John Hawkesby

John Hawkesby is a wine writer for Canvas Magazine.

Wine: Speaking from their origins

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2009 Rockburn Chardonnay, $25. Photo / Supplied
2009 Rockburn Chardonnay, $25. Photo / Supplied

Rockburn winemaker Malcolm Rees-Francis took over at the Central Otago winery in 2006, replacing the legendary Rudi Bauer.

His timing couldn't have been better. "We got a trophy for the first pinot, which was really lucky. The 2007 was also an award-winner, so I had a great start," laughs Rees-Francis.

Four years as assistant winemaker at the revered Felton Road no doubt proved a useful apprenticeship for Rees-Francis, as did a handful of vintages in that other international "purple patch" for pinot - Oregon.

He studied microbiology at Otago University, followed by a graduate diploma in viticulture and oenology from Lincoln - so he brings a high level of precision, sensitivity and discipline to his craft. "We want the wines to speak to where they're from - we're trying to make as complete a wine as you can from each vineyard and any rough edges is part of the character of the wine, as opposed to some polished, homogenised thing," he says.

Consequently, Rees-Francis doesn't fine the wines, rather allowing them to be what they are.

Rockburn is not just tied to the great standby of pinot noir. Chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, riesling, pinot gris and, from time to time, gewurztraminer make up the winery's mix. The last gewurztraminer was three years ago but a new vintage is on the way. "It's sensitive to frost, so it is a challenge."

Rees-Francis doesn't seem the sort to shrink from a challenge or indeed experiment. "Our 2009 riesling was very dry, the 2011 will be a sweeter style - it's a hard sell anyway so I might have some fun with it and make the next one quite a bit sweeter."

Sauvignon blanc is not usually associated with Central Otago but for those wanting something other than the usual, the Rockburn 2010, has a savoury biting acidity with flinty, mineral chalkdust characters that set it apart.

At almost 10 years old and having paid its dues, Rockburn is definitely one to watch.

Recommended

2009 Rockburn Pinot Noir, $45
This has picked up a few awards and is likely to be all gone by December - the 2010 is waiting in the wings. Dense and dark fruit flavours, a hint of menthol, this wine has a lovely texture with smooth savoury undertones. A silky charmer.

2009 Rockburn Chardonnay, $25
There isn't a great deal of chardonnay coming out of Central Otago, but it usually has a distinctive chablis style with a subtle minerality to it. A cool climate variety with a crisp light quality and a lovely dry finish.

- NZ Herald

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