July 2008

Up-and-coming Waipara is a cool-climate star

By: Anthony Dias Blue
Springtime vineyards at Camshorn in Waipara.

More than half of all New Zealand wines come from Marlborough. In fact, this large region is a wall-to-wall sea of vineyards, twenty-five thousand acres in all; virtually every plantable acre has been planted. Marlborough is so crowded with vines that producers are looking for other regions in order to expand their plantings.

On the east coast of the South Island (like Marlborough), the Canterbury region, is a large, sprawling area with just a few thousand acres of mostly widely dispersed vineyards. One place where there is some concentration of vines is the sub-region of Waipara, due north of Christchurch, the region’s biggest city.

There are only about 3,000 acres of vineyards in Waipara, but Pinot Noir and Riesling represent a significant portion of those plantings. There are some mature vineyards here and quite a few recently planted spreads. Waipara is rapidly becoming a serious alternative to Marlborough for cool-weather varieties. Brancott (known as Montana in New Zealand) is budding its Marlborough Riesling over to Sauvignon Blanc and satisfying its Riesling needs with Waipara fruit.

The first modern-day vineyards were planted in the early 1980s. The top winery in the area, Pegasus Bay, has been producing quality wines since the 1991 vintage, with an emphasis on Riesling and Pinot Noir. In recent years a number of other wineries have chimed in with seriously good wines from this emerging region.

I visited Waipara for the first time in May and was quite impressed with what I tasted. I’m happy to say that every one of these wines has a screwcap closure.


This is a large project of Pernod-Ricard that shows enormous promise. The Pinot, made from five-year-old vines, is good now and can only get better as the vineyards age. PERNOD-RICARD USA

2006 Riesling, Salix Clays ($24)
Pure and limey with bright citrus acidity and lovely structure; dry, mineral and complex. 90 points

2007 Riesling, Classic, Grasnevin Gravels ($24)
Bright, aromatic and nervy with lovely spice, citrus and some stone fruit sweetness; racy, bright and juicy with pure, fresh flavors. 91

2007 Pinot Gris, Glenmark Gravels ($24)
Rich and creamy with dense texture and aromatic fruit; complex, nicely extracted and long with Alsace style. 89

2006 Pinot Noir, Domett Clays ($35)
Ripe and juicy with lovely texture and maturing cherry fruit; nice earth, length and balance. 88

Muddy Water

Belinda Gould and Jane East of Muddy Water.

The name of the winery is the literal translation of the Maori word “Waipara.” The winery is owned by Jane and Michael East and the winemaker is Belinda Gould, who has worked at Sonoma-Cutrer and Calera. The wines are made from sustainably-farmed grapes. VIA PACIFICA

2007 Riesling, James Hardwick ($22)
Crisp and elegant with lively, racy acidity and bright citrus; long, fresh and beautifully balanced. 90

2006 Pinot Noir, Hare's Breath ($40)
Bright, fresh and intense with flesh, spice and lovely cherry fruit; structured, long and complex with style and racy acidity. 90

Pegasus Bay
This is a family operation with many Donaldsons involved. The wines are made by Matt Donaldson and his wife, Lynette Hudson. EMSPON USA

2007 Sauvignon/Semillon ($25)
Racy, brisk and citrusy with grapefruit and lively lime; mineral, fresh and long. 90

2007 Riesling, Classic ($25)
Fresh, smooth and lively with nervy acid/sweetness tension; bright, long and charming. 90

2006 Pinot Noir, Waipara ($43)
Lively and fresh with lovely cherry fruit and racy acidity; elegant, pure and stunningly complex. 92

2004 Pinot Noir, Prima Donna, Waipara ($73)
Fresh, pure and racy with ripe black cherry and remarkable elegance; long, complex and lovely. 93

Waipara Springs

Owned by the Grant and Moore families this small winery had its first vintage in 1989. Many of the wines are foot-stomped. 28 BELOW WINE IMPORTS

2006 Riesling, Premo ($21)
Spicy, fresh and creamy with vanilla and juicy peach; long and balanced with racy acidity. 90

2007 Gewürztraminer, G Spot ($NA)
Smooth, spicy and slightly muted by oak; lush and rich, balanced and long with nice vanilla. 88

2006 Pinot Noir, Premo ($24)
Bright, juicy and racy with searing acidity and lovely black cherry fruit; brisk, fresh and long with great structure and a clean, balanced finish. 92


Destiny Bay
Mike Spratt and his vineyard at Destiny Bay.

A $275 Bordeaux blend from New Zealand certainly gets your attention. I was so fascinated that I actually went to visit the Destiny Bay winery, not an easy thing to do, since it’s located on an island. Waiheke Island is a 40-minute ferry ride from Auckland, and it’s a different world. This mountainous island is a vacation paradise and home to nearly 20 wineries.

Iowa-born mergers and acquisitions specialist Mike Spratt fell in love with Waiheke and bought a lush bowl-shaped piece of land on the back side of the island. He planted it with four Bordeaux varieties—Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Malbec—and hired Frenchman Luc Desbonnets to make the wines.

Here are my notes on the Destiny Bay wines:

2005 Mystae, Estate, Waiheke Island ($115)
Dark and rich with lush texture and fresh berry fruit; lovely structure, great length and racy acidity; smooth, intense and totally balanced; 49% Merlot, 35% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Cabernet Franc, 4% Malbec . 92 points

2005 Magna Praemia, Estate, Waiheke Island ($275)
Smooth, lush and balanced with rich texture and bright plum and racy acidity; long, complex and totally balanced with seamless delivery and lovely follow through; 74% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Merlot, 8% Malbec, 5% Cabernet Franc. 95

2006 Destinae (Aeolus), Waiheke Island ($88)
Silky and spiced with lively acidity and supple texture; fresh, juicy and bright with fine tannins and flavors of plum and tangy fruit; long, balanced; 46% Cabernet Sauvignon, 22% Merlot, 17% Malbec, 15% Cabernet Franc. 89

2006 Mystae, Waiheke Island ($115)
Dark, dense and luscious with racy plum and notes of coffee, chocolate and spice; smooth, fresh and supple with balance and good length; elegant and complex; 57% Cabernet Sauvignon, 22% Merlot, 17% Cabernet Franc, 4% Malbec. 91

2006 Magna Praemia, Waiheke Island ($275)
Smooth and rich with lovely plum and silky texture; supple, long and elegant with complexity, depth and lovely notes of minerals and soft spice; 74% Cabernet Sauvignon, 14% Merlot, 7% Cabernet Franc, 5% Malbec . This one needs time. 92


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