Seresin Estate has always advocated that grapes are just one part of a self-sufficient biodynamic farm and that wine is just one part of a meal, so what better way to show off their new vintages and new winemaker Tamra Kelly-Washington, than over the dining table of founder Michael Seresin, with Hector Henderson in the kitchen.
The estate’s first ever Syrah, seven Pinots, plus three whites – all new vintages and all tasted with/ without food.
If the first step of making a change in life is awareness and the second step is acceptance, Seresin Estate, the Marlborough-based winery is somewhere between the two.
Founder Michael Seresin, clearly a man not used to doing things by halves, has orchestrated a whole raft of changes from the seismic shift of selling his winery through to smaller but no less interesting changes like experimenting with whole bunch-pressing and fermenting in amphora.
Inbetween the two he has sold two of his prime vineyards Noa and Tatou, relocated his headquarters within Marlborough and employed a new head winemaker in Tamra Kelly-Washington, the ex-Yealands head of winemaking who is herself in the middle of major changes, having started a young family in Waiheke island an hour’s flight North.
I am meeting Tamra for a tasting and lunch, in what is also her first visit to Michael Seresin’s London home, an imposing Georgian terraced house two doors away from the Regents Park Canal.
Given that none of these wines have been made under Tamra’s direction (she started in March this year) and given that we are in Seresin’s home, the tasting is an entertaining double act between the two with Seresin doing more of the talking given that his hands have been all over the winery for 26 years – from its original vision through to, literally, his handprint being the winery logo.
Tamra talks about the wine estate’s new and first ever vintage of Syrah and new wines they have in the pipeline and then Michael will chip in with little jokes like “Three tonnes per hectare is that all we get? I told you I wanted 22 tonnes.”
When explaining why he sold Tatou and Noa (biodynamic vineyards getting spray-drift from surrounding non-organic vineyards) he talks about how he tried to address this with his neighbour.
“She was super toxic, she stood there like a rugby player and just said to me ‘Well you can fuck off’ super aggressive, so I said just flog it.”
Seresin feared a repeat of the catastrophe in 1998 when 400 cases of Chardonnay Reserve were sent back from Canada – this time not because of faulty corks but because the biodynamic wine may have picked up illegal chemicals through vinuous ‘passive-smoking’. And talking of corks, Michael reveals that he is thinking of replacing a few of the wines’ screw caps with corks.
As Tamra starts getting some vintages under her belt and can start making whatever appropriate changes she feels need to be made, she will presumably be able to take more of the reins, although when Michael jokes that she has “eight feisty horses full of testosterone pulling her on this two-wheeled cart” you feel it might be a little while before she can fully get her own handprint on the wines!
Tasting the new vintages of the Pinot Noirs there is clearly no need to make any changes – these wines are a sublime treat once again – beautifully pure, focussed, detailed wines that express magnificently their sense of place. They are all clearly from the same hands but at the same time are tantalisingly different – like the different hues in a Rothko canvas, or individual members of one family, as indeed they are in a sense, many named after Michael’s kith and kin.
Part of the signature Seresin style is for the Pinots to rest on their skins a lot longer than other Marlborough Pinots, and for them to then have at least two years in bottle, which is why we are tasting the 2014s.
The only exception is the bright, vibrant and approachable Leah from 2016 described by Tamra as “a pretty good vintage – better than the 2017 and 208.”
2014 was a high yielding vintage and from the taste of these Pinots is exceptionally good – hard to pick a favourite from the single vineyard wines but for me the slightly more rounded and richer Raupu Creek, 2014 was tasting extra special.
Seresin says that wines are always works in progress and clearly some changes have already begun.
Tamra reveals that she has already started experimenting with a small batch of 2018 Pinot Noir fermented in amphora, with 50% of the fruit whole bunch, two practices that are new to Seresin. There are only 800 bottles to be made, with only sample bottles winging their way to the UK.
Halfway through the tasting Michael pours a glass of Zosia, a newly de-classified Sun and Moon from the cool 2011 vintage, and says that there are three further new wines in the pipeline.
The latest new wine that has actually materialised is the 2016 Syrah, which are top-grafted Gewürtztraminer vines from a .75 hectare site in Raupu Creek. The wine has not seen any new oak (10 months barrique, 8 months puncheon) and was bottled more or less as Tamra joined Seresin.
“There’s no Viognier in here because we didn’t think there would be any benefit,” she says, “Viognier can be quite phenolic and maybe the Syrah is too delicate.”
The Syrah 2016 is light, approachable with a pretty nose of raspberry and irises, a delicate, fine-grained tannic texture, lovely length. It reminded me of a cool climate Sonoma Coast Syrah like Wind Gap or closer to home, Martinborough’s Kusuda. Three hundred cases have been made with the UK and New Zealand the only markets.
“The UK is our home market,” says Michael, “everything comes here. We live here.”
The wine will have a UK retail price of £25 and will be released in vintages as and when the climate allows.
The last vintages of Tatou and Noa, incidentally, will be 2016 and 2018 respectively.
Over lunch – poached skate wing with capers, braised leeks, brown lentils, cabbage hearts and lettuce, that is cooked by Hector Henderson, son of Fergus ‘Nose to Tail’ Henderson – we have Marama Sauvignon Blanc and the Reserve Chardonnay, both from 2015. Both are wonderfully rich with the little lick of gunflint on the Chardonnay edging it for me. Small wonder Melanie Brown at the New Zealand Cellar rates it as her favourite Chardonnay.
So much more was discussed over this memorable tasting, unsurprising given the amount of changes that have taken place in the past six months at Seresin.
On the sale of the winery itself to Coterie du Vin, Michael confides that part of his decision was that the operation had got to a scale that meant they would have to start using the facilities to make other people’s wine, something he had no appetite for.
Given the current buoyant A&M climate in the New Zealand wine industry, perhaps the time was simply right for 76 year-old Michael Seresin to start realising some of his investment in wine.
Whatever is the case as the saying goes “Change is inevitable… except from a vending machine.”
The wines of Seresin Estate are imported by Louis Latour Agencies. To find out more about them click here.