Felton Road

Back in 2011 not long before I left for my trip I attended a media lunch at Vue de Monde with Blair Walter from Felton Road, by accident. I should have been there the day before at the trade lunch but got mixed up, and somehow was able to stay with the illustrious likes of James Halliday, Jane Faulkner, Jeni Port, Dan Sims, Ben Edwards, Matt Skinner and a number of other Melbourne-based journalists and educators. Feeling very guilty and intimidated I then had the fortune of sitting next to Blair himself for the tasting of the entire range of new releases and then the insane lunch prepared by the Vue staff on the hundred-and-whatever floor of the Eureka Building. Over the many courses we were all regaled by tales from the god of Australian Wine James Halliday working the classic 1983 vintage in Burgundy, which not only put me further in awe of his legacy but also look forward to my trip in the hopes I would have even half the experience. That surreal afternoon will stay with me and created quite the connection with Felton Road wines. This week I had the chance to catch up with Blair again as he was in town for the Melbourne Food & Wine Festival, and taste a few of the wines.

Blair Walter

Felton Road is arguably New Zealand’s top winery, and certainly it’s most famous proponent of bio-dynamic viticulture. The winery was established back in the infancy of the Central Otago region which is now considered one of the top three places for pinot noir in the world (the others are Burgundy and the Willamette Valley). Felton Road’s path didn’t really get going until 2000 when Nigel Greening purchased the estate which comprised the Elms vineyard in the Bannockburn sub-region and added his own Cornish Point vineyard purchased in 1998. It was at this point that the conversion to BD began with certification coming through four years later. The philosophy of a self-sustaining ecosystem, bio-diversity and harmony with nature is something that is followed by the entire team without being too preachy about it. With such healthy and strong vineyards all approaching maturity they are producing small yields of some of the finest fruit in the new world. There are only three varieties they work with; pinot noir, chardonnay and riesling.

Felton Road tasting with Red + White

Blair also has quite a singular approach in the cellars for the region, being heavily influenced by regular excursions to such iconic European regions as Burgundy and Mosel. Often performing a green-harvest to reduce yields by up to 50%, the fruit is quite intense and concentrated and is often left later to reach flavour ripeness beyond physiological ripeness. Fortunately there aren’t too many problems with humidity or rain which could cause fungal problems, nor are there issues of losing too much acid as the ripening is very slow and the nights very cool. Whilst the alcohol levels might be a little higher they are perfectly balanced with acidity and fruit concentration. The chardonnay sees very little new oak (15%) and whilst it sits on the gross lees in barriques it sees no battonage until the end of maturation. The pinot noir similarly is handled quite gently in barrel to impart silkiness in the tannins rather than harsh and sappy astringency. The Felton Road pinot noir wines in particular are those that can be admired and enjoyed whilst young but truly benefit from careful cellaring to see their true potential realised.

Brief Felton Road tasting

I still know far too little about the wines made only a few hours by plane to the south-east. It’s about time that I started to explore some of the regions in New Zealand, not to mention regions in my own country. It’s a little embarrassing to think that I have visited almost 100 regions around the world yet I can count the number of regions I have visited locally on both hands. Here are the tasting notes if you are interested, I hope I can write a more personal profile on Felton Road in the future when I visit.

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