There was a lot to love on our trip to North Canterbury this year. A vineyard walk along the precipitous slopes of the Waipara River at The Boneline revealed surprisingly indepth insights into how the ferocious wind defines the concentrated style of wines in this outstanding, often under rated wine region. Then there was the food at Black Estate and Greystone and the incredible tasting of 42 wines with Mat Donaldson, maker of Maestro and superlative Rieslings in every style imaginable.
Store owner Geoff Henderson generously took seven of us to this great wine region to visit some of the best producers in the country, all characterised by being family owned and run. First up, we went to a relatively large brand, without high prices to match the high quality of the wines. The Crater Rim has no cellar door so winemaker Haydon Goode generously opened his home on a Sunday morning, putting on coffee, bubbles and wines for us.
Above: Highly changeable weather in North Canterbury's beautiful rolling foothills of the Southern Alps.
The Crater Rim with winemaker Haydon Goode
The Crater Rim is one of the biggest wine producers in North Canterbury and is moving towards organic certification. It is owned by a Christchurch businessman Michael Fraher with Haydon Goode at the winemaking helm. The pair started a sparkling winemaking programme in 2016, visiting Champagne in France to find out, first hand, how the best bubbles in the world are made. They now have some of their own and do all the disgorging and bottling themselves.
The idea for a bubbly came from fellow winemaker Takahiro Koyama, the new owner of Mountford Estate.
Here are my tasting notes on the wines we tried from The Crater Rim.
The Crater Rim Methode Traditionelle Waipara RRP $33.99
This is the second sparkling wine Haydon Goode has made for The Crater Rim and it's modelled on the best champagnes by being bottle fermented to just a touch off dry at 7.5 grams per litre (significantly drier than many champagnes but following the trend towards drier styles globally). It's a blend of 70% Pinot Noir, 30% Chardonnay and was aged on lees for two and a half years. The base wine goes through malolactic fermentation in tank and the same vineyard blocks are used every year for their bubbly so that they can grow the grapes specifically with the aim of doing early picks. Pinot NOir Clone 5 works well – it's fruitier with less acidity early.
The other wines we tasted were his own brand, Gumbo & Good Family Wines Sauvignon Blanc from 2017; an unfined wine, bottled with about 20 ppm of SO2 and made from his own vineyard. It has a little malo from barrel.
2016 The Crater Rim Riesling $21.99
Pick on acidity then balance it; that's the mantra at The Crater Rim and this wine has 25 grams of residual sugar per litre. The aim is to create a clean fresh fruit character in this medium bodied, fresh Riesling with its intense ripe citrus character. The RS is a response to the vintage. They typically pick Riesling late-ish, near the end of April. The wind and dry climate means crops are relatively low; about half that of Marlborough. The soils are also more suited to the medium style of Riesling, says Haydon. “The characteristic of the gravels for me is where that grapefruit taste comes from.”
2019 The Crater Rim Viognier
Not currently in stock
First vintage was 2016 and thanks to the cool climate, this wine retains fresh acidity to balance its high glycerol, full bodied style. Made from grapes grown on a hillside vineyard. All barrel ferment (30% new) on lees and has some skin contact too.
2019 The Crater Rim Pinot Noir
Not currently in stock
Partly machine picked fruit and has now been in bottle for about two months. Unfined and unfiltered. A portion is basket pressed and it’s aged in barrel. Earthy flavours with weight and texture. A delicious Pinot Noir that will be released in about a year; 2021.
2017 The Crater Rim Waipara Reserve Pinot Noir $35-ish
A barrel selection from a cool year with frost and hail; a challenging season, which translates into a Pinot with a little edge and enormously savoury flavours. About 25% new oak. A structured wine.
We also tasted a 2019 Gibbston Valley Pinot from Central Otago and a Banks Peninsula Pinot Noir named Rata from the Kaituna Valley on the way to Akaroa. This wine has two portions; one completely destemmed, the other with 80% whole bunch ferment.
Next stop, Greystone Wines. That's the next subject of my series of blogs on North Canterbury. Watch this space.
Above: four of our team walking on a ferociously windy day in Waipara at The Boneline; blog to follow in our series on North Canterbury.