PJ Charteris on Central Otago Riesling and Bald Hills

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Musings from PJ Charteris who buys fruit from Bald Hills to make a Central Otago Riesling for the Charteris label……

“This all brings me to 1985 Robard and Butler Amberley Vineyard Rhine Riesling from Waipara in North Canterbury. While my parents were enjoying the wave of Muller Thurgau (ironically, a grapevine cross of Riesling and Sylvaner) that swamped New Zealand in the 80’s, I could not believe the amazing beauty of the aforementioned wine. Unfashionable, but amazing. I was a young bloke just starting out in the wine game but I knew this was good stuff. The Amberley Vineyard has, over time, produced some of New Zealand’s great Rieslings and I am pleased to say I have had plenty of pleasure from those wines.

Since that time I have had the opportunity to make Riesling from the Clare and Eden Valleys with the tutelage of some of the grand masters of the variety; Tim Knappstein, Ian Mackenzie and Geoff Henriks to name a few. I have very fond memories of looking at vertical tastings of Leo Buring and Lindemans Rieslings spanning 4 decades. Great stuff for a young and open mind.

I guess where I am going with this, is that all these ‘memories” have culminated in the first Charteris Central Otago Riesling. 25 years of ideas worked and re-worked in my mind. Always questioning the how and why of this great grape. Lots of research work required as well, all very pleasurable and memorable of course.

Jancis Robinson MW most famously proclaimed Riesling to be the greatest of all white grape varieties due to its ability to express a sense of place and vineyard site more clearly than any other white grape. I think she is right to a degree and you can imagine my excitement when confronted with a small 0.7 hectare block of mature Riesling vines planted in a field of Loess and Granitic Schist. There are lumps of Schist the size of rugby balls lying under the vines in parts of the vineyard. This is “kid in a candy shop” stuff when it comes to Riesling and wines expressing a sense of place.

The vineyard is owned by Blair and Estelle Hunt and they make a small amount of wine under their own brand of Bald Hills. Blair is an Aussie but he has trouble wearing the green and gold come Bledisloe Cup time, Central Otago is known for its stout support of the All Black jumper. This aside, he is a champion bloke and is happy to sell me some of his outstanding Riesling grapes. I was fortunate enough to have spent a lot of time in his vineyard over the last 12 months and I can say with conviction that he is a man committed to his vines and where his fruit goes.

The 2012 harvest from all accounts, looks to be a cracker for Riesling in Central. We picked the Riesling on the 21st April, whole bunch pressed then settled the juice for 4 days before inoculation with yeast. Ferment lasted about 3 weeks until 1am on the 22nd May when after a dinner of great wines and a couple of Emerson’s Pilsners I decided to stop the ferment leaving a small amount of residual sugar. The sugar is not there to be obvious; it is merely to balance the acidity, which gives the wine it’s crystalline and mineral like backbone. The aromatics are subtle and show Lemon, Kaffir Lime and some florals. The most important thing is that summer is here and this is just the tonic for warm weather. Come to think of it, it was a warm day when we harvested the fruit and I do recall a couple of glasses of Riesling with lunch at the Bannockburn Pub after picking.

The reality of the situation is that I did as little as possible to get in the way of what makes Riesling memorable and that is the character of the grape and the place it was grown. I hope you get as much pleasure and lasting memories from drinking it as I did from guiding it to bottle.

And remember to leave some in the cellar, Riesling has a habit of aging well and there is nothing better than the surprise of finding something in the cellar that you forgot about…Funny thing memory.”