Greystone Tasting with Dom Maxwell at Regional Wines
There’s a lot of buzz about North Canterbury at the moment, and when the wines taste as good as this, it’s easy to see why. This was a selection spanning six varietals that all spoke of place in no uncertain terms - wines whose voice was loud and clear thanks to a co-evolution of sorts, a synergy between winemaker and vine. The winemaker is Dom Maxwell and as he and the vines grow together, there is a gradual change of philosophy at Greystone.
According to Dom, after 2008, the vines moved into a new phase expressing more savoury, mineral and saline notes in addition to primary fruit, and this is expressed beautifully in the Barrel Fermented Sauvignon Blanc - a clean, mineral wine with further complexity gained as a result of blending across numerous barrels. The use of old oak and 10% malo really softens the wine allowing the mineral elements to shine through.
The Nor'westers of North Canterbury are another factor playing a large part in Dom’s wines, the drying effect leading to greater concentration and smaller canopies, allowing for earlier picking at lower Brix and increased florals. The Pinot Gris epitomises this, with its phenolic weight and sweet and savoury elements that offer baked apple and rhubarb crumble-like flavours on the palate. The Chardonnay too shows a deft nod to terroir, with a complex recipe involving fruit from clay and limestone, full malo, some use of solids at ferment and 20% new oak. It’s a big wine, but all is balanced and in perfect harmony.
Dom’s reds showed a shift towards the use of less oak at Greystone, an approach taken to its apogee by the Vineyard Ferment Pinot Noir - a wine that literally wild ferments in tanks left between the vines. This is extreme terroir (to coin a new term) taking the winery out of the equation until ferment is over, and guaranteeing that yeasts involved are those associated directly with the vine. Seeing no oak, this wine is juicy, soft and expressive with 14% alcohol that is so happily integrated it is barely noticeable. The super rare Syrah was also showing less new oak (now down to 30%) and the wine sings louder for it. From a frost free site where the grapes are picked late, the use of whole berries at ferment allows for some lifted notes due to carbonic maceration. This wine was a revelation, expressing fruit and savoury elements, florals and spice, with heaps of concentration.
So, exciting times in North Canterbury and NZ alike. It feels like increased vine age in many of the newer regions, combined with winemakers starting to fully understand the idiosyncrasies of these sites, is really starting to lead to impressive results. And off the back of this, winemakers now have the conviction to try new things, use less oak and really let their wines speak for themselves, and Dom Maxwell is right at the forefront of this. With all his wines becoming certified organic this year, the future at Greystone is bright.