THINKING BOLDLY AND ACTING SUSTAINABLY – A DAY WITH YEALANDS WINES
Her vivacious smile, chemistry with colours and enthusiasm for life is the first thing that strikes you when you meet Natalie Christensen, senior winemaker of the vast Yealands estate in Marlborough, New Zealand. Underneath, is a devoted and passionate winemaker who has worked her way around the globe making wines in Bordeaux, Oregon and Galicia and now returned to her homeland to enrich the wine industry through her vivid talents. Though New Zealander at heart, she is proud of her Danish heritage.
Natalie Christensen was in London recently where wine journalists were treated to a special four-course lunch at the private dining of the newly opened restaurant, Kerridge’s Bar and Grill at the Corinthia Hotel in London. A sumptuous vegetarian treat (specially prepared for my requirements by chef Daniel Easton) was matched most exquisitely by wines from Yealands; during which stories unfolded, select bottles and barrel samples spoke highly of the spectrum of aromatics and textures that Yealands is aiming to capture through its sustainable wines.
Yealands Wine Tasting in London with Natalie Christensen, senior winemaker (Image: Sumi Sarma)
Senior Winemaker Natalie Christensen was in London to talk about vintage 2017 and to conduct tastings of Barrel samples of select blocks (Image credit : Phillips Hill)
EVOLVING THROUGH INNOVATIVE TECHNIQUES: NERDY WINES…
A highlight that brings out Natalie’s real passion is the experimental work she boldly conducts, to continually evolve and bring out the interesting and exotic profile in the wines of Yealands. Cultured strains of Saccharomyces are most commonly used in commercial production but Christensen and team have been experimenting with different non-saccharomyces yeasts. With a warm grin, she comments proudly “we love making nerdy wines”, an example of which has made its way into their Pinot Noir varietal, where they now use cultured strains of wild yeast Kluyveromyces thermotolerance (manufactured by Christian Hensen) commonly called as Concerto. These yeasts have successfully brought out a distinctive style to the Yealands Pinot Noir. According to Christensen, “Trials done with Kluyveromyces thermotolerance for our previous vintages have been perfected, the result is that now our Pinot Noirs are fuller with lifted perfume, intense cranberry fruit flavours, ripe and charming candied notes, softer tannins but also possessing remarkably linear acidity”. Not just the yeasts trials, Christensen and the team, have successfully experimented with different barrel sizes as well and also with concrete egg tanks that have added a unique dimension to Yealands’ wines. All these confirmed by the following tastings:
Yealands Single Vineyard Pinot Noir 2017, £15.75, (13% abv, available at Great western wine, Oz wines and NZ house of wines)
Produced from Seaview Vineyard in Awatere Valley only a kilometre away from the ocean, these wines are aromatic with intense notes of ripe red cherries and cranberries. Subtle use of big old oak barrels (6000 and 7000 litres) add subtle notes of liquorice. In all, a delicate, fruit forward style of pleasing intensity showing concentration and smooth and supple tannic structure.
Yealands Winemaker’s Reserve 2017, £21.00 (13% abv, available from Great Western Wines, Oz Wines and NZ House of Wines)
Made from select parcels from older vines higher up in their Willowflat Vineyards on the Awatere river bed (180m above sea level), soils here are mostly alluvial and loess. With high levels of floral elegance, deep colour with black cherry and violets, this is a complex wine with full and wholesome flavours, soft and supple tannins, cinnamon and toast that add a long finish. Aged in 225 litres barrels, this wine sees only 15% in new barrels (rest in old oak), that has retained its fruity and well-integrated appeal.
Noteworthy was the 2017 vintage which according to Christensen was “overall warm and dry with well-balanced vines but witnessed heavy winds. The berries were smaller and skins were thicker, so we aimed at a focused winemaking style specifically for this vintage”. These wines will pair well with pork ribs and chargrilled steak.
Vegetarian pairing recommendation: As a vegetarian, I recommend both the wines with warm Mushroom Risotto, Crispy eggs, aged parmesan and girolles. To add an interesting twist, add fresh rocket leaves with olives and sweet potato fries as a side dishes with the wines.
Classic white grapes from Europe are also making a significant impact in New Zealand. Sauvignon Blanc remains their flagship grape but Riesling and Grüner Veltliner associated initially with Germany and Austria, have found a new home in New Zealand although still in low volumes, thanks in part to New Zealand’s cool climate and the rest to the effort of wine growers of New Zealand. The resulting texture of these wines are noteworthy.
Yealands Single Vineyard Grüner Veltliner 2018, £13.95 (Available at Great western wine and Oz wines)
A versatile wine for Yealands that pairs well with cream-based foods as well as light aperitifs. Rounded and vibrant with bright stone fruit flavours, the palate is broad which opens with ripe lemons, bright white and yellow fruits to move on to mature, white pepper flavours finishing long with honeyed and caramel notes. I was impressed with the fresh and crisp style of this wine and its creamy and layered texture that it managed to capture with vibrancy and finesse. The wine pairs well with Asian cuisines, seafood and chicken casseroles.
Vegetarian Pairing recommendation: Combination of light and textured flavours will go a long way to enhance this wine. An ideal recipe is Celery and Apple Salad with Walnuts and Australian Truffle!
Yealands Single Vineyard Riesling 2018, £13.95 (12.5% abv)
Made only in select years, these are made from vines from D2E block in the Seaview vineyard, from vines that are 10 years old. Initially tight, it opened up into lime leaf, ripe and lifted grapefruit, apricot, mango and passion fruit notes. The palate has high levels of crisp and refreshing acidity, honeyed texture and a long lemon finish at the end.
Yealands Single block L5 Sauvignon Block 2018, £14.75 (12.5% abv, available at Great Western Wines and Oz wines)
Picked from the wind-blown and exposed loess soils of block L5 in the Seaview vineyard, this wine is pure with refreshing and lifted floral notes of lemon blossom, white apricots, blackcurrant leaf. The palate is rich with consistent stony minerality underneath. Superb pairing with shucked oysters and goat’s cheese and salad.
Vegetarian Pairing recommendation: The pairing that worked superbly for me was an Essex Beetroot salad with creamed goat’s cheese, cracked buckwheat, red chicory and orange
BARREL SAMPLES AND THEIR POTENTIAL
Our tastings ended on a high note with Barrel samples of Pinot Noir from Medway Vineyards made from vintages 2017 and 2018 and Barrel Samples of the Q Block Pinot Noir from 2018. All the wines show ample depth and concentration to blend into their special Reserve cuvée. Using measures such as handpicking grapes, low yields (of no more than 3.7 tons/hectare), 20-30% whole bunch fermentation, Natalie and team, are working with different barrel sizes, aiming to capture specific tones and textures and varietal strengths for each selection. Particular to note is the Pinot Noir from Medway Vineyard that is being aged in 1000 litres second and third use barrels. Q block is a special wine, made with minimal intervention and in a no sulphur zone. It will be interesting to see how each sample develops over the next few months and the blending decisions that are finally made. All part of an exciting, dynamic work taking place at Yealands.
VEGAN & GLUTEN-FREE WINE LABEL
On the note of stabilising, fining and filtering, Natalie adds, “The wines at Yealands are vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free and full efforts are taken to make sure no blanket additives are added in any of our products”. Wines of Yealands tasted were all marked as vegan-friendly, and the fining product used is potato-based. To know more about vegan wines, please refer to my previous articles by clicking on my previous blog and in winerist online magazine.
CORPORATE RESPONSIBILITY AND MATTERS PERTAINING TO SUSTAINABILITY
On the corporate side, founder Peter Yealands may have retired but the vision is carried on, by his successor Marlborough lines, that took over ownership earlier in 2018. Having started Yealands wine business through the purchase of 120 ha of Seaview Vineyard since 2002, Yealands was instrumental in its expansion through the years and by 2013, the company had reached over 1100 ha of owned vineyards. The commitment to sustainability has been a major focus that Yealands have been proud of. It has a state-of-the-art solar powered winery spread over 2 km square of area, capable of generating over 400 kilo watts of solar power. Additionally, it uses sustainable energy for its consumption through the burning of vine prunings and wind turbines. The process of planting unique endophytic grass to keep grass grubs away is also on its way due for completion by 2023 across all the vineyards. So dedicated is its goal to creating biodiversity that it is not uncommon to find a full range of natural ecosystem at play in the vineyard landscape, ranging from wildflowers and butterflies, to free range chickens and grazing babydoll sheep, all aimed at natural ways to keep pests at bay and to keep the food chain thriving. Rare breeds of pelicans, bellbirds, swans and ducks can be spotted waddling around amidst the shrubs and wetlands created consciously for this purpose. On the production side too, commitment to carbon reduction is evidenced through the use of eco-friendly and lighter recyclable glass bottles, for which Yealands have gained certification by carboNZerocertTM. Not only locally, but also internationally through various awards such as Green Apple Environment awards, Drinks Business Green Awards UK and Awards for Excellence in Sustainable Winegrowing by Botanical Research Institute of Texas; just some of the numerous accolades that have cemented its ever-widening work towards Sustainability.
For more on Yealands, click on their site here
All wines are imported by Enotria & Coe