Precise, clear, pure, thrilling – welcome to the world class Rieslings of Framingham Wines, produced with a ‘German method’ by winemaker Andrew Hedley in Marlborough, New Zealand, using fruit from some of the region’s oldest Riesling vineyards. Riesling expert Anne Krebiehl MW visited Hedley and discovered some of his techniques – including the use of ‘killer acid’ – as well as sharing tasting notes of some of her favourite Framingham wines.
Hedley produced nine wines in the 2017 vintage, all bar one using botrytis to a lesser or greater extent.
“Acid is the most important aspect of all these wines here,” says Andrew Hedley.
Hedley is winemaker at Framingham Wines in Marlborough and the creator of what are probably the most thrillingly pure off-dry and sweet Rieslings in the New World.
That Hedley is an obsessive is not immediately clear, in fact, his unassuming air and his easy smile might make you think that these delicious wines in front of you are happenstance… when they are everything but. The wines are on a scalpel’s edge, their every nuance heightened by absolute tension and clarity. They are the product of singular precision and complete understanding.
Hedley is right when he says that acid is the central aspect of his wines. He understands how acidity works and what it can do for his Riesling. He knows what he wants to get out of his grapes and knows how to get it. He can hold his nerve when it comes to pH and botrytis. This, quite possibly, is down to his unconventional path to wine.
So how did Hedley come to be making such world class Riesling at Framingham?
Hedley grew up in England with a father who would return from German business trips with Riesling. The love for wine was there but he took another path. With a degree in applied chemistry and a PhD in organic chemistry – “both absolutely useless,” he quips – he worked as an R&D chemist until he got so fed up and bored that he went around the London International Wine Fair to ask Kiwi winemakers if there were any jobs going.
He got into New Zealand via the points system, got a job offer on Christmas Eve in 1997 and started as a lab manager in Marlborough on 6 January 1998. In 2001 he then became assistant winemaker at Framingham. When the head winemaker left in 2002, Andrew moved up and has been winemaker at Framingham ever since. This means that he learnt winemaking while he was on the job – having a far deeper understanding of the whole process than your average oenology graduate as a result. Neither was he indoctrinated with the received wisdom of winemaking school.
He will not tell you this, but tasting his wines makes it clear: he does his own thing, deliciously so.
Hedley freely admits that his approach of making several Riesling styles from one vineyard (in fact two plots adjoining the winery), is “a very German model.” His points of reference harvest-wise are not brix but Oechsle and his stylistic yardstick are the German Prädikat levels. While you may have heard across the globe that sweetish Riesling wines are made in (mostly mis-pronounced) ‘Auslese’ or ‘Spätlese’ styles, Hedley does not use these terms lightly. His approach is the old-school, proper Prädikat idea, fine-tuned via ripeness and botrytis-infection to the Nth degree, enabled by killer acid.
While Riesling accounts for just 9% of the estate vineyards, this is what Framingham is known for. There are 11,178 vines which make up 6.02ha (14.92 acres). These vines are amongst the oldest Rieslings in Marlborough, having been planted in 1981. A newer block of 1505 vines (081ha/2.01 acres) was planted in 1996 and is now 22 years old.
“The 37-year-old vines are not that vigorous anymore,” Hedley says and explains his climate: “Our temperature range is quite cold at night and not really warm during the day.” This affords him aromatic development and acid retention. When it comes to harvest, he says: “We keep an eye on acid; we don’t care that much about sugar. We know which grapes in the vineyard will give us certain styles.”
Several passes through the vineyard are crucial; in 2013 they clocked up a total of 19 tries.
“That’s a love of selective harvesting,” Hedley confesses. “Auslese is the hardest thing for us to do as once botrytis starts, it goes quite quickly. It’s important to taste botrytised grapes. It is a bit of a leap of faith for people to put this in their mouth, but how else do you know how your wine will taste?”
Hedley’s 2017 harvest statement says: ”Our aim is to always make wines with a degree of seriousness, depth, complexity and structure that cannot be achieved by using under-ripe grapes. In the end nine wines have been produced from the 2017 vintage, all except one incorporating some degree of botrytis to a greater of lesser extent.”
“The juices are rich in tartaric [acid] and the pH is naturally low. It can go down as low as 2.8 which is difficult but 2.85 to 2.9 we can deal with. Microbially that is quite a stable environment,” he says. At these levels bugs find it impossible to thrive, impurities have no chance of festering.
“We use a bit of skin contact to get the pH up and acid down,” he says, “and ferment with full solids. This is followed by nine to ten months on lees. Our [indigenous] ferments take six to seven months.” This, also affords him texture and body.
Hedley makes light of his own nerves of steel and says: “If you’re not scared of botrytis, there’s lots of potential. There’s lots to play with.” And play he does – seemingly with a virtuosic touch.
While he has these Germanic riffs down to a tee, he is clear he is making New Zealand Wine, and he also knows exactly why and states with absolute clarity: “The sense of place in this wine is the purity of botrytis we get in this climate.”
That is true: there never is any smudgy ickiness of grey botrytis picked alongside the noble stuff. Super-clean botrytis, combined with searing acid, adult pH, meticulous selection and inspired judgement is the secret of the thrilling purity of his wines. Ausgezeichnet, I say.
I was allowed to taste the full gamut of the R-game, but here are some highlights:
F-Series 2017 Riesling Kabinett, 8.5% ABV: Tender citrus on the nose is still unfolding. The lightness of the zippy body is fruit-laden, juicy, moreish and taut. The aromas gain volume with more air and swirl in a symphony of ripe stone fruit and lemon, soaring weightlessly. This was the only 2017 parcel picked without botrytis. It had two weeks of skin contact and was matured in an Acacia puncheon.
Select Riesling 2017, 9%: Perfumed: summer blossom and tangerine peel in a subtle, lovely synthesis. Beguiling sweetness anchored absolutely in acidic thrill. Streamlined, concentrated, vivid, juicy, long and laser-sharp. Wow.
F-Series Riesling Spätlese 2017 Goldkapsel, 9.5%: Citrus dominates the nose: tangerine, clementine alongside crushed citrus foliage. At its core there is exquisite sweetness: luscious peach tempered by the ripest, cleanest Amalfi lemon possible. A glory of bright flavours, crystalline. Riesling made manifest.
F-Series Auslese 2017, 9%: The richness of botrytis bathes citrus fruit in a golden light: barley sugar, candied zest, lifted citrus oils. Brilliant acid offsets the luscious, golden ripeness of super-charged peach flavours. This is a high-wire act of mind-boggling ripeness and depth. So rich, so precise, so delish.
F-Series Old Vine Riesling 2009, 13.5%: A little air is needed to awaken the nose of gentle lanolin, zesty lime and white pepper. On the dry palate this is soft and sharp at the same time: creamy apple is offset with lime sharpness to a dramatic degree while lanolin provides a steady, almost emollient textural backdrop. The Germans have a word for this: “Gaumenkino” – ‘palate cinema’.