Thursday, April 8, 2010

Felton Road Winery – Biodynamic Wine Heaven

(Feb. 12, 2010) Our appointment at Felton Road was for 2pm with Garrett, the vineyard manager, and one of the most passionate organic grape growers I have ever met (and I’ve met quite a few!). He had so much energy and enthusiasm, he was almost bouncing off the ground. Felton Road has a highly justified reputation of producing one of the highest quality pinot noirs in New Zealand. After this visit, I can verify this is true….and I believe it is almost all certainly due to the incredible care and “love” they relish on their vineyards.

Felton Road is located just 5 minutes down the road from Mt. Difficulty – rather at the end of the road. Since most of their wine is allocated, the tasting room is only open a few hours per week or by appointment. It is quite small – located in a small house with a wrap around front-porch and lovely organic garden with lots of lavender and humming bumble bees. The entrance to the winery is rather hard to find, and we actually accidently entered through the delivery drive-way, but enjoyed winding our way amongst the vines.

Garret was there to greet us promptly at 2pm and immediately asked if we were up for a walk through the vineyards. We happily said yes and started off as he explained that they had 33 hectares of certified biodynamic vines, and they produce 10 – 11,000 cases per year. A large portion – 75% -- is exported to over 30 countries. Garret explained that they have 3 main vineyards, and try to plant chardonnay on the silt soil and pinot on the clay soil. They use 2x1 meter spacing, cane pruning because it grows faster in the spring, and are 85% on mixed rootstock. They plant buck wheat, yarrow and mustard every 10th row, and do all hand-tilling beneath the vines to fight weeds. They also create their own compost, but purchase the biodynamic preps from the Biodynamic Association of NZ.

Garret explained that what makes them so successful is that all of the employees “buy-in” to the biodynamic process. They are proud to work there, and everyone is willing to pitch in. Because of the environment and culture, they attract the best people – and truly have a winning team.

After about an hour wandering through the vines and examining crop load, cover-crop, soil, the insectory, tractors, and other aspects, we headed to the cellar. I was impressed with the large square cement and stainless tanks they are using for fermentation. Garret said they usually do 25% whole cluster ferment for the pinot noir, and use a combination of hand and pneumatic pigeage. We didn’t get much detail on the winemaking because Garrett said all of the “real winemaking” had taken place in the vineyard. Therefore I don’t know if they do cold soak; ferment temp; how many days until completed; extended maceration, etc. The only thing we know for sure is they use natural yeast. After gentle pressing, the pinots are aged in 30% new French oak, where they also go through ML. Elevage lasts from 11 to 18 months – depending on the vineyard and wine tier. They only rack before bottling. The chardonnay is all barrel fermented with racking and sulfur after ML; and aging for 11 to 16 months in 10-15% new oak.

The cellar is attached to the tasting room, so we made a full circle and arrived back at the small, yet charming tasting room. Garret referred us again to the maps that illustrate the different vineyards and soil types. We then started the tasting which included 10 wines. All were wonderful, fresh, vibrant, clean, and very well concentrated – which is what I usually find in organic and biodynamic wines. They seem to have a pure energy, clean fruit, and are never thin.

It is hard to select a favorite, but those that really delighted my palate were: the 2009 Felton Road Dry Riesling, with a ripe peach nose, mouthwatering juicy acid; and long finish. Delightful – dances on the tongue; and the 2008 Felton Road Chardonnay Block 2 – a bright apple nose/palate with spice; complex layers of flavor; and a long finish. Moving into the pinots, they were all so good and unique, it is hard to choose, but some of my favorites included the 2008 Felton Road Calvert Vineyard Pinot Noir which was ripe and explosive on the nose with bursting raspberries, yet deeply concentrated and complex on the palate. Wow! We ended up buying this one. Equally wonderful were the 2008 Felton Road Pinot Noir Block 3 with more intense concentrated raspberry and some savory notes; and the 2008 Felton Road Pinot Noir Block 5 with great acid, herbs and spice adding to the complex and powerful dark berry fruit.

We left Felton Road in a very good mood and excited about our evening ahead in Queenstown. We headed back to the St. Moritz where we hit the hot tubs, then showered and got ready to celebrate our 25 year wedding anniversary. We started with appetizers and pinot in our room, and then headed downstairs to our reserved table with a lakeside view in Lombardi’s. The staff knew it was our anniversary and they treated us to two glasses of NZ sparkling wine on the house. As mentioned in a previous posting, the service was excellent and the food was some of the best we had in NZ. We started with a seafood appetizer with sauvignon blanc, then I had the lamb and Mike had the local venison –both with 2008 Earth’s End Pinot Noir, which was fruity, easy-drinking, and enjoyable. We ended with a wonderful dark chocolate dish with a glass of port. The plates were so artistically presented that I took pictures of several of them (see photos). It was easy to glide back to our room upstairs after such a magical meal.

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