Puriri Hills: A Slice of Saint Emilion
Posted on October 29, 2013
One Sunday, a rural drive to Clevedon to visit a very special winery seemed great respite from the city. I booked an appointment with Owner Judy the morning of, and as I enter the private tasting room (also known as their house) there is definitely a warm American hospitality that fills its walls. Built to house a guest lodge for six, with vast windows showing the slice of paradise. Owner Judy Fowler has a sincere charm about her, a graceful care which is laid out over the rolling hills and flourishing native forest they have regenerated. The vast windows of this hilltop view looks straight over the Hauraki to the Eastern side of Waiheke Island and the Coromandel Peninsula. She pours each wine with a nifty vinturi, and while I pour over articles, she takes me on a journey.
Nature Versus Nurture
Nurture is critical for their 7,500 vines. As they are moving away from conventional farming, her ‘ladies’ receive individual attention. They never fertilise the farm and they keep stocking levels at a bare minimum. The sheep make good leaf pluckers and the flowers bring in bees to pollinate the vines – all to create a healthy environment. “Natural Farming is the next best thing to being Certified Organic, we just felt that those restrictions don’t take into consideration the uniqueness of the property.” Healthy soil makes healthy wine, and it’s obvious the fastidious care of the property is woven into all aspects of the business, including their decision to join the port folio of distributors Great Little Vineyards. “We needed to make a virtue of being small.”
Personal Wine Discovery
Judy had her aha! wine moment from a first growth Bordeaux when she was 18. It was hard to turn back. “It was intense, big and pure. I knew from this you want the wine to be symphonic, and not dominate the meal.” This was the same time she lived in America, when Julia Childs spurred on the sudden transition period of growth in international cuisines, Asian fusion and new wine varieties. This bought a whole cascade of flavour profiles to the restaurant soirée; the face of American cuisine was changing. She knew because of this that she wanted a wine to have all the complexity to stand up to different fare. “In a blend you can have the best of everything. It could be silky like Pinot, peppery and tangy due to Cabernet Franc and juicy (lush) like Carménère.”
She refers to the Bordeaux style wines of Auckland to be “Cool Reds” as opposed to Hawke’s Bay’s “Hot Reds”.With high annual rainfall they were warned not to plant here, but something about the north facing slopes and the soil showed potential for Pomerol and St. Emillon inspired reds. The site is non-irrigated because the structured clay soil are perfect for water absorption. “The roots of fertigated vines are hydroponic; only living in the surface layer of the soil. The drier conditions mean the vine is forced to put roots down deeper, reaching for soil biomass in order to convert minerals to a usable form.” The vine health surely shows through in the complexity and vibrancy of the wines.
Puriri Hills 2006 Reserve 53% Merlot, 33% Carménère, 14% Cabernet Franc.
The nose is savoury, with light brett complexity, tobacco notes and liquorice. The wine opens up in my glass the longer I leave it here, with enticing layers of cinnamon, blackberry, violets and underlying aniseed. Mid palate has magical development in the mouth: silky, earthy with ripe blackberries carried the whole way through. “The Carménère is the Maverick in the blend.” When they ordered Cabernet Franc from Italy, later genetic testing showed it was Carménère which adds to the unique complex layers in the wine’s development. “This is a woody and strappy variety that develops slowly with age.”
Puriri Hills 2007 Estate 56% Merlot, 24% Carménère, 20% Cabernet Franc
An array of earth, herbs, nose reminiscent of potpourri – probably the most distinct I’ve ever smelled. For the age it has lively vibrant fruit, red fleshy plums. Slight capsicum and higher alcohol, are followed by nutmeg, coffee and juicy cranberry on the finish. She later gave this to me to take to dinner that night. What a perfect match for Chinese fare and the wine grew softer and more lush as the night drew on.
Puriri Hills 2008 Estate 53% Merlot, 27% Cabernet and 16% for both Malbec, 6% Carménère
This was a good vintage; the wine has higher alcohol, higher acidity, intense concentrated fruit with less savoury characters. Whilst there is less evolution in the glass than the 2007, the vine age adds sweetness. Cherries at the fore, more perfume and dark fruits, chocolate, powerful but focussed tannins. The Cabernet was very ripe this year, and the striking acidity plays against the super silky mouthfeel. It’s possible there’s a touch of bretty complexity, and here’s what she has to say about it:
“I like making wine that way, not using operational equipment if we don’t have to. We’re not making wine for Sainsbury’s – so we don’t have to meet those ‘sterile’ requirements. We hope that our customers can enjoy our version of Bordeaux, which will change with every vintage. Most of them know that there might be changes – that’s part of the adventure of the style.”
Puriri Hills 2008 Reserve 51% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Franc, 13% Carménère, 9% Cabernet Sauvignon, 7% Malbec.
Expressive and complex nose of black boy plums, a bouquet of flowers underlying earth making it highly seductive. Cabernet Franc draws you in, perhaps the freshest I’ve ever seen it – full bodied and beautiful. Fresh berry is more abundant here, with a solid core of pure fruit. The dense texture and vuluptuous weight underpinned by both clay soils and older vines, where skins are naturally thicker.
Puriri Hills 2008 Pope
52% Cabernet Franc, 32% Merlot, 16% Carménère
Nope, no religious shrines to Catholicism in this house. ‘Pope’ is the surname of the viticuluralist that helped them establish the vineyard, he passed away in 2005. The higher percentage of Carménère leaves distinct white pepper and liquorice notes – here broad tannins, luscious red fruits, and a spice bazaar of star anise, caraway seed and chilli. The superior structure and depth illustrates that it has even more aging potential than the rest of the range.
The Queen Said So…
It is no small feat that Bob Campbell rated the 2010 Estate 98/100, the highest score given to any other Bordeaux style red in New Zealand. This rating came however, before they were ready to release it. Judy knows it’s a luxury to sit on the wine for a few years in a saturated market, and it is very hard to compete with producers selling fast to get the cash in hand. But as their wine improves dramatically with age, they have a cult following from collectors and restaurants. Queen Elizabeth herself can attest to the rewards of late release, as Peter Gordon chose the Puriri Hills 2003 Estate to serve at the Diamond Jubilee Trust Dinner in Auckland. It’s a clear vision that got them here.
“You need to know what you want to achieve by educating your mouth and your sense of smell. That’s what got me about Providence Wines (from Matakana). That was what I wanted, a fascinating bouquet that would live on and on in front of the fire with cheese. The clearer the vision you have, the clearer the success of the product. This was the clearest product definition, I knew exactly what I wanted it to taste like and who I wanted to sell it to. I wanted what’s in the bottle to speak for itself.”
With boutique producers I think that wine made to this level of quality has the same ethos of sustainability running deep at the veins of the operation. In their agricultural and business decisions, the vines are always living entities. The land is respected, and the understanding that vines need ab establish root system to thrive is of the utmost importance. Thus wines of intense flavours and aromatic superiority are born; whether Pinot Noir or Cabernet Sauvignon. The core philosophy is the same.