New Zealand's 'island of wine' adapting to changing taste of wine drinkers
By Stephen Quinn ,Special to The China PostThe wines this week come from Waiheke Island, about a half-hour ferry ride from New Zealand's biggest city, Auckland. My first trip to the island was almost three decades ago, to help with harvest.
October 26, 2013, 12:04 am TWN
At the time Waiheke only had three vineyards. Now it has more than two dozen and is known locally as the “island of wine.”
The first vines at Obsidian Vineyard were planted in 1993, with the aim of producing a great Bordeaux-style red. This remains the focus but other grape varieties have been introduced, to reflect consumers' changing tastes.
After he bought the vineyard site Lindsay Spilman started reading about the island's history. Spilman discovered that Maori tribes living in Onetangi, close to the vineyard, treasured the semi-precious rock obsidian. They used it to make weapons and jewellery.
Obsidian is a dark natural glass formed by the cooling of molten lava. Because it is hard and brittle it produces very sharp edges when it fractures. It has been used as scalpel blades for surgery.
Spilman decided obsidian was a good name for his vineyard, even though the stone is not found on the island (though it can be found on neighboring islands in the Hauraki Gulf).
I tasted a trio of his wines. All exhibit a precision and elegance. The 2012 Obsidian chardonnay offers vibrant aromas of grapefruit, peach and lime mixed with notes of butter and biscuit.
During winemaking the fruit was gently whole bunch pressed and then put into tanks where it settled overnight before being put into barrels to ferment, using indigenous yeast. It was aged on lees with occasional battonage for 10 months.
Battonage is the process of stirring the lees to increase the complexity of the wine. The longer a wine stays on lees, the more it tastes of bread and brioche. This is an elegant wine that has a distinctive edge, if you will forgive the pun.
The Obsidian, a Bordeaux-style blend, is the vineyard's flagship wine. The 2008 edition consists of cabernet sauvignon (38 percent), merlot (30 percent), cabernet franc (14 percent), petit verdot (12 percent) with the balance malbec. The grapes came from a single vineyard at Onetangi. They are dry-grown—that is they receive no irrigation—on sheltered coastal hillsides, and the wine aged in French barriques for a year.