Wednesday, March 19, 2008
A Felton Road Primer
A month or so ago I promised that I would continue my introduction to Central Otago with a post about Felton Road. Well better late than never I suppose...
Felton Road was planted in 1992 by Stewart Elms on a 15 hectare (37 acre) site near Bannockburn (on Felton Road...duh!) to Pinot Noir (55%), Chardonnay (30%) and Riesling (15%). Stewart was the first to plant grapes in this area of Central Otago even though Bannockburn in the Cromwell Basin was known to be its warmest region, being home to the majority of fruit orchards in this part of the world. Due to Felton Road's phenomenal success here, over 70% of Central Otago Pinot Noir is now planted in the Cromwell Basin! Three different soil types were identified on site - Waenega (a very deep fine sandy loam) , Lochar (a shallow fine sandy loam) and Scotland Point (very deep gravelly loam). Block 3 is predominately on Waenega, with a few rows on Scotland Point while Block 5 has half its rows on Lochar and half on Scotland Point. These two blocks (which make up the Block designated wines that Felton Road is duly most famous for) are on perfectly north facing slopes so that sunlight is maximized for the development of ripe Pinot Noir. With the vinification of the Block 3 and Block 5 grapes exactly the same, and their adjacency in the vineyard (see the above map - click to enlarge) the differences between the wines can truly be said to expressions of terroir.
Along with the original Elms vineyard, Felton Road has a long term lease on the neighboring 10 hectare (25 acre) Calvert vineyard which is planted 100% to Pinot Noir and along with Nigel Greening's purchase of Felton Road in 2000 came the 7.5 hectare (19 acre) Cornish Point Vineyard. Cornish Point is truly an experimental Pinot Noir vineyard with 18 different combinations of clone and rootstock! All of the Felton Road vineyards are farmed biodynamically (the principles of which I will explain in another post) and wine is made using sustainable methods (all water is recycled, spent lees and pomace are added to the organic compost that fertilizes the vineyard etc).
Guiding the winemaking is Blair Walter who has been Felton Road's winemaker for all 11 vintages. With a degree from Lincoln University, with time also at Oregon State University, Blair has also worked in Burgundy (Domaine de l'Arlot), California (with John Kongsgaard at Newton Vineyard), Oregon (Cristom), and Australia (TarraWarra Estate). Felton Road's vinifications are all wild ferments (grapes are allowed to ferment naturally with yeasts that are naturally present in the vineyard and winery) and with Pinot Noir the fruit is only destemmed, not crushed. This means that the grapes ferment inside the berries which imparts some carbonic (feminine, fruity) flavors to the wine. The full color, flavor and soft tannin structure of the Pinot Noir is developed by long cold soaks before fermentation begins and extended maceration (a period on the skins at the end of fermentation before the pomace is pressed to barrel). The Central Otago Pinot Noir is aged in French oak for 11 months and the Block 5 and Block 3 wines see a longer 14 months before bottling.
The next two months are going to be very exciting as I further my quest to produce world class Pinot Noir. On Tuesday the harvest is on as the first fruit comes into the winery - some Chardonnay and Riesling and perhaps some Pinot Noir. I can't wait!