Millton Vineyards, pioneering biodynamic NZ wines
The Winesleuth has finally gotten a new job!! Yay!!! I’m so glad to be moving on and my new job is with the natural (and local) wine bar, Artisan and Vine. I met Kathryn (first post here) back in February and was so impressed by her enthusiasm and passion (see video here) for natural and local (read English) wines that I started hanging around A&V, even taking a trip with Kathryn to Davenport Vineyards (video here) this past March. And now I’ve joined A&V to be able to work with all those amazing, interesting natural wines.
So earlier this week, I found myself at the top of New Zealand House on Haymarket, enjoying the views of London – London Eye on one side, Buck House on the other with Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament in between. It really makes you realize how closely packed everything is in London. Now you might be wondering, what the hell was the Winesleuth doing up in the penthouse of NZ House? Why, at a winetasting of course, deciding what new wines to add to the A&V list. They were of course natural and biodynamic wines, this batch from New Zealand with winemaker, James Millton of Millton Vineyards, Gisbourne, NZ, in attendance and hosted by the good folks of Vintage Roots, one of the UK’s leading organic wine specialists.
James and Annie Millton were one of the pioneers of natural, biodynamic wine production in the Southern Hemisphere, establishing their vineyard on the banks of the Te Arai River near Gisbourne on the North Island of New Zealand. The Millton philosophy is to produce wine traditionally using biodynamic techniques. They adhere to the original biodynmic principles as laid out by Dr Rudolf Stiener in 1924 and all the wines are certified biodynamic and have the “Bio-gro”organic trademark and grower number on the back of the bottle.
What does this mean? In a nut shell it encompasses “…growing the grapes without the use of herbicides, insecticides, systemic fungicides or soluble fertilisers. It also incorporates the use of special herbal preparations and teas as well as a deep understanding of the complex cosmic rhythms which affect these daily activities…” This can mean anything from fermented seaweed used as a tonic on the vines, making and applying teas of ”…equisetum, stinging nettle and valerian plants to help bring in the major nutrients…”, to doing battonage only during the lunar cycle and racking the red wines twice a year according to the solstice. James believes that doing away with the “unnatural” or chemical approach works best to bring out the true purity and essense of the wine. He believes that they are “…merely the caretakers of the fruits of their labour…”and that the soil and climate are the main reasons why they are able to produce such fantastic wines. Their philosophy is “…Before a wine can be great, it must first be true…”
We also tried the 2008 Millton Opou Riesling, a lively, fresh new world riesling, made in the spatlese style which means it was off-dry. I loved it, the full, lush fruit really showing off, loads of honeysuckle and passionfruit on the nose and palate but driven by a pulsating acidity that kept the wine from becoming just another lazy mouthful. Kathryn was not a big fan because she likes bone dry wines but I could imagine sitting outside on a hot day with this ice cold drink in hand. Everything I want in a riesling, I think we should put that one on the list.
The star of the show had to be for both of us the Te Arai 2005 Malbec. As soon as Kathryn put the glass up to her nose she exclaimed, “This smells just like home!” Home being the suburbs of Sydney, and it’s true, the nose was an explosion of eucalyptus. The notes of eucalyptus combining with a minty, herbal lightness dancing around the rim of the glass. And it was for good reason that there was all that eucalyptus floating about, the vineyard is surrounded by a grove of eucalyptus trees. On tasting, the wine was soft and minty with lush, raspberry red fruits and plums swishing around my tongue and a hint of sweet cinnamon, with and a nice long toasty finish. A very morish wine, lovely tannins keeping the wine a bit frisky depite it’s age, already 5 years old, I could see this wine still going on for a few more years. It was still fresh and fruity with no secondary characteristics coming through just yet. A fabuluous mouthful and nothing like the heavy, fruity driven Malbecs of Argentina. If you’re looking for a Malbec with some finesse and elegance, then this one should be put top of the list.
I was very impressed by the quality of these biodynamic and natural wines coming from Millton’s vineyards. He has shown that despite the early years of scorn, biodynamic grapegrowing practices really do pay off in the end, not just for the environment but also for our drinking enjoyment. The Millton Vineyard wines showing such intensity and purity of fruit, letting nature show off what she can do if left to her own devices which makes them excellent examples of what is being done in the biodynamic world of grape growing and wine making.
The world of biodynamic wines and winemaking is an adventure that I’m really excited to be embarking upon with Artisan and Vine and I’ll be sure to try and report on as many obscure and interesting varietals as I can along the way as well as the winemakers who make the wine.
I still haven’t replaced my stolen camera so please excuse the Blackberry pics!