The vineyard, established in 1996, is part of a 12 ha property purchased by Mike and Margaret Hanson, following advice from the late Bill Brink who set up Walnut Ridge wines. The vines sit alongside olive trees and Mike and Margaret are living their dream of living on and working intimately with the land to produce something they can call their own. The site is indeed special, sitting on protected terraces at the southern end of the Te Muna Valley, with views that extend to the north encompassing the vines of Craggy Range. I was told of the beauty of the vineyard and its surrounds by a number of local winemakers, and can confirm it to be the case.
Nigel Elder, during his tenure as viticulturist at Martinborough Vineyard was also taken by the qualities of the vineyard, seeing the fruit coming from it going into the various bottlings under contract. Nigel’s business dealings led to friendship with the Hansons, and with Nigel’s wife Bridget, a partnership was established to make wine that captured the character of the vineyard. The wine under The Elder Pinot’ label consists of Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir, the latter variety being predominant, and are made by Paul Mason at Martinborough Vineyard, who takes the rest of the fruit. The vineyard is tended fastidiously by Mike and Margaret Hanson, and Nigel’s viticultural experience has seen it settle in consistency with increasing fruit quality. The Hansons and the Elders are continually looking at growing the best fruit possible, and are extremely proud of what has been achieved to date.
At the time of the visit, the growing season for the 2013 harvest had been superb. It was very pleasing to see very clean and healthy fruit in well-formed bunches in a good state of ripeness. Berry size was compact, the fruit with firm skins, crop loading was suitably low, the Hansons dropping fruit to ensure concentration. The projected picking date looked to be into the second and third week of April, around two to three weeks later than the Martinborough town blocks, this being the norm, due to the slightly cooler growing conditions and higher altitude of the Te Muna sub-region and the nature of the site’s microclimate. Walking through the vineyard, both Mike and Nigel pointed to the Abel clone fruit, which they are finding greater favour in due to the increasingly fine results. They’ve planted more of this, and along with 115 and clone 5, these three make up most of the Pinot Noir vines.
Lunch was based around roast pork and lamb, with freshly baked bread, garden salads and vegetables, the perfect accompaniment to Pinot Noir, of course. We were served the 2010 Pinot Noir, with the 2011 which is yet to be released, and a final blend, as yet unbottled 2012. The Elder Pinot Noir 2010 was the inaugural release (see my review here), and was a very impressive effort for a debut wine. Its richness and size signalled the arrival of an interesting quality-focused wine and label. I’ve tried it on a number of occasions since, and it has just gotten better, becoming richer and more integrated. It is classical Martinborough Pinot Noir for sure. This day, it looked very good, still dark and deep, quite solid and with a robustness to the texture, and lush with ripe, dark red fruits and spices.
The Elder Pinot Noir 2011 is a lighter wine, as the Pinot Gris is. The fruit is not so dark in character, more in the red berry spectrum, and with greater fragrance. It’s driven more by the acidity than the extraction and tannin as is the case with the 2010. Different for sure, reflecting the vintage at the vineyard site, but not lesser for it. The 2011 is a more refined and elegant expression that will please Pinot Noir fans for sure. I’d tasted a barrel sample of the 2012 when I visited Paul Mason at Martinborough Vineyard late in January, and it looked elegantly sweet and sinewy, but the final blend of The Elder Pinot Noir 2012 tasted today appeared to have a fuller array of flavours and greater fleshiness with refined tannins. This had excellent perfumes, sweet fruit and bright acidity. The spicy oak was a little prominent, as is often the case with newly assembled wines, and no doubt this will be absorbed as the fruit grows. I believe the 2012 fits nicely in between the 2010 and the 2011, and has the best of both worlds.
The Hansons and the Elders have a wonderful vineyard and wine operation, and tasting the Pinot Noirs still to come, there is plenty of promise ahead. www.theelderpinot.co.nz