Putting Your Head on a Loveblock with New Zealand Pinot Gris

Looking at the statistics it is difficult not to see New Zealand as a one-trick kiwi in terms of its wine offering, Of the country’s 38 000ha under vine, just under 24 000ha is planted to Sauvignon Blanc, pretty much determining the mind-set of those doing the wine-thinking down under in the Land of the Long White Cloud.

Despite the emphasis on Sauvignon Blanc, a grape that has undoubtedly found a suitable home in the cold maritime conditions and gravel and loam soils, various other varieties are coming to the fore that truly underscores the country’s ability to make exceptional wines.

Pinot Noir takes-up the second largest space at 5 588ha, followed by Chardonnay at 3 106ha, with both cultivars delivering some astonishing wines able of not only meeting standards set by good Burgundy, but offering riveting flavour profiles straddling pushy, talkative fruit and cathedral-like structures echoing light, dappled sun-beams and harmonious acidity.

Erica Crawford

On my last trip down under, there was, too, a lot of talk about Pinot Gris growing between the gargantuan spreads of Sauvignon Blanc in Marlborough. Driving around the evocative landscape of fawn-coloured grass, elevated bumps of earth and endless rows of precision-aligned vineyards, my drivers would veer from our conversation about rugby to point out a Pinot Gris vineyard. “Special stuff,” I was told in tones of unmistakable, if gruff, reverence.

Some 2 470ha of New Zealand earth is under Pinot Gris, but there appears to be an acute focus on this variety and the wines created from it.

Unlike Pinot Grigio – the same grape – wines labelled Pinot Gris imply a gentler flavour-profile, broader and less brisk than what the Pinot Grigio-style is supposed to be. But I can’t really see this difference as being practically provable and the distinction is surely just a winemaker whim. Much like Syrah and Shiraz, the difference appears to be in the mind of the maker. As is his or her right.

A recent visit to the Cape from Erica Crawford, she of Loveblock Wines in Marlborough, presented an opportunity to delve into Kiwi Pinot Gris, as her Loveblock number has gained a reputation as one of the leading examples from New Zealand. Grown on the Lower Dashwood farm in Marlborough on the South Island, Loveblock’s first introduction entails an understanding that this is organic wine-growing to the max. It is a mind-set Erica and husband, winemaker Kim, have taken to heart with impassioned talking done on soil-health, use of animals in the vineyard, cover-crops and enough eco-friendly harmony to make a Noordhoek farm-girl burn her last stick of Dharamsala incense.

Lower Dashwood, Marlborough

The lovingly organically farmed vineyard soils are aged alluvial loams containing some silt loam over stone. According to Erica, organic management decreases the vigour of the vines, reducing berry size and, hence, overall yields.

In making a dry style of Pinot Gris, vines are managed to give physiological ripeness at low brix (sugars) to keep alcohol-levels low. “Organic management does this for us,” she says, “with the competition from the wildflowers and grasses forcing the vine to struggle.”

Once the grapes were deemed ripe, the fruit was machine harvested and membrane pressed immediately (no preservatives were added in the field to reduce the grape phenolics). The juice was then floated and inoculated with certified organic yeast in stainless steel tank. At 8 brix, 10% of the juice was fermented in neutral French oak barrels and another 10% was transferred to a concrete egg for fermentation.

But it is all about the wine in glass, and the overall impression is that Loveblock Pinot Gris 2022 certainly justifies the Crawfords’ meticulous approach to viticulture and their discernible love of the site responsible for the end-product.

It is just such a gorgeous white wine, finely straddling the line between disciplined precision and sheer delight in the enjoyment of its drinkability.

The first surprising observation is a slight muscat floral tone on the nose, which is also found on the palate once the wine reaches the end-zone of the finish. Residual sugar is 6grams/litre at 12.5% alcohol, giving the wine just a bit of easy, coaxing whispered breath outside the confinement sometimes found in bone-dry white wines of repressed austerity – also known as minerality.

Despite the Loveblock Pinot Gris’s extreme, virginal fragility there are truly spectacular flavours to be had, as if some wine god had attempted to extract as much fruit-filled delicacy from each grape, whilst maintaining the surrounds of a fine dry white wine. Custard apple and ripe pears spring to mind, with a sliver of green mango, some tangerine zest and a zingy squirt of pulverised grenadilla. And don’t forget the flowers: intoxicating cherry blossom, nectar-laced jasmine and white rose-petal.

A mesmerising tapestry of scents, aromas and flavours strung together in a racy cool wet wine. Remarkable, one of my favourite white wines ever. Just that.

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