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Capturing the Deliciousness of the Gamay Noir Grape

A delicious red, surely an oxymoron? Historically delicious is a not word I would generally associate with red wine. Earlier in my winemaking career, Hawkes Bay reds were generally prized for their deep rich colour and backbone of tannin. Wines for the cellar, wines to pull out at that special dinner or for tasting many years in the future. Prized bottles that would showcase place and vintage with layers of complexity. I still happily make and enjoy wines like these. In fact, our Bordeaux inspired wines made from Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, with their extractive fermentations and long macerations are regarded as classics of this style. This is evidenced by regular emails from contented customers, generally with an accompanying photo of an empty bottle and words of praise regarding its contents. But as I’ve learned, not all red wine needs time to show its best and many wine drinkers, myself included, want thirst quenching and food friendly wines, enjoyed in their youth, straight from the winemaker’s cellars.

The reason for these musings? We are about to bottle our second release of Gamay Noir. With its bright and translucent colour, gentle herbal strawberry fruit and all-round deliciousness, this wine is in direct contrast to the traditional Esk Valley red offerings. Gamay may well be the world’s seventh most planted variety, but here in Hawkes Bay plantings are minuscule, so it was with considerable joy when the opportunity arose in 2020 to purchase some Gamay fruit from the Quinn’s Two Terraces Vineyard. This vineyard at Mangatahi sits on stony river terraces formed by the Ngaruroro River. It is a place of extremes, with daytime temperatures amongst the hottest in the Bay, yet the mercury drops dramatically overnight and wines from the site whether white or red are blessed with both ripeness and fresh acidity. I can think of nowhere better within Hawkes Bay to have Gamay planted.

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Last year’s 2020 vintage was a bit of a practice run. A little over 500 litres made its way to bottle, the learnings however were far greater than the volume. This year our harvest came in two tranches, two clones and five days apart. The first 600kg arrived as whole clusters in two picking bins and as the remainder wasn’t due to arrive until later in the week, I gently crushed the berries by foot and then stored the bins in our chiller. This pre fermentation maceration is a technique widely employed by Pinot Noir winemakers, perhaps highlighting the many similarities of Gamay and Pinot Noir. The remaining 2.5 tonne of fruit, a first crop from young vines, duly arrived five days later.

A concrete fermenter that had been set aside was first filled with the macerated fruit in the picking bins, stalks and all. On top of that we added whole bunches from that day’s pick, followed with some whole berries which had gone through a de-stemmer to liberate the berries from their stalks. It was now a case of waiting for the ferment to show signs of life before gentle pump overs and manual punch-downs could begin. It did, and in contrast to the neighbouring fermenters of Malbec, the extraction was as gentle as possible with little thought given to quantity of tannin and colour, more the quality. Once the wild yeasts had consumed the sugar, and the wine registered dry in our daily analysis, the ferment was gently pressed and the new wine run to large old barrels for malolactic fermentation and sub-sequent ageing. Now after a short period of barrel ageing the wine is about to be bottled without any additives or filtration. Its flavours and personality reflect a hands-off approach to winemaking and showcase the intrinsic beauty and instant drinkability of wines made from the Gamay grape. In contrast, its Malbec siblings are still tucked away in barrel, their firmer tannins needing significantly more barrel ageing. Their bottling date will be later next year.

A delicious red is therefore no oxymoron. Our 2021 Esk Valley Artisanal Gamay is a deliberate attempt to make a wine that captures the drinkability and deliciousness of this little known and underrated grape. I think I should also I tell you its great chilled and quite possibly the perfect summer red.

Esk Valley Artisanal Gamay Noir 2021 will be released early 2022 and only available to purchase online or through our cellar door. To hear about our latest wine releases, make sure you’re signed up to receive our emails.

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