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VinPro – The Modern Face of Central Otago

By July 4, 2013No Comments
Situated right next door to the Central Otago Wine Co. is VinPro, the largest contract winemaking facility in the region. The contrast between the two operations is distinctive. While COWCo is reasonably large in size, VinPro is massive, with a huge footprint that extends beyond the block and across the road. It’s a ‘one-stop shop’ where the vinification is done, bottling and warehousing all carried out on the spot. The wines that are made are very different, those from VinPro are ‘straight down the line’ based on fruit, with supple and accessible natures, whereas those from COWCo can be more textured and funky. With its first vintage processed being 2005, it’s the modern face of Central Otago.


The VinPro Men – Pete Bartle and Morley Hewitt

VinPro is owned by a small consortium led by Morley Hewitt, and has an operating capacity of around 1,000 tonnes, with 800 tonnes processed last vintage. The key person in a technical sense at VinPro is Pete Bartle, who oversees all aspects of the winemaking. Pete has two very able winemakers working with him, Dave Sutton, a production-focussed man with overseas experience, and Linda Ferrier, who specialises in compliance and sustainability matters. The facility looks after just over 15 clients, the top half-dozen accounting for nearly two-thirds of the crush. Surprisingly, the largest client is New Zealand Wine Cellars, (who trades as the N.Z. Wine Society). Wild Earth and Wooing Tree are the next largest with Domain Road and Grasshopper Rock following. Among his smaller clients are some profile labels such as Archangel, Lowburn Ferry, the Alexandra Wine Co. and Judge Rock. www.vinpro.co.nz

Peter Bartle – Winemaker
Before coming to Central Otago and working as winemaker at Olssen’s and Peregrine, Peter’s background and training was at Villa Maria, and this could be seen as a reason for the style of the wines that are being produced there. And like Villa Maria’s wines, the VinPro wines seem to be winning awards. The Champion Wine of the Show at last year’s Air New Zealand Wine Awards was the Grasshopper Rock Pinot Noir 2010, made at VinPro. Peter Bartle is an unassuming man, and one seemingly without an ego. His mantra is to ‘respect the fruit, making varietal wines. The best representation of the fruit is primary”. That means little indigenous and low whole bunch fermentation. There’s no room to play around with such techniques as he has “no room for error when it comes to looking after the interests of his clients, especially the smaller guys”. Commercial reality takes precedence, so that his clients have the best wines possible to take to the market. In the final analysis, his ‘house style’ for lack of the proper term is elegance and feminine, but as with all contract winemaking, he is guided by the parameters given by his clients.


Plenty of tank space

.Although Peter is clearly a winemaker, I reckon he is a frustrated viticulturist. He spends a lot of time walking the vineyards of his clients, and offers advice, especially when it comes to picking decisions, and tries to avoid any over-ripeness. It’s a major part of his work, as he doesn’t like surprises at vintage time, and one of the most disturbing events is a load of grapes turning up that he knows nothing about. Awareness of the history of the fruit enables the proper and most efficient handling and vinification. A critical interpretation would be that Peter likes control. A liberal view is that he’s an outdoors man. I’d like to think the latter, as I know he’s a keen mountain biker! At the other end of production, Pete has instituted an oak programme targeting barrels and coopers to the wine styles emanating from each of his client’s vineyards.

Tasting 2013 Tank and Barrel Samples
Pete took my partner Sue (who worked at Villa Maria when he was there) and I for a tour around VinPro and we tasted 2013 tank and barrel samples. For 2013, Pete sees the most flavour delivered from the vineyards for some time, and this forebodes well for the wines. With respect for client confidentiality, I’ve not named the producers.

The first group were white and aromatic wines. A Pisa Gewurztraminer with 7 g/L rs, very fine and delicate with subtle, perfumed clarity, a gorgeous drop. Then a Pinot Gris for one of his large clients, lightly spiced with stonefruit and honey, absolutely varietal, showing creaminess of character, especially on the palate. A Bannockburn Rosé, pretty pink with a little candyfloss note, but with more interest on palate showing savoury herb flavours to the fruity core. This is 4 g/L rs, and one that Peter and Sue particularly liked. This was followed by an off-dry Queensbury Riesling at 23 g/L rs. Very refined and tight with exotic nuances unfolding from the lemonade-like core. Impressive in length.

Onto the reds next. A Lowburn Pinot Noir, a classical expression with finesse and concentration, penetrating raspberry fruits, but supple and sweet. A real beauty. This was followed by a Pisa Pinot Noir, a blend of clones 5 and 115. Marked by toasty oak, with firm structure and racy acidity, real drive and cut. Another sample of this a little less oaky, with more fruit richness, but the same underlying structure and zestiness. More openly broad with a robustness in mouthfeel and fruit expression was a Wanaka Road Pinot Noir from a biodynamic vineyard.

Peter reckons the Alexandra Pinot Noirs are close in style to Burgundy wines by way of their structure and minerally nature. An Alexandra Pinot Noir was indeed very refined with a cut and driven linearity to the sweet, lifted floral fruit. He also reckons co-fermenting blends provides a larger mass which allows better integration in the final wine. And the larger producers possess a consistency and evenness by way of this. A Cromwell Basin Pinot Noir with 15% whole bunch had layers of aromatic and spicy fruit to match a full and well-structured palate. This could turn out to be a ‘flagship’ wine. Finally a Bendigo Syrah, a touch reduced, as Syrah tends to be at this stage, tending black pepper rather than white, quite elegant, and sweet with it. This was a positive surprise.


New barrels ready for filling

Interestingly Peter sees that the moniker of ‘contract winemaker’ can have a pejorative meaning, especially in the sense of uniformity and lack of personality in the wines that are made. That may be true when dealing with the basic and commercial end of the market. But he’ll concede, after a bit of pushing, that he’s done well with his clients’ wines, and indeed, I sense a degree of pride in handling them individually. Pete smiled when I used the Californian term ‘custom crush’ for contract winemaking. That’s what he is doing and it’s good for Central Otago.

 

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