Winefriend by David Way

Writing about the wines of Piemonte, Italy and France

Postcard from Lawson’s Dry Hills

From afar most wine lovers will think of Marlborough as a single region. After all, the most common style of Sauvignon Blanc is so distinctive and powerful that the complications of terroir are a long way from the consumer’s mind.  But the pleasure of visiting is that you begin to appreciate the differences between the classic Wairau Valley style, where it all began, the Southern Valleys and Awatere (pronounced: Awa-tree).

 Awatere has become increasingly important as the Wairau Valley is pretty much completely planted.  Sion Barnsley of Lawson’s Dry Hills took Janet and me on the 20-minute drive through pass which heads towards Seddon (and eventually the south of the island) to visit their Blind River vineyard.  LDH has an 18 ha plot here in this yet dryer valley where flowering and ripening are slightly later and where the number of buds put down by the vine have to be reduced to make sure the fruit ripens.  There’s is a relatively warm site with good protection from the wind.  The Sauvignon here is less opulent with grapefruit and tomato leaf notes. As a result, there is a debate to be had as to how much Awatere fruit you want in your Sauvignon blend.  

At Lawson’s Dry Hills they square this particular circle by having a range of Sauvignon wines. Sauvignon Blanc 2015, 13% is a blend with 40% Waihopai Valley (most westerly of the Southern Valleys) plus fruit from Awatere. There is a lower-priced line but these top wines are in a fully dry style with racy acidity (pH 3.32, TA 7, 2g/l RS). Half the estate’s total fruit needs are homegrown, half from contract growers. The Sauvignon Blanc Reserve 2015 is a blend of their Chaytors Road and Barnsley vineyard (Waihopai) fruit, with remarkable intensity and bite. By contrast, Blind River Awatere Sauvignon Blanc 2015 comes from the aforementioned valley and is a textbook version for its stony, more limited fruit but with a fine chalky texture. And the range goes well beyond this variety: lifted, green apple and lime Riesling 2014, 20% barrel-fermented Pinot Gris 2014, part-barrel fermented spicy/savoury Gewurztraminer 2014 in which there is a touch of grippiness offsetting the off-dry (9g/l) finish and a very beautiful late-picked sweeter Gewurz, The Pioneer 2013, again barrel-fermented … and that is before you get to the Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs. There is a very high standard here, allied to decent volumes which make the wines more available than from boutique wineries.

With thanks to Marcus, the head winemaker who talked us through the wines, Sion and all at Lawson’s Dry Hills: keep up the great work!

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