Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Loveblock Wines from New Zealand's Awatere Valley & Central Otago

The Awatere Valley is one of three major sub-regions Marlborough and is situated in a valley running parallel with the east coast of the South Island. The Awatere River, which flows south from Clifford Bay, gives the region its name – awatere meaning "fast-flowing river" in the local Maori dialect. The Wither Hills in the north separate Awatere from the Wairau Valley, another large sub-region.  
 The vineyards of the Awatere Valley are planted in hilly and rugged landscapes. The free-draining soils are composed of wind-blown loams which cover a base of alluvial gravel. The climate is influenced heavily by the ocean that makes up the northern and eastern boundaries of the region. Intense sunlight during the day is cooled by ocean winds, contributing to the diurnal temperature shift that extends the growing season in the Awatere Valley, with harvests usually taking place some days after the Wairau Valley. Via 

When Kim and Erica Crawford decided to return to viticulture after selling the highly successful Crawford brand, they settled on a plot of land in the Awatere Valley that "stole our hearts". They renamed the property Loveblock Farm and established two vineyards Hillside and Woolshed & Triangle.  The Hillside is 180 acres of predominantly Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Gris with experimental plots for Pinot Blanc, Tempranillo, Gewurztraminer, Chenin Blanc and Riesling.  According to Erica, the winds on the Hillside can be challenging but they benefit the grapes by reducing the bug population and disease as well as providing slow vine growth which leads to very small berries and high aromatic concentrations.

The Woolshed (27 acres of Sauvignon Blanc) and Triangle (4 acres of Pinot Gris) vineyards are closer to the valley floor and consist of the well-draining soils mentioned above. As the vines dig deeper, the berries gain in minerality.  These vineyards are also certified organic where the "organic management reduces the vigor of the vines, reducing berry size and hence overall yields". Cheers.

The Crawfords also own a 20 acre vineyard in Central Otago, the southernmost wine region in New Zealand where Pinot Noir is the signature grape. According to Erica, this region has more limestone soils and a colder climate - both conducive for this noble grape. These cooler conditions are noted for a large diurnal temperatures which help grapes retain acids. The climate is also dry creating soils with high mineral content where the vines focus on "producing small, highly concentrated berries. The Someone’s Darling vineyard is located on the Bendigo Loop Road which is the warmest of the Central Otago wine growing areas and according to Erica, their "vineyard is the warmest one in Bendigo ensuring consistent ripening year on year".

This month Erica Crawford conducted a media briefing across the U.S. and provided dinner, samples, and answers to numerous questions concerning their operation. Here are brief descriptors of these vegan friendly and delicious Loveblock Wines.

Pinot Gris - Estate Marlborough 2016 ($22.99)
Sourced entirely from the organic Woolshed estate vineyard. The grapes are harvested at a low brix to produce a dry wine with low alcohol levels.  If you consider Pinot Gris somewhat boring this wine will change your perception as there's abundant fruit character as well as an inherent minerality that lingers with the racy acids.  Easy to see how this wine sells as well as their Sauvignon Blanc in commonwealth countries.

Sauvignon Blanc - Estate Marlborough 2017 ($21.99)
Sourced from the aromatically inducing vineyards  of the Awatere Valley where 90% of the wine's grapes are certified organic.  The vines are cropped to allow for sun and air circulation and cover crops force the vines to dig deep for nutrients. Several of the harvested batches were fermented in neutral French oak and these along with a quarter of the wine fermented in steel underwent full malolactic fermentation to reduce acidity.  The result is far from your standard New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. Instead of lemongrass and green flavors; layers of stone fruit, noticeably peaches, fold together complemented by herbaceous notes and fresh acidity.

Pinot Noir - Central Otago 2015 ($29.99)
According to the tasting notes, the warmer conditions at the Someone’s Darling vineyard site provides more robust flavors and the five Pinot Noir clones (B777, B667, B115, Clone 5 (Pommard) and Abel) each contribute to create a broad spectrum of aromas and flavors.  I detected a combination of barnyard and tobacco aromas that lead to the classic cherry character blended with black pepper spices.  The tail finishes with just enough acids and tannins to provide uplift.  My type of Pinot Noir.

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