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OenoTourism & Wineries

Yealands Winery NZ

Written by Aksel Ritenis

 Yealands Estate – Innovation and sustainability

 

“Think boldly – Tread lightly and never say it can’t be done!”

The first time I noticed the Yealands Estate wine brand was a couple of years ago at the NZ “Wine in a Glass” trade tasting at Sydney’s Cockle Bay Wharf in February 2012.

I had just returned to Australia to escape the post GFC effect in London and Europe generally, determined to finally refamiliarize myself with NZ and Australian wines, in order to complete my wine diary and other publications.

 It is rather hard to keep track of the burgeoning NZ wine industry from afar, as in Europe there are so many other diversions in the “vinous world” with both European and new world wines available, and I was still “enamoured” with such white varieties as the Austrian Gruner Veltliner or Italian Greco di Tufo from Campania, not to mention such white wine classics as Chablis, Spanish Albarino from Riax Baixas, or even Grechetto from Umbria, not to mention the occasional German Riesling from the Rheinessen!

Sauvignon Blanc wines have always been amongst my favourites, with their “racy fruity acidity and structure” carrying with it pungent grassy aromas or tropical fruit aromas and a hint of minerality.

It really is a bit of a “no-brainer”, and not surprisingly NZ Sauvignon Blanc continues to hold a significant share of the Australian white wine market, much to the chagrin of local producers who can’t really match it, with the exception of the classic Margaret River whites, a bit of Clare Valley Riesling perhaps and the odd drop of Hunter Semillon too.

I still remember the excitement of receiving our Cloudy Bay allocation of Sauvignon Blanc (in my days as a Sydney retailer in the late 80’s before we had “the recession we had to have”) with its weighty texture balanced by a minerally-citrus acid backbone as a benchmark in days gone by, not to mention the Te Koko, which I remember created considerable excitement at a Decanter magazine tasting in London back in 2011). I also remember the pleasure of drinking the dryer Loire Valley styles such as Sancerre, quite grassy or herbaceous, and redolent of blackcurrant leaf and invariably with a hint of “cats pee!?”

Of course in Europe I was lucky enough to drink the occasional bottle of French Sauvignon Blanc, my favourite being the Henri de Bourgeois (Sancerre Blanc de Bourgeois) wine, which remains a French benchmark still today.

So when I think about it, the Sauvignon Blanc variety is by all admissions, one of my favourite whites, and was sufficient to justify a trip to the Marlborough district last year to gain some insights into the fabulous quality and diversity of style of the truly great NZ Sauvignon Blancs.

I thought about the popularity of NZ ‘savvy blancs’ in Australia as I arrived at the 2013 NZ Tasting and was keen to glean some information, exchanging some views or indulge in some banter ” with wine trade colleagues, or other writers and retailers, as one does about this extraordinary varietal which outsells all others in the restaurant district in Sydney.

My first impressions of Yealands Family Wines was very favourable, and on re-tasting the wines a second time this year, and encountering the YEALANDS ESTATE SINGLE BLOCK M2 SAUVIGNON BLANC 2012 , I was pretty much “blown away” as it seemed that this was a “bespoke wine especially designed for my palate”, similar to a Riedel glass especially designed for a particular wine variety!?

Well that is obviously an exaggeration, I just wanted to make the point that this “pristine style” of Sauvignon Blanc really is no ordinary wine, and quite exquisite and “a cut above” the regular run of commercial Sauvignon Blanc wines out there! Of course many other wines in the Yealand’s range including the Pinot Gris are also seductive.

So it was at the more recent Young and Rashleigh tasting at Sydney’s MCA in November, that I had further confirmation of the “stand out quality of this pristine wine” and became curious about the meteoric rise and development of the Yealands brand into the 6th biggest in NZ!

 


So when I attended a Yealands winemaker dinner and had the chance to talk with the Yealands winemaker, Tamra Kelly-Washington, I was curious to discover the guiding philosophy of this accomplished and talented winemaker, and discover the part she played in the meteoric rise of the brand, and the swag of medals that they have been accumulating in International competitions!

Tamra is clearly a high achiever and “passionate about the wines she helps to shape” and believes that Yealands Family Wines is “proof that world-leading sustainability and internationally acclaimed wine quality can, in fact, go hand in hand.”

Tamra grew up in Marlborough during the region’s viticulture explosion, and spent school holidays working in vineyards and winery restaurants. She completed a degree in Viticulture and Oenology at Lincoln University where she was Dux. She gained experience in Marlborough’s Seresin Estate and then headed to California where she worked in in the Napa Valley, followed by stints in Australia’s Hunter Valley and Margaret River. Her first winemaker role was with Casa Vinicola Calatrasi’s 2002 vintage Sicily, Italy (at one point owned by Hardys). She worked as head winemaker for 4 years overseeing wineries in Sicily, Puglia and Tunisia – a major achievement for a young winemaker!

Back home in NZ, Tamra was able to re-acquaint herself with New World wine varieties, particularly aromatic varietals like Sauvignon Blanc, Gewurztraminer, Riesling and Pinot Gris, completing vintages at Evans & Tate in Australia and Kim Crawford, New Zealand. Then after a period as a ‘flying winemaker’ overseeing production from Italy’s northern Veneto region for the Sainsbury supermarket group, Tamra was “lured home” by the prospect of “leaving her footprint “on the Yealands range of wines.

According to Tamra, “This is the ultimate opportunity – working with super premium cool climate fruit and being involved from scratch in the set-up of a new winery and brand with absolute commitment to sustainability”.

Amazingly, Tamra and the whole team including the founder Peter Yealands, emphasize the “green credentials” of the Yealands Family Wines, and Peter Yealands is determined to be at “the absolute forefront of sustainable wine production practices, and quality winemaking.”

It seems pretty clear that they don’t just meet minimum industry requirements, “but sustainability and innovation have become an integral component of the Yealands brand”, starting with the creation of a vineyard in previously considered “marginal lands” right through to day-to-day vineyard management and business operations!

One of the major achievement is that Yealands has been awarded carboNZero certification by the worlds first internationally accredited GHG certification scheme.

So in order to check out these various claims I felt it necessary to speak to the man himself, the founder of the brand, Peter Yealands.

The first thing that strikes you about Peter is that he is an incredibly determined individual with a “can do attitude” and concerned about being at the forefront of sustainable vineyard and winery practices, and overturning previous orthodoxies.

He is not just innovative but a little “unorthodox and revolutionary as well”, and he confided to me in a conversation a personal trait, that “telling me it can’t be done is like a red rag to a bull!”

As a hobby farmer myself, (I have consistently avoided use of chemicals or pesticides in the growing process and have had experience in the regeneration of some wetlands with native grasses and flora and fauna as well as bird life) I was able to appreciate where Peter “is coming from.”

It seems his meteoric rise is due to his team building abilities, ability to inspire and delegate, and excellent management skills and willingness to “drive the tractor himself”, effectively using his extensive and diverse previous project development experience (farming NZ Mussels and also his experience in landworks) in developing and unifying the vineyards on the previously considered marginal site into a single vineyard of approx. 1000 hectares.

The vineyard comprises 700 hectares of Sauvignon Blanc, (apparently one of the largest single vineyards in NZ) and 100 hectares of each Pinot noir, and Viognier, and other varieties such as Gruner Veltliner. Peter took great care to explain the nature of the Terroir, “the Wairau Valley is sitting on a riverbed with water, whereas the Awatere valley consists of loose wind blown seashells and fossils throughout and no water table! If you drill, you can drill through to China without striking water, all the water comes down the river. We have schist, mica, loess and a lot of sodium and magnesium which impacts on the flavor of the wine.”

Peter emphasized that they improve the quality of the land by a process of enrichment whereby “compost lime crushed up mussel shells, grape marc, wood waste and seaweed, we have spread around 40,000 tonnes of compost, directly under the vine rows”, apparently the vines are laid north to south and “the terroir changes are due to wind, which blows top soil into the gulley’s”

He also related to me some of the major measures that they take:

  • – Use of Babydoll sheep to graze the vineyard to reduce minimize weed spraying and the winery is built under the green code,
  • – Extensive vineyard monitoring to minimize spray applications and use of organic where possible
  • – Recycling of water is collected from the winery roof and used for irrigation,
  • – Grape marc (skins and pips) are composted and returned to the vineyard as fertilizer,
  • – Bio diversity is at the forefront of development of 25 wetlands areas on the vineyard resulting in the regeneration of native flora and fauna even to the extent of developing an on-site falcon breeding programme,
  • – Utilization of recycled packaging material, lightweight bottles used when possible, to reduce carbon footprint,
  • – The winery currently utilises solar and wind power,
  • – Baling vine prunings as a energy source for the winery.

So not surprisingly, in recognition of all these measures, Yealands has been awarded carboNZero certification by the worlds first internationally accredited GHG certification scheme. Peter proudly proclaimed “We are the absolute leaders in sustainable wine production in the world, and we won the award for most sustainable business”

On a sidenote, I might add that Peter also has some rather unconventional ideas on the processes of nature. He believes that “plants like music, they respond to the vibrations”, he has improved the yield of Hens, who are played music, and you have heard about the venus flytrap?, and the sound waves or vibrations they sense, that enable them to swallow insects? And the effect of “persons acknowledged to have so called “Green Fingers” talking to plants”, well far be it for me to be sceptical!?

In view of the Australian governments resolve to reverse the Carbon Tax I asked for Peter’s take on global warming and he said “No matter what you believe, global warming needs to be taken seriously, we should think of our grandchildren, we need to think very hard”.

One of my personal “hobbyhorses is the question of “organic fruit and veg”, so I raised the question of Organic practices in the vineyards and Peter wisely explained “it is not an organic vineyard, you can be organic and very unsustainable – not all chemicals are harmful, for instance one application is less harmful than 8 applications of organic chemical!!” Touche!

Baling vine prunings as a energy source for the winery

On the current 2014 vintage – “looks like a good crop, it is past frost stage but wet southerly winds can impact on flowering and we have a challenge ahead of us with earthquake damaged tanks”. Apparently Awatere Valley wine tank stands buckled and there is a limited capacity to rebuild/engineer new tanks before the winemaking season starts.

On asking Peter about the M2 Single Block Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc. ”Generally with Sauvignon Blanc the wines are grown and fermented separately according to the block or part of the vineyard they belong to, with considerable variation in flavor characteristics, but adding to and enriching the blends final complexity, and only blended when the flavor characteristics are established”.

I congratulated Peter on the winning of a Gold Medal at the IWC and on asking Peter about his enthusiasm for Gruner Veltliner he replied “I started growing grapes in 1998, so when you have a grape nursery with different varieties its always exciting to experiment and find success with something new. So from a consumer point of view, as well as the quality and fantastic wines, when you buy Yealands wines you can be confident you are purchasing environmentally friendly wines that do not compromise on quality.

The Wines

 

M2 SAUVIGNON BLANC 2012

WAIRAU VALLEY/MARLBOROUGH

The Yealands Estate Single Block wines are crafted from small parcels of exceptional fruit, sourced from individual vineyard blocks known to produce distinctive flavours and the terroir consists of “Silt loam over alluvial gravel ” Mills & Ford, Lower Wairau Valley, Marlborough

In 2012, Marlborough had a cool spring which led to small bunch sizes. Eight weeks of dry, sunny weather leading up to harvest ripened the light crop perfectly, making 2012 into one of their best vintages. The harvested fruit was “brimming with purity, intensity and flavour ripeness”

Fruit from M2 block was carefully harvested at optimum ripeness. The pristine, ripe fruit was destemmed, chilled and gently pressed off to settle in a small stainless steel tank for three days. The clear juice was racked of and warmed before being inoculated with a selected yeast for fermentation.

A long, cool fermentation in a small stainless steel tank took place over 19 days. Once fermentation was complete, the wine was immediately racked off lees to enhance the pure aromatic qualities of the wine.

This remarkably pungent Sauvignon Blanc shows pure, lifted aromas of ripe passionfruit, grapefruit and green capsicum on the nose. The full, concentrated palate brims with pure fruit, with a underlying racy, citrus acidity that provides a good backbone to the wine.

 

GRUNER VELTLINER

MARLBOROUGH | 2013

It seems that “thinking differently” is what distinguishes Yealands from many more conventional wineries. Yealands has been crafting award winning wines in harmony with nature has seen Yealands emerge as a global leader in sustainable winegrowing.

The gruner is a relatively low cropping grapes picked by hand at 22.5 brix and whole bunch pressed with a long cool fermentation to capture and enhance the classic Gruner flavours of stonefruit and spice??

The GV shows lifted notes of stonefruit, honeysuckle and spice. The palate is rich and textured with complementary notes of pepper and spice, which integrate well with fine acidity,.

This wine is extremely versatile with food –(similar to Austrian Gruner), it pairs very well with Asian cuisine seafood chicken and pork dishes, but at the same time is an excellent aperitif.

YEALANDS ESTATE PINOT NOIR

2011

The wines comes from the Gibbston Valley sub region in Central Otago. This elegant,varietal Pinot Noir, which complements the wines fromYealand’s own Seaview vineyard, in the Awatere Valley, Marlborough, with its wonderful structure and mineral acididity.The fruit is sourced from The Holtzman Vineyard site on the upper bench of the Gibbston Valley sub region,within Central Otago.This single vineyard blend is made up from Dijon 777 (75%) and Pommard Clone 5 (25%). The vineyard comprises of a North facing slope that has an altitude of 350metres above sea level.The soils are heavy Loess deposits over Schist rock and river gravels. The vines yielded 4 Tonne / HA.

2011 was a fantastic vintage for Gibbston Valley, with warm days and cool nights.

The low yielding Pinot Noir was hand harvested at optimum ripeness. The parcel was cold macerated at 6–8 degrees for around 10 days before being warmed and inoculated with selected yeast. A fast, hot fermentation up to 32 degrees proceeded with regular hand plunging which has helped to craft a wine with elegance and balance. The wine parcels were gently pressed off post primary fermentation into barrel for malolactic fermentation. 25% of the parcel was aged for 10–11 months in new French oak barriques, 40% into second year and 35% into third year French oak.

“In the glass the wine is bright with a youthful hue. The nose is brimming with lifted aromaticity, showing red fruit, earth, and dark cherry spice. The palate is refined with notes of plum fruit, which is complemented by silky tannins, a bright acid core, and a long savoury finish.

It matches well with duck, lamb, venison and veal dishes.

 


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Aksel Ritenis

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