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Anne Krebiehl: Tenth blog from New Zealand harvest

Published:  27 May, 2009

Picking continues apace. When we get to the vineyards now, we can see more and more picked rows with foliage of burnished yellow, rust and red. By now we are all comfortable with each other and already have a well-used stock of in-jokes. It all makes for pleasant days and lots of laughter, but speed remains of the essence.


Owen Calvert, an executive for an international aid agency, is kept away from New Zealand on business. His Calvert vineyard on the Felton Road is thus managed by the Felton team and the fruit is contracted out to three wineries: Craggy Range, Pyramid Valley and Felton Road.


We pick the Craggy Range Pinot first and see the refrigerated lorry leave for Hawke's Bay. I am very lucky to have secured those three Calvert wines from 2007 at the Pembroke Wine shop in Cromwell and I look forward to holding a comparative tasting of these back in London. The ultimate comparative tasting - of the 2009 vintage that I helped pick - will have to wait until the release of these wines. It will be a prime opportunity for a reunion with some of my harvesting mates. It will be fascinating to taste the craft of three different winemakers on the same fruit, especially since the berries are very healthy and relatively small with hardly a blemish on them. Owen and his family are here for Easter and since we are picking on Easter Sunday his teenage children hide chocolate eggs for us between the vines. We get off mid-afternoon and I hop into my specially-rented car to catch the rest of the Clyde Harvest Festival. I get there just as people start packing up - but with enough time to taste some impressive Viognier and Riesling from the Hinton Estate in Alexandra. I meet up with a friend and I spot Sue Edwards of Black Ridge - great opportunity to buy a bottle of her fabulous Chardonnay. Together with some Manuka-smoked meat and a crumbly cheddar-style cheese from the Gibbston Valley Cheesery we have the perfect ingredients for a cool but moonlit picnic underneath a pine tree in a cow paddock.


The next morning we hear the results of the annual Alexandra Easter Bunny Hunt: 14,799 rabbits were killed on this mass cull that draws hunters from all over New Zealand. Cruel this may sound but the rabbits have hardly any natural predators and are more numerous than sheep. They can spell the end of young vines and are a real pest. At the vineyard we laughed at the Alexandra advertisers who had a special offer of 10% discount on all ammunition for this special weekend. The record number of Easter bunny casualties was in 1997 when 23,949 were killed and counted. I only hope that some of them were turned into delicious rabbit pies.


Later in the week, as we pick the last of the Calvert grapes, Owen and his family lay on a barbecue for our pickers' lunch that is served with home-grown sweet corn and a spicy 2003 Calvert Pinot. It is our second lunch at the Calvert vineyard: in the first week, Nigel Greening cooked us a warming, satisfying and delicious goat stew for lunch. One of the Felton flock of goats gave its life for us but it was toasted first with Felton Road Riesling and then some Calvert Pinot. Another one of Nigel's lunches, a kind of Provencal chicken stew with the yummiest polenta I ever had was served in front of the Winery at Elms. This is pleasure, eating in the sunshine with your harvest mates. Somehow all our picking days are pervaded by a sense of amicable generosity - this is uplifting in itself but coming from businesslike London it is more than touching.


Naturally the off-piste tasting continues. By now the people at the small car rental outfit greet me like an old friend. On the vertigo-inducing drive to Chard Farm I fear for their car and my life. The narrow single-track gravel road winds its way steeply up one side of the Kawarau Gorge and affords glimpses of the turquoise rapids in the ravine. Chard Farm, yet another pioneer winery, like many other estates have tiered their production. This is probably a commercial and cash-flow necessity but this means that the high-end stuff retails at rather high prices and shows that the top Pinots deliberately align themselves (at least price-wise) with the great names of Burgundy. In some cases this is justified in others, the practice will maybe find it hard to survive in the current economic climate.


The Viper Pinot Noir 2006 stands out with a lovely nose of cinnamon on forest fruit and slight leather and remains a very elegant, light wine, with the price tag to match, however. The same goes for Amisfield: their Rocky Knoll Pinot 2006 is a lovely wine but at three times the price of the 'ordinary' Pinot? What really stunned me was their Arcadia Blanc de Noirs NV, a serious, bone dry and finely scented sparkler which could easily stand up to food.


Along the State Highway in Gibbston Valley I visit another gem: Duncan Forsyth of Mount Edward takes time to see me and lets me taste his lovely Rieslings which he describes as 'linear' rather than round. The Estate Riesling has 15 g/l of residual sugar and has an ethereal nose of lemony, honeyed lanolin, if there is such a thing. On the palate it is incisive and goes on an on. The Drumlin Riesling, from a tiny, non-irrigated vineyard is sweeter but exquisitely balanced, the nose is all green pear and spice. And what pleasure to know that these grapes were grown organically. I also taste a clean, lean and aromatic Pinot Blanc and a berry-scented 2007 Pinot Noir with gossamer-soft tannins and tingling spice. These wines are so resonant and have immense length. I can still savour them as I drive off.


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