Yealands Estate and the Awatere Valley

For the longest time I have struggled with Sauvignon Blanc. It used to be my go-to grape for everything (a bit more interesting than Pinot Grigio but that was about where my wine knowledge ended) which I think was partly the problem – overkill! Suddenly the sometimes aggressive herbaceousness and high acidity became all too much for me and I had to resign myself to the inevitable conclusion that I had ‘gone off’ Sauvignon.

TamraUntil a few weeks ago I was invited to a fantastic wine tasting with Yealands Estate hosted by their chief winemaker Tamra Washington. I can categorically say that the evening has reignited my love for Sauvignon Blanc. The home of Yealands Estate is the Awatere Valley in Marlborough New Zealand. They are a relatively new producer having only produced their first vintage in 2008 and are now at the forefront of sustainable winemaking in New Zealand. I have to just linger on this point for a second to tell you about their sheep! They have these tiny little sheep, aptly named Babydoll sheep, that they introduced to the vineyard for weed and grass management which are too small to reach the grapes; this completely appeals to the farmer’s daughter in me.

Awatere Valley

I have never properly considered the concept of terroir in the New World before. Terroir is something I would associate much more strongly with the Old World and especially the older vineyard sites in Burgundy. The fact that a Premier Cru and Grand Cru site can be mere metres apart yet the wines still display the nuances in soil type and aspect completely blows my mind. Tamra talked about the importance of microclimates in the Awatere Valley – these microclimates are created my the undulating terroir throughout. Their Seaview Vineyard boasts the most significant planting of vines in the Awatere Valley; the vineyards are closer to the sea than anywhere else in Marlborough which results in it being cooler, dryer and windier. This results in a longer growing season for the grapes which produces wines with distinctive mineral characteristics.

The focus on the importance of microclimates at Yealands Estate has led them to harvest and mature different ‘blocks’ of Sauvignon Blanc completely separately. There are around 160 blocks in total; the coastal Sauvignons (from Seaview) produce a purer mineral and herbal character whereas the Sauvignons from further inland are less herbal with a more tropical character. This has inspired the concept of single block wines and Yealands now produce 4 different Sauvignon Blancs that are bottled as Single Block.

The main lesson we have learned today – Marlborough does not produce one single style of Sauvignon Blanc!

The Wines

Yealands PNWe tried a lot of wine. All different, all interesting for different reasons. It seems mean, and frankly far too difficult, to pick and choose between them so I’m just going to tell you about them all! Most of these are from 2012 vintage – this was a very cool, dry vintage where the grapes were harvested extremely late. This was the best and longest ripening season to date for Yealands Estate:

  • Yealands Estate Single Block S1 Sauvignon Blanc 2012 – Tropical nose with more citrus and grapefruit on the palate. There was more body than you’d expect with a mineral salty character coming from the 3 months this wine had spent on lees.
  • Yealands Estate Single Block M2 Sauvignon Blanc 2012 – Much more closed than the last wine with an almost (!) sweaty nose, more of a gooseberry flavour of minerality. This is from the Wairau area which has heavier soils, flat land and no wind exposure. You would usually expect a more tropical fruit character to this wine as Wairau is warmer but since 2012 was particularly cool it displayed more citrus than tropical fruit.
  • Yealands Estate Single Block L5 Sauvignon Blanc 2012 – This is a classic Seaview wine displaying lots of power on the palate with a distinct flavour of Romano peppers and thyme. The fruit is cool and clean with a brilliant finish.
  • Yealands Estate Sauvignon Blanc 2012 – The best blocks go into this wine – it is a blend of 3 different blocks. Extremely well balanced with a fresh fruit character on the nose with great length and minerality.
  • Yealands Estate Reserve Sauvignon Blanc 2011 – For me this had a really gentle, creamy, nutty flavour whilst still being very much a Sauvignon Blanc. It has seen a bit of oak but it’s very very subtle – 33% of the blend has gone from the press to old oak barrels where it has been left to ferment naturally. It is then blended back with the unoaked tank wine.
  • Yealands Estate Riesling 2012 – This wine was super dry with searing acidity. The lemon and lime characteristics were rounded off by a softer finish – this could do with a bit of time to open up.
  • Yealands Estate Gruner Veltliner 2012 – There are only 30ha of GV planted in New Zealand and I confess I’ve never tried one before. The palate was soft and spicy with a touch of floralness and a hint of white pepper. There are two picks for this wine (one early and one late) which results in a wine with a full body while retaining a distinctive mineral streak.
  • Yealands Estate Viognier 2012 – A classic Viognier nose and a tropical (almost banana?) palate. 40% of the blend has spent time in old oak. Excellent length.
  • Yealands Estate Single Block R6 Pinot Gris 2012 – This was brilliant – an apricoty nose and flavours of stone fruits, white peach, pear, spice but still with a savouriness. This wine has also spent time on lees meaning a mineral character is apparent under the fruit.
  • Yealands Estate Pinot Noir 2011 – A nose of green pepper, white pepper and extremely underripe cherry. The palate is spicy cherry fruit with good length – quite a restrained style.
  • Yealands Estate Reserve Central Otago Pinot Noir 2012 – A much riper nose than the previous wine; more plums, velvety, lush, spiced cherry and a distinctive smokiness with great length. I loved this wine.

The Sauvignons were stunning; the Pinot Gris and Otago Pinot Noir also really stood out for me. It was a tremendous evening and thrilling to have the focus on what was for me an unknown aspect of New Zealand wine. We were given an outstanding dinner by the Union Club of roast salmon and salsa verde starter, an enormous braised lamb shank followed by cheese and drank the wine out of beautiful and extremely decadent Baccarat glasses.

Watch out for these wines and if you come across them – BUY THEM!

LambshankYealands Estate – www.yealandsestate.co.nz

Union Club – www.unionclub.co.uk

Chateau Baccarat – www.baccarat.com

Other excellent posts

Yealands Estate Tasting and Dinner with Tamra Washington – Cambridge Wine Blogger

Yealands Estate, producing vibrant fruity wines with big character – Kandabites

Relight My Sauvignon Fire – SipSwooshSpit

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