers for these wines are Dean Shaw, Steve Davies and Chris Keys respectively
A quick word on the 2014 vintage – it was a very good one for Denis and Ulrike. The growing season was one of extremes, with very warm weather as well as snow in the region. The result was small berries and small bunches. The yields were much larger than the normal, nearing 5 tonnes per hectare, which is still minuscule with a perspective of the wider industry norms. Following are my impressions from the tasting. www.hawksheadwine.com
Tasting the Hawkshead Range
The first wine was the Riesling 2013 (18.0/20), Lowburn fruit, fermented to 11.5% alc., 4.7 g/L RS, with TA 8 g/L and pH 3.10, brilliant colour, very pale, the nose is redolent of fresh limes and citrus fruits, and a touch of savoury, sour apples and sherbetty lift, all with purity. Off-dry to taste, bright and lively lime, apple and mineral flavours are refreshed by lively, steely and crisp acidity. The raciness carries the palate to a long finish. This is classical Kabinett style.
Next, the Pinot Gris 2013 (18.0+/20), from the home vineyard, vines planted 2006, stainless-steel fermented to 13.0% alc. and 4 g/L RS. Bright pale straw colour, the aromatics are a feature with lifted, youthful fermentation esters unfolding to show honied stonefruits. Dryish to taste, the palate is gently rich with good body and a firm core, the wine possessing good drive allow with fine, balanced phenolics. Some exotic rose-petal elements emerge, and the wine flows to a mellow, honied finish.
Onto the reds, and this bottle of Central Otago Pinot Noir 2012 (17.0/20) less funky than my last. Moderately deep ruby-red with garnet hues, the nose is full with soft, savoury red berry fruits, entwined with gentle game and soft, smoky, charry oak notes. Medium-bodied, but full and open flavoured, bright red fruits are complexed by spicy oak, and guided by light, fine tannins. The acidity is elevated, providing energy, cut and carries the flavours to a good finish. 60% Gibbston fruit and 40% Bendigo, fermented to 13.0% alc., the wine aged 11 months in French oak.
Next, the Bannockburn Pinot Noir 2011 (18.5-/20), Dijon clones 114, 115 and 777, indigenous yeast fermented to 14.0% alc., the wine aged 12 months in one-third new French oak. Full, even, dark ruby-red colour. This has a firm, deeply packed and voluminous bouquet with ripe black berried fruits, along with fragrant florals, plum jam and spice notes, lifted by a touch of volatility. On palate a big and fulsome wine, with deep and concentrated black berry and plum fruit. The mouthfeel features a firm line and structure, marked by plenty of fine-grained tannin extraction. The wine is bold and up-front, the grip carrying the rich flavours to a strong finish.
Finally, the ‘First Vines’ Pinot Noir 2011 (18.5/20), made from the oldest vines on the ‘Home’ block, indigenous yeast fermented to 14.0% alc., the wine aged 11 months in 30% new French oak barrels. Very dark, deep, ruby-red with youthful purple hues. The nose is very firm and tightly concentrated, elegant in proportion, showing ripe dark fruits entwined with fresh and dried herbs, the expression showing some stalk and brackish elements. The fruit has clarity and vibrancy. On palate, this is very concentrated, but elegant in proportion with rich, succulent dark red berry fruits, raspberry liqueur, and herb notes. The fruit is underlined by very fine, firm, but silky tannins and enlivened by lacy, near racy acidity. This exudes vitality and finesse, with drive and length. 18.5/20
As noted earlier, I’ve tasted and reviewed all of the wines before, and on this showing, I’ve upped my rating on the Riesling 2013 from 17.5/20 to 18.0, the Central Otago Pinot Noir 2012 from 16.0+/20 to 17.0/20, and the ‘First Vines’ Pinot Noir from 18.0+/20 to 18.5/20. The tasting is consistent with the improvement I see in many wines with some time in bottle, recognising that I review many wines very soon after bottling or release onto the market.