While we have been working with the wonderful wines of Pyramid Valley Vineyards for quite some time now, a new direct purchase deal means we can now offer these magnificent staff favorites for an even better price! Pyramid Valley is the labor of love for Mike and Claudia Weersing. Orignally from the Bay Area and with family still in Pescadero, Mike and Claudia have been working hard, living and producing wines in New Zealand since 1996. Mike originally made wine at the esteemed Neudorf Estate in Nelson before he and Claudia bought the property in North Canterbury. The Pyramid Valley Vineyard wines are defined by Organic and Biodynamic viticulture, a very non-invasive winemaking style and have an intense focus on integrity, sense of place and reflection of vintage.
The wines are divided into a “Growers Collection” and “Home Vineyard” single block ranges. The Growers Collection is made up of single vineyard bottlings sourced from growers with whom Mike and Claudia work very closely. The selected vineyards are farmed Biodynamically and to their own very strict quality standards. Many of the wines represent very unique and quirky varietals not commonly seen in New Zealand such as Savagnin Rose, Semillon, Pinot Blanc and Cabernet Franc. They also make great Riesling and obviously a selection of Pinot Noirs from different regions and sub-regions of NZ.
The "Home Block" wines are from Mike and Claudia's tiny estate in North Canterbury. Vines are planted in very high density with minute spacing to make sure yields are concentrated. Most blocks are on steep slopes making the farming, which is meticulous and all by hand, a very laborious job. The vineyards have been organic and biodynamic since inception. Each individual block is named after the wildflowers that thrive there. These single block wines are microcosms of each section of this unique estate. The wines show remarkable nuances of flavor and texture due to slight differences in orientation, soil and aspect.
Minimal intervention wine making is often referred to as a "hands-off" style, however I might argue that Pyramid Valley employ an intensely "hands-on" style of production. The difference being that these are very “green thumbed” hands. Everything is done by hand, (and foot, the grapes are foot trodden for gentle extraction) down to hand de-stemming each bunch of Pinot Noir. The wines are truly lovingly crafted pieces of natural artistry.
Below are detailed notes notes on the various wines we have from Pyramid Valley. I really encourge you to check out these wines. They are something very special and represent the absolute pinnacle of artisinal winemaking.
An enchanting wine, very floral nose of dried rose petals and lavender. Bright high-toned red fruits on the nose lead to slightly richer sappier dark red fruits on the palate. This wine has compelling energy and vibrancy. Crisp acidity and grainy tannins mean this wine will hold in the cellar. This is definitely more a Burgundy drinker’s wine than a modern fruit forward style. The wine has great texture and an authentic sense of place. This is a very interesting bottle that deserves some reflection and consideration if it is to be fully appreciated.
James Suckling 95 points and featured in his Top Ten Wines of the World for 2012. “Aromas of roses and sweet plums with strawberry. Full body, with super fine tannins and beautiful fruit. Silky and fine with such beauty. This is insane with a rust and iron character. Fascinating. Drink or hold.
Winery Notes: "1.1 tonnes per acre from this north-facing parcel; ten year old vines. Denser, shallower soils, still clay-limestone: 20% clay, 3-7% active lime. Biodynamic from before planting. Late April pick, entirely hand destemmed, 25% foot crushed. Ambient soak of 5-7 days, warm vineyard yeast fermentation (33C), 27-28 day cuvaison. Natural, spring malolactic. Ten months on original lees, in French barriques, 15% new, then held a further six months in tank. Bottled unfined and unfiltered, in September 2011. Alcohol 13.7%. Production: 180 cases. Good deep ruby. Flowers, red fruits, and bags of spice on the forward bouquet. Lush but crisp, with very fresh fruit, and all that spice. Very long and elegant palate.
The Earth Smoke is very slightly my preferred bottling from the Home Vineyard offerings. I love the depth and intrigue this wine brings to the table. The fruit, especially aromatically, is more reserved than the Angel Flower block; however the wine has awesome layers of detail and interest. Dense earthy tones and the rich limestone soil show through in this wine. The whole thing is more guarded and veiled yet within that subtlety there is ample finesse and character. A really soulful bottling that will truly engage Burgundy drinkers and shows the complexity and subtly that New Zealand Pinot can have.
James Suckling 94 points: “A fabulous nose of dried strawberries, plums and hints of smoke and bacon. Full body, with beautiful tannins and acidity. Super intense and beautiful. Long and gorgeous. No new oak. Better in 2016.”
Winery Notes: "1.4 tonnes per acre from our east-facing home block; ten year old vines. Deep, well structured, clay-limestone soils: 30% clay, 12-15% active lime. Also biodynamic from inception. Late April pick, hand destemmed, 25% foot crushed. Ambient soak of 5-7 days, warm vineyard yeast fermentation (33C), 27-28 day cuvaison. Natural, spring malolactic. Ten months on original lees, in French barriques, 15% new, then held a further six months in tank. Bottled unfined and unfiltered, in September 2011. Alcohol 13.2%. Production: 250 cases. Similar robe to the Angel Flower, perhaps a bit deeper. Very engaging and complex nose of soil, wild fruits, and spiced orange peel. Real power and lovely texture in the mouth, and again wilder and more earthy than the Angel Flower.
The Calvert vineyard is shared between three of NZ’s leading Pinot Noir producers: Pyramid Valley, Craggy Range and Felton Rd. The vineyard is farmed Biodynamically (by Felton Rd) and each partner gets an equal split of the fruit to craft the way they wish. Pyramid Valley’s philosophy is based around as little intervention as possible to let the site speak for itself. This wine shows classic Central Otago power and muscle without compromising balance and elegance of texture. I found the wine to be quite black fruited but with raspberry high-toned notes peaking through. The wine has compact layers of flavor that I suspect come from its schist soil origins. It really unfolds in the glass showing spice and sweet crushed herbs with more air. The wine finishes with remarkably fresh acidity despite the dark fruit succulence and ripe tannin structure. This is great wine especially for those seeking to try some New Zealand Pinot whilst transitioning from more dense California styles.
Stephen Tanzer 92 points: “Good medium-deep red. Knockout nose combines raspberry, smoke, spices and loamy soil tones. Fat, sweet, sexy and rich, but with ripe, harmonious acidity giving shape to the red berry and underbrush flavors. Velvety in the middle and nicely sappy on the long, sweet finish, which features thoroughly ripe, smooth tannins. A liquid confection.”
Winery Notes: "A sufficient, but small-berried harvest from this beautiful Bannockburn site. Managed biodynamically by the consistently brilliant team at Felton Road. Soils of schist and quartz sand. Fruit is all hand picked, 75% destemmed, thus 25% whole cluster, transferred by gravity to tank. Ambient soak of 3-5 days, warm indigenous yeast fermentation, 27-28 day cuvaison. Natural, spring malolactic. Fourteen months on original lees in French barriques (25% new); bottled unfined and unfiltered on the winter Solstice, June 2010. Alcohol 14.3%, pH 3.71. Production: 450 cases. Lifted and luscious at the same time, with a broad spectrum of fruit and plant aromatics: from pomegranate through redcurrant jelly and fresh plum to raspberry; beyond juniper berry to crushed thyme to bramble to bark. Also a teriyaki/root beer note like an umami version of the spice we so often see from this site. Broad and enveloping, yet with ripe and bracing and infiltrating tannin. Finishes with a long and lovely interplay between structure and succulence."
This Pyramid Valley Growers Collection bottling comes from one of my favorite sites within the region of Marlborough. The Cowley vineyard is nestled into the hills rising away to the south of the Wairau plains that make up most of Marlborough’s wine country. Here on the north facing slopes the soils turn from alluvial gravel to mixes of clay and decomposed bed rock, glacial deposits and volcanic uplift. The site produces complex pinot of real depth and character. The 2009 bottling has quite a rich dark fruit edge that illustrates the ripeness of the vintage. A seductive silky wine showing crushed plums, and red berries mingling with some freshly ground spices. Very drinkable and crowd pleasing in style, whilst retaining that authentic vibrancy that Pyramid Valley wines have in abundance.
Stephen Tanzer 91 points: “Slightly hazy medium red. Musky aromas of raspberry, coffee and smoke. Lush, silky and sweet, with velvety plum and earth flavors spreading out to saturate the palate. Seamless pinot with excellent depth and sweet tannins.”
Fantastic Chardonnay. This wine has a real drive and energy. It shows rich orchard fruits, poached pears and some depth given from a lovely grain or barley character which I can only assume is from a healthy dose of sur lie ageing. This is quite a rich wine but a bright acidity keeps all that texture and power taught, linear and focused. Treat this wine like a good white Burgundy and it will reward you in kind. This really shows the potential of New Zealand to produce top class Chardonnay.
Winery Notes: "20hl/ha from this steeply inclined, east facing home block. Gorgeous soils, with nut and crumb structure and great mineral fertility: 30% clay, 15-20% active lime. Again, biodynamic from inception. Early May pick, whole bunch pressed; no settling, no SO2. Vineyard yeast ferment of 15 months, in used French oak, primarily 450-500L puncheons. Natural, spring malolactic. Eleven months on lees in barrel, then transferred to a variable capacity tank for a further 9 months; bottled unfined and unfiltered in December 2011. Alcohol 14.5%. Production: 100 cases. More golden yet, still bright and brilliant. More complex, fermentative aromas: less fruit and leaf and flower than the Field of Fire, rather popcorn, brioche, grilled nuts.”
Phenomenal Cab Franc. This wine draws the perfect line between the more lean and herbal Cab Francs of the Loire and the bigger and more dense California versions that are out there. It has plenty of green tobacco and freshly crushed herb varietal character but also rich, concentrated dark red fruit and spice. Some fine oak nuances round out the wine which has great length and balance on the palate. This wine comes from a very interesting sub-region of Hawke's Bay know as the Red Metals Triangle for its red, iron-rich gravelly soils. These complex soils produce low, concentrated yields and impart a fascinating mineral tinge to the wine produced here. There is so much complexity and intrigue here all cloaked beneath a rich and crowd pleasing style. Yum!
Robert Parker 91+ points: “Medium-deep ruby-purple in color, the 2009 Howell Family Vineyard Hawke’s Bay Cabernet Franc is a little closed, offering delicate to moderately pronounced notes of red currants and red cherries over nuances of black pepper, moss covered tree bark and game. Ripe and rich in the medium bodied mouth, it has medium-firm silky tannins, crisp acidity and a long savory finish. Drink it 2012 to 2017+. Mike and Claudia Weersing continue to work nature’s magic on their wines. The results are truly unique wines that can only come from these creative hands working out of this pretty patch just inland from the Waipara. Even more exciting is that the quality straight across the estate and growers labels just gets better and more consistent each year from this relatively new operation.”
When I learnt Pyramid Valley had a Savgagnin Rose they wanted us to taste I had absolutely no idea what to expect…Savagnin Rose? Turns out that this is a most fascinating floral, aromatic and richly textured wine. One of the most interesting wines I have tasted this year. The wine definatley shows its relation to Gewurztraminer in those
Winery Notes: "We were thrilled when Peter and Anne Reed called us about their small parcel of this extremely rare variety. Savagnin Rose is the non-musqué progenitor of Gewurztraminer: it is less gaudily aromatic, and retains fresher acidity. We prize its delicately spicy, floral nature, as well as its bold structure and elegant strength. 4.1 tonnes/acre from this lifted Fareham Lane block, in a corner of Marlborough we believe produces exceptional aromatic wines. Whole bunch pressed, no settling, no fining agents. Indigenous fermentation of 15 months, in 500L puncheons, 5% new. Bottled on the spring equinox, September 2011. Alcohol 13.9%, pH 3.52, TA 4.3 g/l, RS 25g/l. Production 410 cases. Brilliant gold. Very delicate and subtly perfumed, with brown, yellow and ochre spice turmeric, curry, sumac, saffron and equally fine floral notes, especially rose. Still some light leesy fermentative notes, from a very long gestation in barrel. Juicy and freshly sweet, like a Golden Queen peach. Feels lush and bright simultaneously, as ripe acid and girdling phenolics lend focus and drive to the luscious finish. Really like a perfect, yellow, tree-ripened fruit a mirabelle, say, or an Anjou pear.
An excellent growing season yielded small, clean berries from Pyramid Valley's Kerner Estate Vineyard for this 2010 Pinot Blanc. The grapes were hand-harvested and whole-cluster pressed and fermented on native yeast in old French oak puncheons. From the winery: "Pale yellow gold. Leesy/biscuity fermentative notes, with a lemon custard sort of high-tone comfort; also a subtle, blossomy sweetness, like alyssum. Really quite elegant and understated: after the complex boisterousness of the 2009, this marks a return to delicacy and ethereal grace. Light and bright and lively, despite its adamant phenolic structure and intensity of flavour. Perhaps the most poised and complete wine we’ve seen from this lovely block."
James Suckling 90 points: "This Pinot Blanc shows lovely floral and melon character with full body, good acidity and a clean finish. Balanced and chalky."
Robert Parker 90 points: “The 2009 Rose Vineyard Marlborough Riesling gives a chalky, mineral nose with some straw and lime leaf plus a little citrus zest and freshly made bread dough. Made to a relatively dry style, it has a medium body and lively acidity cutting through the elegant fruit, finishing long and steely. Approachable now, it should drink well to 2016+”
Thanks so much for reading and I hope you enjoy the wines!
- Ryan Woodhouse, NZ / Aussie Specialist
Terra Ignota is Latin for "Unknown Land". It was the name for the South Pacific region during intial mapping and exploration of Australia and New Zealand. As we are going to be exploring new and exciting wines from this region, we think this is a fitting title for our blog series on wines from this part of the world. Stay tuned for more!