Thursday, November 4, 2010

It's That Time Again

Time to visit another Hawke's Bay stalwart, Esk Valley Winery

First stop, after a welcome at the door by Gordon Russell and Sue Cranswick, it's off to where all good winery tours begin, the vineyard. In particular, the newly enlarged Terraces on the Southern side of the valley, overlooking the winery.

On the way to The Terraces
 It is a grey wet day, but calm. perfect for golf, and Gordon is off to a tournament later in the day. We climb the path to half way up the vineyard and look over the little valley (not Esk Valley) in which the winery sits. Once Glenvale Winery, established in 1933, the site was bought in the mid 1980s by Villa Maria, renamed, and revamped. The winery buildings had evolved over 75 years and are still a random and sometimes ramshackle collection of add-ons and home made lean-tos. There are several houses on the site, although a notable omission is the old family home on the roadfront, demolished some years ago and now the ground has been replanted in chardonnay

Looking North, over SH 2, towards Mahia. The old farmhouse site is to the left
In the 1980s both sides of the valley were planted in mature pines, shadowing the winery and lending a gloomy air. The first task of the winery manager was to clear the pines, revealing the original 1940s terraces which had been abandoned when their low yield made them uneconomic in the times of volume over quality. Recently the slopes on the North side have been cleared, and a new venture has begun, raising moufflon (New Zealand mountain sheep) specially bred to cope with the steep slope, and fed on grape lees and pomace. It is thought that they will partner the syrah particularly well in warm years, while in cooler years the leaner but woollier animals will be best served with Pinot Noir.

The winery, and the new plantings
The ancient sheds are destined for removal and the vineyard will be extended up the valley, following the curve of the stream. Cooler flat sites are planted in chardonnay, while the terraced slopes are mainly red grapes, but include some undisclosed varieties which are being trialed for suitability for inclusion in the Esk Valley portfolio either blended or separately.
View over the Pacific Ocean

Barrel labels have been pixelated to obscure commercially sensitive details 
The old concrete cellars nestled into the hillside provide naturally even and cool temperatures without the need for refrigeration, reducing the carbon footprint of the wine and keeping costs down. Winemaking at Esk Valley is essentially minimalist and hands off, with a natural, non-interventionist approach being preferred unless fruit condition requires it. Gordon describes how as his confidence in the grapes has grown, his job has become easier and easier, with whole bunch pressing, running juice direct to barrel, and indigenous yeast fermentation and spontaneous malolactic being the norm.

100% French oak barriques for Esk Valley fruit
Gordon uses exclusively French oak for Esk Valley wines, and believes in leaving white wines on gross lees with regular stirring to build texture into the wine. He also follows this regime with Syrah, believing that this 'Burgundian' approach may sacrifice aroma but build texture. I was unable to confirm that he believes that 'Syrah is the Pinot of Hawke's Bay' but I'm sure he does :)

Esk Valley winery suffers from and revels in its 75 year legacy of somewhat unplanned expansion. The buildings are difficult to work in and lack the convenience of a modern purpose built cellar, but positives can be found - the cellar dug into the hillside, the massive concrete tanks now used for red fermentation, and the foundation of the main building which was once a tank used for storing fortified wine but has now been opened up for a new lease of life as a premium red barrel cellar.
Where good wine (and bad cellarhands) are kept
The things you find in old underground concrete sherry tanks
One of the most important legacies is the 20-odd red wine fermenters - open concrete vats lined with epoxy paint and lacking any of the niceties of a modern stainless steel fermenter - no temperature control, no easy way in or out, no way to seal it off for post ferment maceration other than plastic film and tape - and yet Gordon attributes much of the texture and tannin of the Esk Valley style to the thermal soak capacity of these tanks, their ability to even out fluctuations in temperature and share it between adjacent tanks, and the need for gentle hand plunging rather than pumpover or remontage.
The famous concrete fermenters

The winery itself is, to be a bit picky, somewhat shabby, with at best the fading charm of a once much larger establishment retiring gracefully, but the grounds are lovely, and the grey day brought out the gardens beautifully, so I indulged myself with a few gratuitously arty plant shots

Some of the collection of historic photos of the winery in Glenvale days can be seen in the winery tasting room
The range today
This seemed to say it all really
Happy students, learning, today Sue to the right, putting up with us.

Thanks Gordon and Sue

1 comment:

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