What: As wine appetites continue to grow around the world, winemakers are finding new regions or rediscovering old regions to grow grapes.
Chances are most of you have heard of the great sauvignon blancs and pinot noirs produced by New Zealand, the best of which come from the Marlborough region of the South Island.
It is a cool climate region with perfect conditions for growing those grapes. Now, with most of the best of Marlborough planted out, winemakers are looking for new territory, and they have found it on the North Island in a little place called Hawkes Bay.
What’s especially interesting about Hawkes Bay is there are distinct climate zones to allow planting of cool-weather grapes like pinot noir and warm-weather grapes like cabernet sauvignon and syrah. The climate is similar to that of California north of San Francisco. A warm day would be 90 degrees, and the nights are cool because of the influence of the nearby ocean.
“From one winery we can offer four different styles from four sub-regions,” said chief winemaker Warren Gibson in a phone interview. “We’re a little outside the box from what’s expected from New Zealand.”
At Trinity Hill, Gibson is taking all four styles of grapes to make spectacular wine.
Thanks to wine legend Charles Banks, Trinity Hill wines are now becoming widely available in the United States. The first shipment to Georgia in April already has sold out and suppliers are trying to get more. That is hardly surprising, because New Zealand now believes the United States is their No. 1 market by volume.
The secret to the warm-weather wines is an old, stone-filled riverbed.
“We have 200 acres of stony riverbed that changed course 200 years ago after 10,000 years as a river,” said Gibson. “It is one of the warmest parts of Hawkes Bay. It’s not good for much else, but it’s good for growing the cabernet family.”
Pinot noir and sauvignon blanc are grown inland on an elevated site where cool ocean breezes provide the chill needed for those grapes.
The Gimblett is a Bordeaux-style blend of 40 percent cabernet sauvignon, 30 percent merlot, 29 percent cabernet franc and 1 percent petit verdot. Powerful aromas of blackberry and herbs lead to mouth-watering flavors of stone fruit and blackberry. While this wine is delicious young, it has good acidity and structure and should age well for 10 years or more.
The Syrah was similarly spectacular. In the glass it is a deep crimson color, with vibrant aromas of raspberry, blackberry and cloves. The flavor profile is similar to a northern Rhone syrah, powerful, with ripe tannins and spicy notes. Gibson believes the cuttings used to plant their vineyards came from the famed Hermitage region in the northern Rhone.
“Some of our neighbors called 2013 the vintage of the century or of a generation,” said Gibson. “But we knew 2014 was just as good. The wines are exhibiting controlled power.”
In fact, Hawkes Bay is in the midst of three great years, as 2015 is looking just as promising as the previous two vintages. Trinity Hill expects to have the 2014 vintages of the syrah and the cab blend in Georgia stores and restaurants early next year.
Winery: Trinity Hill Winery is relatively young, with its first vintage coming in 1996. The idea was born in 1987 when winemaker John Hancock met Robert and Robyn Wilson in their London Restaurant Bleeding Heart. While drinking John’s famous Morton Estate chardonnay the three decided they could create a winery in Hawkes Bay.
John recognized the outstanding potential of Hawkes Bay’s Gimblett Gravels winegrowing district and in 1993 Trinity Hill became one of the region’s early pioneers, planting grape vines on a barren plot on the former bed of the Ngaruroro River. The traditional Hawkes Bay grape varieties of chardonnay, cabernet sauvignon and merlot were planted.
Convinced the terroir was equally suited to Southern European grape varieties, the winery also planted syrah and viognier followed by experimental plantings of tempranillo, arneis and montepulciano. By 1996, they produced the first small vintage on off-site premises. And in 1997, Stage 1 of the winery was built on its current site and completed in time for the 1998 vintage.
When the first Gimblett Road barrel-aged wines were released in 1998 (vintage 1997), their chardonnay, cabernet sauvignon/merlot and syrah won a number of medals and worldwide acclaim.
In 2000, another parcel of prime Gimblett Gravels land was purchased, named “Gimblett Stones,” where merlot, cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, malbec and petit verdot plus areas of tempranillo, syrah and viognier were planted. By 2001, The Gimblett Gravels Winegrowers Association was set up with 34 wineries and winegrowers.
Winemaker Gibson has been with Trinity Hill since 1997. He said he believes in controlled neglect when it comes to making wine.
“The whole terroir idea includes everything, including the people making the wine,” he said. “What we try to do is be as respectful of the grapes as possible. It is so much of what I don’t do that is important.”
Trinity Hill is unusual in that it produces some of the best wines in the world in their Homage series as well as affordable, everyday wines in the Gimblett Gravels and Hawkes Bay range. The Pinot Noir at about $17 a bottle is one of the best bargains I’ve had in a long time.
Goes with: We didn’t drink these wines with a meal. I was in the middle of a busy Arts in the Heart of Augusta weekend, so my wife, Teri, and I sipped the wines after I came home from the festival over a couple of nights. We even had the Syrah on successive nights, and it got even better after the bottle was open for 24 hours.
We had both wines with cheese and crackers and nuts, and they were delightful. While hardly sipping wines, these bold wines were outstanding, even without a fine dinner. I enjoyed letting these wines help me wind down after busy days over the grill.
The Syrah should be especially good with lamb and game, particularly with duck and venison. The Gimblett would pair well with all kinds of red meats, stews and game.