Some grapes are so difficult to master that they become known for mediocre wine. The two most maligned these days are the low acid grapes Viognier and Gewurztraminer. The reputation for these grapes demonstrates that misunderstandings often underlie mainstream impressions. Few who have tasted this grape know anything about how to grow it and what makes it work. Evidently many winemakers also struggle with this dilemma.
The First Biodynamics in the Southern Hemisphere
Milton Vineyards, founded in 1984, and their winemaker James Milton have been practicing biodynamics since 1989 and seem to be quite well known and respected in New Zealand. In fact, Milton was one of the first biodynamicists in the Southern Hemisphere and claims to be one of the first 10 biodynamic growers in the world. Though I question Milton’s claim to be ‘one of the originals’ as it relies much on hazy definitions, he certainly was practicing biodynamics long before it was trendy. He was trained in France and Germany and worked as a cellar master in the Rheinhessen. I have never seen their wines in North America, though reportedly they can be found rarely in the US. Given the extremely high quality of the wines, I’m surprised at their lack of profile here.
James Milton can safely be put into a ‘naturalist’ camp – he is close friends with Nicolas Joly, a member of the French (though increasingly international) group Renaissance des Appellations, and an opponent of wine-making additions such as sugar, acid or animal protein. Sulphite is used to preserve the wine for transport.
The winery is located in Gisborne, a region in the north east part of New Zealand that is best known for Chardonnay. However, the Riverpoint vineyard which is home to the Gewurztraminer vines for this wine seems very well suited to the grape. It is 5km from the sea on silt loam soils.
The Conditions for Top Gewurztraminer
This is perhaps the best Alsatian variety wine I’ve tasted outside Alsace and certainly amongst the highest quality 2-3 Gewurztraminers I’ve had.
As referenced in my opening paragraph, Gewurztraminer is hard to grow. It requires a long ripening season in sunny, cool, dry regions. It needs time to develop its aromas without losing so much acidity that it loses all structure. Gisborne has all these qualities and was home to some of New Zealand’s early success with Vitis Vinifiera grapes – namely Gewurztraminer – prior to the take-off of Sauv Blanc. Gewurzt also absolutely requires low yields, which generally means it is not possible to make cheap but high quality Gew. The consensus seems to be that yields should not be greater than 40hl/ha. Rootstock is also relevant, as certain types encourage vigour and so are not ideally suited to top quality Gew.
The wine is classic Gew. It has the full spectrum of its heady scents with roses and lychee and myriad candied flowers and perfume-like aromatics. However, unlike most Gews from Alsace, this wine is fermented completely dry. It has 0 grams of residual sugar. And yet it retains its hedonistic qualities and all at 14% abv (rare for this grape). It is outstanding wine, and worked impressively well with Asian-inspired flank steak, eggplant and bitter greens.
Oh and yes, this is orange wine, fermented 78 days on its skins, but you don’t really think about that drinking it – the best outcome for an ‘orange’ wine.
Thanks to Alex Thorley from l’Abattoir for bringing this back from New Zealand to share.
$45 NZD at the winery (about $40 CDN)
Excellent to Excellent+