The best of Esk

Posted by Joelle Thomson on

Esk Valley is our new winery of the month for September  

Gordon Russell often describes himself as a fashion victim so it may come as a bit of a surprise to find that he often pushes boundaries in unconventional ways too, such as when he made this country's first Malbec-based red in 1993. 

Malbec has become something of a household word in wine circles today but it was an incredibly little known grape back then. Russell also made this country’s only commercially bottled Verdelho for decades and he remains one of the few to continue producing Chenin Blanc, the sublime charms of which make it one of the world's great white wines because of both its versatility and its incredible ability to age and stay fresh for decades. 

Gordon’s mantra has always been to strive for the best without being constrained by convention. Which is fitting for a guy who describes himself as a former punk rock lover, a fashion victim and, by his own admission, a man who can understand why he didn’t get the first wine job he applied for at Villa Maria Wines, wearing a beaten up leather jacket and riding an old Suzuki. 

He celebrated 28 years of winemaking at Esk Valley in 2021, which makes him one of the longest standing winemakers at any winery in the country.

Gordon began at Esk as the assistant winemaker to Grant Edmonds and then took over the helm two years later.

This winemaking duo made The Terraces red (using Malbec in the blend) together for the first time in 1991, hand picking all the grapes from the hillside vineyard at the same time and fermenting them together because there was so little fruit. They sold it as The Terraces for what Russell describes, tongue in cheek, as "the ridiculous price at the time of $29.95; as much as the highly revered Te Mata Coleraine - no one could believe we were audacious enough to charge that much”.
But they did and the wine sold.

Today Russell continues to pioneer great wines from The Terraces Vineyard at the original Esk Valley winery site north of Bayview in Napier. The winery itself has had to close due to health and safety issues so the wines are made at the new Esk Valley cellar door in Hawke's Bay. 

New Great Dirt wines from Esk Valley

Great Dirt is the evocative name of a new range of wines launched this year by the Esk Valley team, made by Gordon Russell from grapes grown on great vineyards in Hawke's Bay. 


2019 Esk Valley Great Dirt Chardonnay

RRP $89.99 Special $83.99

Full bodied, creamy Chardonnay with toasty flavours of oatmeal, cream and fresh macadamias. This big white has all the bells and whistles. It’s made with grapes grown on the coast at Bay View north of Napier. All of the grapes in this wine were hand picked, fermented with wild yeasts in French oak, which softens the edgy acidity, adding notes of spice, cedar and hints of oak.

Buy here

2019 Esk Valley Great Dirt Hillside Syrah

RRP $89.99 Special $83.99

This dark and delicious, meaty, dry and velvety Syrah is made from grapes grown on a stunning 1.1 hectare vineyard at the top of The Terraces Vineyard at Bay View north of Napier. This is made in small volumes and is clearly a drop for a special occasion or to tuck at the back of the wine cellar because it will age for up to and beyond 10 years.

If you're looking for a wine to cellar and keep, here it is.

Buy here


2019 Esk Valley Great Dirt Hillside Malbec Merlot Cabernet Franc Syrah

RRP $89.99 Special $83.99

Smooth, velvety appeal comes from the Malbec in the blend, which adds softness and depth, which is supported by plummy Merlot and structure from the Cabernet and Syrah. It is a great wine for drinking now, as long as it is decanted and served in your largest glasses, which will allow its complex flavours to shine. It will also age for the long term.

The blend is 36% Malbec, 27% Merlot, 24% Cabernet Franc  and 13% Syrah.

Buy here


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