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Pegasus Bay – A Quick Visit with Mat Donaldson

By May 14, 2016No Comments

Mat Donaldson – Pegasus Bay

The word is that 2016 will be an excellent vintage in the Waipara Valley. While in Christchurch, it’s only an hour’s drive north to visit the key vineyards, and Pegasus Bay is one of the most notable to visit. I had the opportunity of catching up with winemaker Mat Donaldson and his wife Di, then enjoying a wonderful lunch at the award winning restaurant. The visit was a chance to hear the inside word on how vintage was going at Pegasus Bay, and how the Waipara Valley had fared, to that date.

2016 saw a return to good crop levels, following a very light harvest in 2015. The quality of the fruit in 2016 is of extremely good quality, the glorious summer weather carrying through well into the autumn. In 2016 it appears nature will atone for the lighter crop, incidentally of very good fruit of 2015, and the far more challenging 2014 harvest which saw rain ruin the latter part of the harvest. At this stage, the Donaldson family had picked approx. 90% of the fruit, with mainly Riesling to go. From around 40 ha of vineyards around 350 tonnes of fruit will be harvested for the Pegasus Bay label and around the same again, including contracted fruit for the Main Divide label.

Mat took us around the winery, introducing us to his staff, some permanent, others interns from around the world. All had smiles on their faces, and all were addressed by their first name. Around 10 interns are brought in each year to assist with vintage. In showing us the various bins of freshly harvested grapes, vats of fermenting juice and must, and tanks on their conversion to wine, Mat impressed me on how complex the winemaking art is. He reckoned he made between 25-30 different wines each year, and each of the tanks and vats were at various stages of the fermentation process. Take into account the individuality of each tank and then barrel of wine, then one can see the complexities that are involved in making not only decent wine, but how much attention detail is required in making fine wine. www.pegasusbay.com

Tasting 2016 New Wine Samples
We had a taste of a few samples of 2016 wine at various stages of vinification.
Firstly a Sauvignon Blanc destined for Main Divide. This was fresh, pungent with gooseberry and elderflower aromas. Still sweet from unfermented sugar, this was gentle but lively with gooseberry and passionfruit flavours. Very together and balanced already.

Then a Natural Ferment Riesling, probably around 3% alc. The natural yeast lending a savoury, smoky funkiness with herbal notes on the nose. But more classical on the palate, with lovely lime fruits and floral fragrances, with green apples. Lovely fresh acidity, but also a little phenolic grip through the palate.

This was followed by a fully fermented dry Sauvignon Blanc, to go into the Pegasus Bay label, approx. 14.0% alc., fermented in oak cuve, from 25° Brix fruit. Very fine and tightly bound. But with intensity and depth. Some alcoholic drive noticeable, and he flavours more stonefruit and a hint of mineral. Fresh, crisp, and clearly with some potential to keep.

Then Chardonnay from a new barrel – the ‘naughty’ barrel, signed by all the vintage staff. Textbook stonefruit and citrussy Chardonnay fruit with mealy and nutty notes already. Very fresh and tightly concentrated with brisk acidity, and the oaking level not out of balance.

And finally the 25° Brix cuve-fermented Sauvignon Blanc for the Pegasus Bay label again, but from a new barrel. Tightly concentrated with stonefruits, herbs and minerals. More varietal expression and richness emerging, with very fine textures. Here, the oak has toned down the alcohol, and enhanced the fruitiness.


North Block Vineyard – Pegasus Bay

A Walk in the Vines
Mat took us to two adjacent vineyards, near by the winery. The ‘North Block’ was resplendent in autumnal colours. The site was established 18-20 years ago with different varieties on varied rootstocks. Where each variety and rootstock started and finished were clearly defined by the colour of the leaves.

The neighbouring vineyard was the ‘Terrace Block’, the original vineyard planted by the Donaldson family 30 years ago. Still productive are the Pinot Noir, Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay vines.

We tasted fruit still to be picked, and the Muscat surprised Mat at how close to being ready to be harvested.

The Pegasus Bay Style
2016 was Mat’s 26th vintage at Pegasus Bay, his first being in 1992. Over that time and indeed before, Mat and all of the Donaldson family have developed an understanding of the wine consumers’ palate, this concurrently with an exploration of as many of the world’s important (and more obscure) wine styles as possible. This has led to the development of the Pegasus Bay and Main Divide house wine style. It’s one of drinker satisfaction. I have come to appreciate this in the eminently drinkable wines that come under the Pegasus Bay and Main Divide labels, and that’s why I awarded Pegasus Bay my ‘Winery of the Year’ in 2013. The wines always show ripe fruit, rich mouthfeel and offer an immediate degree of approachability. They have the ability to age well, and develop layers of detail and complexity. And they reflect their Waipara Valley origins.

I asked Mat about the expression of terroir and the explosion of single vineyard wines on the market, as well as the increased preference for wines that supported such ideologies behind them. Mat certainly believes in terroir, but provided the balanced perspective that not all terroirs needed or were worthy of expression. Expressing terroir for its own sake, or even at the detriment of drinkability was a lesser path to take. Mat believes it is still very early days in identifying our best terroirs, but eventually we’ll get there.

The vineyards that Pegasus Bay draw fruit from, all no doubt, have their individual characteristics. Maybe in the future, the best of these may be bottled separately. A complete and fully satisfying wine under the Pegasus Bay label, which blends the fruit from different sites, with complementary characteristics, that are supremely consumer friendly is the more likely option at present, is how I understand it. The success of, and regard for the wines supports the validity of this approach of house style expression.

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