WHEN academic Dr Neil McCallum first set up Dry River winery on the Martinborough Terraces in New Zealand in 1979 his intention was not to create a cult wine. Instead, he had a specific plan to make the best wine he possibly could.
McCallum cropped his vines at very low yields, used no irrigation and traditional winemaking techniques. The result was an incredible range of intense chardonnays, rieslings, pinot noirs and more, handcrafted in tiny quantities. He was not interested in inviting coach loads of visitors into his vineyard. Instead he locked his gates and focused on making the best wines he could – but it wasn’t long before he had a loyal mail-order following, who snapped up his production.
Now the famous doctor has retired. Dry River’s new owners, the Robertson family who are wealthy American financiers, plan to maintain McCallum’s philosophy, doing things exactly as he has done with a new Kiwi winemaker, Antony Mackenzie.
And the new owners are replicating the same philosophy at another of their vineyards in neighbouring Hawkes Bay. They also bought the large commercial Te Awa winery where, with Mackenzie’s assistance, the Robertsons portioned off 17 hectares to create a new upmarket range – called Kidnapper Cliffs.
“We use severe crop thinning, canopy positioning, no irrigation – very conservative and traditional winemaking,” says Mackenzie of Kidnapper Cliffs.
The result is very sleek, minerally whites, while the reds are very restrained for a New World origin – perhaps a little too restrained – and certainly not what people expect from New Zealand, but they are well-made, polished examples. My preference was for his plummy, pomerol-like Ariki bordeaux blend from 2007. It will be interesting to see whether Mackenzie manages the McCallum touch in years to come – as the vintages of 2010, 2011 and 2012 have been challengingly cool for producers of Kiwi reds.
White SOLAN 2009
It might be predominantly sauvignon blanc, but instead of gooseberry pungency, this is grassier, greener, sleeker and drier, with a touch of honey and creaminess. If you like dry white bordeaux, you will love this.
White CHARDONNAY 2009
Very elegant, minerally, intense and subtly oaked – a fabulous Hawkes Bay chardonnay – my favourite of the Kidnapper Cliffs range. Wonderful with seafood or pork.
Red ARIKI 2007
An enticing predominantly merlot blend (with 15 per cent cabernet franc); very plummy with fruitcake notes, initially very fleshy ripe fruits, restrained and very elegant with fabulous fruit definition.
Red PINOTAGE 2009
A fascinating effort with this tricky grape, usually found in the Cape – and certainly the best to come out of New Zealand to date. Spicy, gamey, quite bold and brambly – more like claret than pinotage. The price is sadly too high.
• The Kidnapper Cliffs range is available from Raeburn Fine Wines, Edinburgh tel: 0131-343 1159.