Blair Walter & His Wine Making Philosophy
Blair is a thoughtful guy-- from talking to him I really got the feel that he takes his job extremely seriously and has a profound connection with his vineyards. He studied at Lincoln & Oregon State University and worked in several wine regions before settling in Central Otago. In the vineyards he farms everything organically and biodynamically (Demeter certified). He uses cover crops and makes organic compost to keep soil balance in tact and microbe health at optimum levels. His winery is designed around gravity flow, and he uses only indigenous yeasts. Ultimately, his winemaking philosophy revolves around minimal intervention. All of Blair's wines are under screwcap to avoid TCA and oxidation. He tests his older vintages side-by-side with cork and screwcap, and the wine aged under screwcap is always preferable to his tastes.
He makes his wines in Central Otago, an incredibly unique wine growing region for multiple reasons. Central Otago is dominated by the Southern Alps, a huge mountain range that creates a rain shadow over the wine growing region and makes this one of the driest wine terroirs in the world (averaging 400mm annually). The semi-continental climate has extremely hot summers and extremely cold winters. The arid environment contributes to a great diurnal temperature flux that helps grapes maintain their acidity.
The southern hemisphere is closer to the sun during the growing season than the northern hemisphere. This, combined with the depleted ozone hole and clear atmosphere, causes this region of the world to be inundated with intense UV radiation. In fact, this latitude in the southern hemisphere gets 11%more UV radiation than its northern hemisphere counterpart. Sunscreen is not optional for vineyard workers, and skin care is a major human concern. The grapes can also suffer from the UV rays, and a great deal of Blair's time and energy funnels into canopy management.
Felton Road "Bannockburn" riesling 2010 (Central Otago, New Zealand)
This riesling clocks in at a whopping 56 grams/liter of RS.
Chardonnay "Bannockburn" (Central Otago, New Zealand) 2011
Blair ferments his chardonnay in barrel (from Burgundian coopers, and always just a small amount of new oak- 10-15%), where it undergoes a natural yeast fermentation. Malolactic happens naturally in the spring. He stirs the lees regularly.
Riesling "Bannockburn" (Central Otago, New Zealand) 2010
Whole bunch pressed, fermented with indigenous yeasts, and lees-aged for several months. 56 g/l RS, 8.8 TA, 2.95 pH.
This drinks like an auslese with loads of RS and balancing acidity. Classic peachy fruit characteristics.
Pinot Noir "Bannockburn" (Central Otago, New Zealand) 2010
The Bannockburn pinot noir is a blend of 3 different properties, 10 different clones, 6 different rootstocks, and several different soil types. Spent 11 months in barrel.
This wine was smooth, slightly complex, with a purity of fruit that was refreshing, soft tannins, and great balance.
Pinot Noir "Calvert Vineyard" (Central Otago, New Zealand) 2010
The Calvert Vineyard covers 10.1 hectares and has heavy, cement-like silt soils. The soils here retain water, which is helpful in the arid climate. The vines here are 10 years old, and the roots are already 2.5 meters deep. Blair says "They're off down there, exploring..." The wine spends 11 months in barrel followed by racking.
This wine, like the Bannockburn, has beautiful purity of fruit, plus an almost cereal-like aroma that reminded me of cheerios. I wrote in my notebook: "Transportative, this is a fine wine..."
Pinot Noir "Cornish Point" (Central Otago, New Zealand) 2010
Cornish Point covers 7.6 hectares and has a light top layer of fluffy silt that sits on top of ancient river pebbles. The vines were planted in 2000, and are a mixture of 18 different clones and rootstocks. Blair makes the Cornish Point and the Calvert Vineyard identically, and when you taste them side-by-side you really get a feel for the different terroirs within Central Otago. The Cornish Point is more fruit forward and lighter, where the Calvert is denser and meatier in comparison.
This wine tasted fruity and toasty, like cherry frangipan.
Pinot Noir "Block 5" (Central Otago, New Zealand) 2010
Block 5 is one of the older vineyards in the region, with 20 year old vines. Block 5 has varied soils, including a clay band that runs through it. It's planted with Pommard clones. The wines from this block inevitably have more power and structure, so Blair gives this wine a bit more barrel aging-- 17-18 months in barrel.
Pinot Noir "Block 3" (Central Otago, New Zealand) 2010
Block 3 is adjacent to Block 5. Block 3 has the same soil throughout, planted with 20 year old vines.
This wine tasted of raspberry candies and fresh green herbs, and there was a spicy meatiness that reminded me of charcouterie. This spends 11 months in barrel.