In 21 years Blair Walter and Nigel Greening have taken Felton Road, the Bannockburn-based winery in New Zealand, on an impressive journey from working with five year-old vines to being recognised as one of the best if not the best producer of Pinot Noir in New Zealand. To celebrate and to launch the new 2017 vintage, they held a remarkable tasting at London’s 67 Pall Mall club in which they showcased a pick of the vintages from yesteryear. Roger Jones, who has over 80 Felton Road wines on his award-winning list, was there to taste and meet up with old friends.
The four flights of Felton Road were prefaced by some straight talking, particularly by Nigel Greening.
A rare chance to get Nigel Greening and Blair Walter in the same room musing through their journey at Felton Road, Blair has made every single official released vintage, starting with the 1997 (with five year old vines), with Nigel buying the property in 2000.
If you don’t know Nigel, here are a few quotes from the straight-speaking maverick.
Biodynamic: “Of course we are! but as we are both scientists – we are not into that Harry Potter nonsense, we follow what Rudolf Steiner initially portrayed, not cosmic forces but old fashioned compost.”
Having visited the winery and their vineyards I also note they have a ‘closed gate’ policy, where their animals such as goats, highland cattle and chicken enhance that ethos, as does their gravity flow policy to help promote the gentility of their wines.
Screw cap: “Simple! today’s tasting proves their worth, I did not bring any spare bottles, I did not need to, I don’t want a closure that will change our wines.”
All wines from 2001 were put in screw cap, with some trials kept in cork until 2004.
“This is not a vertical tasting, we are still too young at 21 to do this, we want to show pairings,” this was clear in their concise explanation of each of their wine classifications – to understand Felton Road, especially the Pinot, you need to be clearly aware of their five Pinots, listed at the end.
“Oak is a subtle companion not a loud guest.” This is quite apparent in vintages since 2012, especially in the Chardonnay, where they want saline not struck match, purity and finesse.
Blair is equally forthright, although in a more gentle voice. “Whole bunch – it masks wine, unnecessary noise for no gain,” again perfectly showcased in their Pinot Noirs.
So over to the wines themselves…
As for the wines, well I am quite lucky as we list over 80 of their wines, with many verticals including magnums back to 2008.
But it was clear that Felton Road’s ‘journey’, is not a short one, and in Nigel’s words maybe more than one lifetime, but what they have achieved is the ability to fight for perfection, never believing they can achieve it but continuing to pursue the highest excellence, whilst ensuring that they look after the land that they are custodians of.
FLIGHT ONE – “Where we are today.”
First tranche of the 2017 vintage
(Here I have put notes to all wines but in other flights I have listed my highlights)
Felton Road Pinot Noir Bannockburn, 2017
They call the Bannockburn their ‘Village’ Pinot, sourced from what is needed from both their Calvert and Cornish Point selected barrels and produces a perfect and exceptional value and introduction to their Pinots. Cherry on the nose, quite luscious and sweet perfume, on the palate rippling raspberry with a touch of sourness, vanilla, it’s balanced and drinking well even now.
Felton Road Pinot Noir Cornish Point, 2017
Masculine perfume on the nose, restrained dark fruit and tie, on palate it is bright focused and clean, not a classic expression of Cornish Point, which is normally more voluptuous and spiced. But still a great wine that I will be excited to see with some age.
Felton Road Pinot Noir Block 3, 2017
Restrained elegance, delicate perfume of sweet cherry confit, opulent, oriental spices, dark fruits, velvety, this needs a few years but a great wine.
Felton Road Chardonnay, Bannockburn, 2017
Citrus and lime, bright, fresh acidity, words like vibrant fresh, easy drinking were all in my notes
FLIGHT TWO – “Where we have been”
Pinot Noir Block 3 from 2005 – 2010
This was a clear presentation to show how wines can evolve with vine age and evolving vinicultural. The top two wines for me were the 2007 and 2008 (Blair’s favourite) the 2007 is precise with clean berries, there is a hedonist gentle perfume on the nose, complex, layered… Wow. The 2008 is darker more brooding, mocha, spices, textured, heady, a few more years to this wine.
FLIGHT THREE – “Maturing Wines and Minds”
Here Greening and Walter are showcasing how they see all their hard work, especially in the vineyards and their gentleness in the cellars coming together. This also included a selection of different labels to showcase how each label varies.
My top 2 were:
Felton Road Pinot Noir Block 5, 2013
Tobacco, chocolate, herbaceous, layered… a stunning wine that is evolving beautifully, on the palate there are bright hits of tiny clusters of precise berries to lift and brighten the wine.
Felton Road Pinot Noir Calvert, 2015
Fruit-driven, lovely linear and focused… I love the purity to this wine, makes you want to indulge in another glass.
I also have to mention the great value Felton Road Pinot Noir Bannockburn 2014 which offers a gentle, simmering, focused Pinot that is simple but perfect in its style.
FLIGHT FOUR – “Chardonnay evolution”
2007 – 2015
Possibly against the norm I thought that the Felton Road Chardonnay Block 2, 2010 showcased a style that Felton Road has evolved from, with hints of tropical, pure white stone fruit, seductive and luscious; interestingly I had tried a magnum of the Felton Road Chardonnay Bannockburn, 2010 a few weeks ago that was stupendous for its status. From the 2013, 2014 and 2015 Block 2 it was difficult to favour any as they were all intriguing in their individuality, clearly defining each season.
There is very little Chardonnay made in Central Otago and Felton Road produces 2,000 cases of the total 10,000 cases produced.
There is so much more one can say about Felton Road, but I am delighted that I have been with them on their journey for over a decade.
There are five labels: Bannockburn, Cornish Point, Calvert, Block 3 and Block 5
There are three labels: Bannockburn, Block 2 and the newer Block 6
There are three labels: Bannockburn, Dry Riesling, Block 1