This was the final tasting of 2015 for the Magnum Society, and a special one also, because the Society invited Nick Mills the winemaker at Rippon Vineyard to speak and present his wines.
Rippon sits beside Lake Wanaka, on the edge of the Clutha Basin in Central Otago. It is way far south. It kisses the Southern Alps. The area is about as ‘on the edge’ as you can get in New Zealand for growing and ripening grapes.
Rippon is a family-owned wine grower and producer. The business started as a sheep and stock station, and when Rolfe Mills the previous patriarch wanted to expand the land-use of the property, he experimented with growing a wide range of vinifera until he landed on the varieties that he thought best suited the site and climat.
Nick has carried on his work. Nick is passionate about his land, and its history, and about biodynamic farming. He is also incredibly driven towards finding a way for his property to pay its way, and remain in use as arable, food-producing land. You see, Rippon is ‘on the edge’ for another reason – Wanaka is one of NZ’s pre-eminent tourist locations, and the land along the lakeside has become so valuable, and so coveted as sites for expensive holiday homes, that it is practically uneconomic to farm based solely on return on capital land value. I have been there and it is truly one of the most beautiful places on earth.
We were presented with the following wines:
Rippon “Rippon” Mature Vine Pinot Noir 2013
Rippon “Emma’s Block” Mature Vine Pinot Noir 2013
Rippon “Tinker’s Field” Mature Vine Pinot Noir 2013
Rippon Pinot Noir 2005 En Jeroboam and donated for the tasting by Nick
Rippon “Rippon” Mature Vine Riesling 2011
Rippon Gewurztraminer 2015
As usual, we tasted first without, and then with, food.
The tasting was very interesting to me. I won’t go through them wine-by-wine, as there are Society members far better skilled to comment on the quality and characters of the wines than me, elsewhere. I looked at them instead as a total expression of the site’s capability, strengths and terroir. And I came up with a potentially contentious conclusion…
The pinots are all quality products. The vineyard management, cropping, and vinification is bio-dymanic and first-rate. What is in the bottle I expect to be the best wine that can be wrought from this site. The Tinkers Field Pinot Noir 2013 was a stand-out, as was the Pinot Noir 2005. The eponymous Rippon Pinot Noir 2013 was a great example of a house style. But not one of these wines blew me away as I had expected to be. They weren’t as perfumed or as brambly or as dense as I have come to expect and treasure in a beautiful Central Otago Pinot Noir. What’s going on here? Is the site not as suited to this grape as I was informed?
You see, when I tried the Gewurztraminer 2015 I was blown away. This was easily the best Gewurz I have tried in ages. It was delicious, perfumed, expressive. Then it was followed up by the Riesling 2011. Again, delicious, superlative. Many of the tasters agreed. A truly fine wine.
What if the Rippon site is best suited to growing fine aromatics, in the Alsatian or German mold? What if this is the one place in NZ where these varieties can be grown to the utmost extent of their beauty, precision and expression? And rival the northern hemisphere? Should Nick seize the opportunity and forge a new path towards being a sole monopole grand cru aromatic white producer?
I guess not. Wine growing is a business. Buyers of New World wines are followers of fashion and marketing. NZ Pinot Noir is hot. Buyers will pay more for it. Whereas Riesling has nowhere near the same demand or $ attached to it. And I expect you can barely give some Gewurtztraminers away. So producers like Nick are in an invidious position. They have to follow the money, and do the best they can.
What I can do as a consumer is to buy Rippon pinots and support their endeavour, and buy their Rieslings and Gewurtztraminers for their beauty. I urge you to do the same.