ALAN BRADY'S 2019 HARVEST
Wild Irishman Wines is the third wine company founded by Central Otago pioneer Alan Brady. The first was Gibbston Valley Wines in the 1980s followed by Mount Edward Wines in 1998. When he sold that business in 2005 he thought he had retired. But the annual excitement and uncertainty of harvest and the smells and alchemy of fermenting Pinot Noir was too much a part of his life to let go. “Winemaking,” he says, “Is a hard habit to kick.” Wild Irishman Wines began in 2006 as a small retirement project. 2020 will be the 15th vintage and the label is becoming established as one of the region’s leading boutique producers. At 83 Brady is still very much the hands-on driver. He is a Fellow of New Zealand Winegrowers, was inducted into the NZ Wine Hall of Fame 2013, receive the Sir George Fistonich Medal awarded to “Legends of NZ Wine” 2011, and was made a Member of the new Zealand Order of Merit in 1996.
THE 2019 GROWING SEASON
In the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic shut-down, the 2018-19 growing season already seems a long time ago. Looking back, it was a comfortable world of predictable normality back then. But really not much has changed. We work with nature through whatever the seasons throw at us and there is always a harvest. The difficulties we have right now are just another vintage challenge to be overcome.
2019 was a season of two halves. Above average rainfall and below average temperatures between October and January brought vigorous growth to all three Wild Irishman vineyards but a late budburst and flowering. From January through March it was mostly sunny and warm, not as hot as 2018, but with temperatures slightly above average and little wind. April was cooler with rain and a couple of frosts. Overall a pretty good year with average yields and balanced ripeness across the region and a record harvest in Central Otago of 11,868 tonnes.
Since 2006 our goal has been to explore the climatic and geological diversity of our sub regions. That’s meant a single vineyard approach and pared back winemaking so that we can cut to the essence of specific sites in search of the purest expression of Pinot Noir we can achieve in any year. 2019 sees the return of Bannockburn to our portfolio and in 2020 we will add Alexandra. Gibbston vineyards remain at the core of our production - hardly surprising I suppose given my history.
Bannockburn. A small parcel of vines in the excellent DOCTORS FLAT VINEYARD is the source of fruit for our newest label. Organically farmed by owner Steve Davies, the three hectares block sits on ancient glacial gravels above the village of Bannockburn, higher and slightly cooler than most of the Bannockburn sub region. The wild Irishman vines, Clones 777 and 115, are in the middle of the vineyard and are micro managed to exacting standards by Steve and viticulturist Gary Crabbe.
Gibbston.In this valley carved out by glaciers 12,000 years ago, vines grow in silts and sandy gravels to nearly 500 metres above sea level. A long cool ripening period gives Gibbston its character delivering wines defined by their suppleness and elegance.
Two quite different sites are home to our Kinross, Macushla and Three Colleens labels.
At 480 metres the THREE COLLEENS VINEYARD at Mt Rosa Lodge is probably the highest in Central Otago if not New Zealand. In spite of its altitude this tiny vineyard has suffered almost no frost damage in its 16 years life. In 2018 however, we lost all production when deer came off the mountain and chomped their way through tender green shoots in spring.
Lower down the KINROSS VINEYARD alongside the main road through Gibbston is our most exciting project right now. This is a flat site with light silty soils and sandy loams but it’s at a climatic sweet spot for Pinot Noir in the valley. After some years of neglect following a bankruptcy, the vineyard is being farmed by new owners with a view to full organic certification and the past four years have seen a remarkable recovery in health and vigour. We are delighted to be working with them to explore the potential of the site.
It’s been a fascinating journey, trying to understand the message from the terroir and learning to do less and less in the winery. I’ve had many mentors in nearly 40 years in this industry, the latest being the notable Francois Millet, winemaker at Domaine Comte Georges de Vogue in Chambolle-Musigny. I have the privilege of working alongside Francois at Prophet’s Rock where he comes each year (sadly not this vintage) to make his “Cuvee des Antipodes” from grapes grown at Bendigo. His Burgundy wines are respected worldwide and his humility and ultra-gentle approach to winemaking have profoundly influenced my own ideas, confronting much of what I’ve come to accept as best practice over the years.
At the other end of the age/experience spectrum is Brian Shaw, a young “flying winemaker” from my home country Northern Ireland, who will be the future “face” of Wild Irishman. Brian worked vintage with us last year and was here to look at the wines prior to bottling. Sadly COVID-19 means he is unable to travel for harvest 2020. But watch this space. The Irish are uniting!
“Minimal intervention” is an overworked term in the wine industry right now as people jump on the “natural” wine bandwagon. We’re not pretending we know what the definition of natural wine is so let’s just say in 2019 we took another step back in the winery, handling the grapes almost delicately and eliminating additives and daily punch-downs in an effort to achieve wines with clarity and purity.
Bottled March 13, 2020. Tasted March 24, 2020. Tasted 11 days after bottling these wines had had little chance to settle but showed a common characteristic of softness and roundness in the mouth with a feeling of structure and strength waiting to emerge. They were extremely pretty wines and while I may have been emotionally swayed by what was going on in the world outside, I finished the tasting with tears in my eyes and gratitude in my heart.
Wild Irishman Doctors Flat Pinot Noir 2019. (Bannockburn).
Dark cherries and maybe plums on the nose with a hint of thyme and spice. Soft, velvety fruit expanding to fill the mouth with very fine tannins woven into the fruit to give a tight lingering finish. 140 cases produced.Wild Irishman Macushla Pinot Noir 2019. (Kinross Vineyard Gibbston). Smoke and earth on the nose with attractive charred oak. Brooding with semi-hidden layers of cherries behind the mask just waiting to emerge. Big broad fruit entry which faded to a soft round finish. The tannins are beautifully integrated, almost submerged in the fruit at this stage. Balanced. Much to come. 169 cases produced.
Wild Irishman Kinross Pinot Noir 2019
Earthy, smoky nose with some oak over layers of dark fruits with strawberry and floral notes lurking. Mystery and intrigue here. I just wanted to smell this wine and was in no hurry to put it in my mouth. When I did soft fruit with bright red cherries and berries exploded quickly on the palate. Acidity provided tension with soft tannins. Young, supple wine with great promise. 91 cases produced.
Wild Irishman Three Colleens Pinot Noir 2019. (Gibbston)
This is all about flowers, and an exhilarating rush of mountain air! So typical of the site. Lifted, refreshing, violets, raspberries. Again, a soft fruit entry, utterly balanced, delicate fragile structure with acid rather than obvious tannins providing the finish. So Gibbston! 35 cases produced.