Martinborough is a small, chic town, close to the south of New Zealand’s north island. It is a magnet for the well-heeled of Wellington, an hour or so away and for the tourist. It combines some historic buildings, such as the Martinborough Hotel where we stayed, with bistros, coffee shops, boutiques and, of course, wine-related businesses. The town’s image is well captured by the delightful art deco and cinema-inspired posters for its wine, food and music festival. It also boasts the best-dressed zebra crossing that you could hope for. Glamour and lifestyle are the buzz words.It is therefore entirely in keeping that this was New Zealand’s first hotspot for that most glamorous of all grapes, Pinot Noir. The Family of Twelve have two of its members here and we visited Palliser Estate first. In keeping with Martinborough’s image, Palliser boasts a beautiful garden which leads to the cellar door and a well-equipped, contemporary winery. Open fermenters are pretty much de rigueur for Pinot but here six stainless steel fermenters have been built in a line with a system for auto-punch-down installed. The pressure can be adjusted; every inch of the cap can be gently pushed down in turn at the flick of a switch; hours of manual work are saved; and there is no danger of the worker not turning up after a big night or disappearing for a badly timed cigarette break. Similarly, parts of the total 75 hectares are picked by hand (with up to 40% of whole bunches in the blend), while the rest is picked by a contemporary Poulenc harvester which stems as it goes. The watchword here could be the intelligent application of the best of up-to-date approaches married to traditional Pinot winemaking. We sampled the wines at a tasting followed by a congenial lunch with new CEO Pip Goodwin (who had just finished a stint here as a winemaker) and longterm winemaker Alan Johnson. These range from a Pinot Rosé, ripe and quite full-bodied, through Sauvignon, Riesling and Chardonnay to the Pinots. The Pencarrow line is made from all Martinborough fruit, their own and from one contract grower. The top wines are bottled under the estate name. All these wines show really fine fruit definition, intelligent use of oak as appropriate (eg 20% new barrels for the Pencarrow Chardonnay and 25% for the estate wine, the latter is 25% wild ferment) for a style which marries ripe, precise fruit with some classy restraint for an old-world touch. Very Martinborough. The three Pinot Noirs represent the property excellently. Pencarrow 2014 shows relatively simple fruit and a touch of new oak. To achieve that at just NZ$22 (c. £11) they age the wine in old barrels with an inserted stave of new oak. Intelligent. Palliser Estate Pinot Noir 2104 ($42) is a much subtler beast altogether: bright red cherry to plum fruit, fine texture, elegant, very tight, with beautifully ripe tannins which indicate a wine that can be enjoyed on release or which will develop complexity and finesse with bottle age. This is the flag bearer for the estate. Finally, there is The Great Hector 2013 ($90) a selection of the best six barrels from a warm year which was aged in 66% new oak for a much more powerful expression. Here the fruit leaps out of the glass at you, rich, underpinned with a broad satin texture, beautifully ripe.
With thanks to Palliser Estate: your wines are as cute as Martinborough itself.
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