John Hawkesby

John Hawkesby is a wine writer for Canvas Magazine.

Wine: What the doctor ordered

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2009 Ostler Audrey's Pinot Gris, $32. Photo / Richard Robinson
2009 Ostler Audrey's Pinot Gris, $32. Photo / Richard Robinson

Fiscal madness. Wine producer Jim Jerram is talking about his transition from being a general practitioner in Dunedin to heading the Ostler Waitaki Valley vineyards in North Otago.

Some would say the leap from healing the sick is not too removed from making wine, although the pecuniary return is a lot less certain.

Winemaking involves analysing site, soil, sunshine, terroir, selecting suitable grapes and, hopefully, making superb wine. Sort out what's required, implement an appropriate plan and enjoy the fruits of your labour.

That's the shallow overview. As anyone making wine will readily tell you, there's a lot more detail involved and there can be a barrelful of angst before delivering a bottleful of magic.

The Waitaki Valley straddles the North of Otago and the southern tip of Canterbury and is generally seen as not the easiest place to grow grapes. Jerram has a philosophical approach. "Waitaki is quite different, it's very challenging but at the same time very exciting."

The Ostler site is 50km inland from Oamaru and sits on limestone rich slopes.

"We get cool summer temperatures but prolonged autumns and all that limestone gives us wines, especially pinot, of minerality and soft tannins," says Jerram.

The winemaker is Jeff Sinnott, who is known for minimal intervention and uses burgundian and alsatian techniques to produce the flagship Caroline's pinot noir and Audrey's pinot gris.

Sinnott has a reputation as an outstanding winemaker and has made superb wines for Isabel Estate and Amisfield.

The second-tier growers series, Blue House Vine label, includes a very smart tending-dryish riesling ($28), a lively, medium-bodied fruit-forward pinot gris ($28) and a very good value-for-money pinot noir ($35).

The first plantings were in 2001 and the wines are now benefiting from a level of vine maturity and are very expressive, distinctive cool climate wines with seamless elegance, smoky minerality and finely balanced tannins.

It's thought Waitaki Valley will ultimately hang its hat on a reputation for aromatic whites. Probably right, but ignore the pinots at your peril.

Recommended

2009 Ostler Audrey's Pinot Gris, $32
One of the best pinot gris from New Zealand I've had. Wonderfully weighted and understated with incredible complexity and a hint of sweetness. Nutty with whispers of pear, lychee and spice. Remarkable.

2008 Ostler Caroline's Pinot Noir, $48
Big, bold but with fine balance and elegance. Savoury undertones, dried herbs, black fruits and perfect acidity, this is a perfect example of an excellent cool climate wine.

- NZ Herald

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