Artisan Winegrowers of Central Otago, a group of six tiny (2000 or fewer cases) committed producers who have banded together to promote their common interest of ‘small batch, high-quality viticulture and winemaking’.
(main photo : Vanessa, winemaker at Maude Wines, Sue Thompson and Emma. Many thanks to Thomo for allowing us to use his (far superior) photographs.
The group allows members to pool resources and share experience as well as act as one another’s sounding boards. For our visit, the idea was to visit each producer’s patch with them, to get a feel for their individual approaches and different vineyards. The next day we were given the time and space alone to taste the wines as a group – a system that worked very well indeed.
Winding our way across the Crown Range, it was not difficult to see the attraction for those growing grapes and making wine in this part of the country – it’s not only a superb area for viticulture but truly is the most spectacular surroundings. Sue and Carl Thompson established their Pisa sub-region vineyards in 2001 providing grapes for various smart Central labels, and more recently have also taken the plunge with their own label (TOSQ represents the initials of Carl, also known as Thomo, Sue and their two teenage sons).
Sue says they are greatly enjoying the extra dimension of ‘ownership’ this brings as well as the satisfaction of seeing their own wine in the bottle. The vineyards are managed with an eye to biodynamics and certainly this is a hands-on, labour-of-love affair with all family members (two legs and four) to be found in the vineyards across the year.
The wines are made at Maude winery in Wanaka, which is where we visited to see a new take on an unusual variety – Flora. Five rows were originally planted with what was thought to be pinot gris but instead revealed themselves to be the 1938 Californian crossing of gewurztraminer and semillon. Undaunted, Sue and Carl have now made this a unique wine in their portfolio, and with the 2013 vintage (and enthusiastic urging from winemaker Sarah-Kate Dineen) used it to try out ‘natural’ winemaking, representing quite a departure from their usual style of wine but in keeping with their desire to explore their site’s potential and their own boundaries.
2013 TOSQ Flora (barrel sample)
Made with no sulphur, yeast, acid or other additives, pressed, half the juice put directly to barrel for ferment, half put over pressed skins in stainless steel vessel. Lees stirred twice weekly for freshness, to richen palate texture and as S-K keen to manage the variety’s naturally high acidity. This was the point at which we tasted the wine…
An intriguing wine. A pretty rather floral nose and quite creamy. Surprisingly ‘pure’ though with lots going on already. Slight aldehydic lift at this stage. Dry, very pithy palate, textural, light and quite herbal flavour spectrum. Delicate structure, nicely linear and very interesting.
Given the departure from norm, there was some discussion about whether to bottle it in a different format (e.g. 500ml) or a different label as there’s no doubting someone who had tried the 2012 Flora will be encountering a radically different beast this time around. The tiny volume means TOSQ can afford to play around but there is still the practical need to not scare the horses too much either. Be fascinating to hear the customer feedback once this is on the market!
2012 TOSQ Flora
Creamy custard apple, some peachy/citrus with subtle spice. Dry, crisp with quite a broad palate and fair length; food-friendly style with some nice biscuity texture and interest, a little hot on the finish.
2012 TOSQ Pinot Gris
Spicy clean ripe stonefruit and baked apple nose, crisp, pithy palate, moderately concentrated and pretty in style. Fairly textbook pinot gris style but with some extra texture, nicely done.
2011 TOSQ Pinot Noir
Pale ruby, strawberries and cream nose with pretty cinnamon spice. Oak is present but subtle and tannins light and supple. Lifted, red fruits and a pleasant savoury finish. Although it isn’t an opulent vintage, it’s nice to see the prettiness and floral quality that come when winemakers have opted to make a more fragrant, less ‘worked’ style.
2010 TOSQ Pinot Noir
A darker, more opulent wine than the 2011 (though not straying into fruit bomb territory by any means). Less cream, more spice, oak is a little more evident though nicely balanced. More intensity, bigger-framed style with more fruit weight and good length. Youthful. Nice to see vintage variation in the pinots.