Exciting Austrian newcomer

DEBORAH WALTON-DERRY AND PETER MORICE
Last updated 11:28 03/04/2014

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Gruner veltliner is a newcomer to the New Zealand wine scene, with 17 companies nationally producing limited quantities from about 36 hectares of vineyard.

Gruner represents 50 per cent of new varietals planted in New Zealand and Marlborough is leading the charge in terms of growing area, although still with only 29 hectares in total. Nelson has 3 hectares and there's a little grown in Hawke's Bay, Gisborne and as far south as Central Otago where Turnstone and Bannock Brae are leading the charge. Any numbers quoted can only be an approximation.

Nautilus and Riverby are two gruner producers from Marlborough and they each have interesting stories about their experimentation with this exciting newcomer to their portfolios.

Nautilus Estate's 2013 Gruner Veltliner vintage was from the third crop grown on their Renwick vineyard.

As the classic Austrian variety is new to New Zealand, the search is on to find a "regional" wine style. This inevitably results in experimentation in the vineyard, at harvest and in the winery.

Clive Jones, winemaker and winery manager at Nautilus, says that as the gruner vines were looking mature with a full canopy structure, the fruit was machine harvested for the 2013 vintage. Machine harvesting results in some skin splitting to release flavours.

"The juice was then divided into two batches and one we fermented Kiwi style with an aromatic yeast at a cool temperature, while the other we fermented Austrian style at a warmer temperature," he says.

"During the fermentation we were confident we were right with our Kiwi-style approach, which we preferred, with this wine showing better aromatics. However, once with wines were dry and sitting on yeast lees, we changed our minds, now preferring the Austrian style for its better texture on the palate."

The blend Clive and his team bottled was 70 per cent Austrian and 30 per cent Kiwi style. He says he thinks this variety will do well in Marlborough.

"We are producing a wine with similar greener fruit characters to sauvignon blanc but without the pungent passionfruit character - a slightly toned-down and textural version perhaps. That is the style we are aiming for anyway.

"In Austria, gruner veltliner comes in a range of styles from fresh and fruit-driven to quite rich, almost chardonnay-like wines, which can be truly magnificent.

"I think with our young vines and the natural fruitiness we get in Marlborough, we are best to stick to the simpler crisp fresh style for the moment. Perhaps with vine age we may attempt a more complex style but that is a long time away.

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"In the meantime I am sure our own ‘Marlborough' interpretation of this grape variety will evolve, which may well have its own unique character."

Meanwhile, Kevin Courtney is excited about the release of Riverby Estate's Marlborough Gruner Veltliner 2013.

"This is our first vintage of this variety," Kevin says. "I have been a fan of gruner veltliner for many years and have always thought it would be suited to Marlborough."

Kevin also makes the point that gruner veltliner is a variety that crops prolifically so it needs to be handled very carefully in the vineyard. Keeping cropping levels low will help produce those lovely flavours that go so well with food.

"The Marlborough examples tend to head towards the more luscious end of the flavour spectrum and this vintage has already been a great hit with people who have never tried the variety before."

Kevin thinks it is important that Marlborough becomes known for varieties other than sauvignon blanc and, as such, he believes this varietal has potential.

He has a message for producers and reviewers alike when it comes to the grape's slightly challenging name.

He doesn't want to see people "resort to silly names like ‘gru vee', which some people push for as they think its real name might be too hard for the consumer to understand".

The correct pronunciation is "grooner felt-liner" which shouldn't be too much of a challenge.

"This wine won't go to any wine shows," Kevin says, "because wine show judges have no real experience at judging varieties like gruner veltliner in New Zealand."

Marlborough's gruner producers are working together to the point they have met to discuss the variety, how it is doing in Marlborough, different winemaking processes, stylistic differences and how to best promote it.

This is a team effort within the local industry which indicates its future success is being taken very seriously.

We like what we've tasted in recent years and hope gruner gains in popularity, embraced by growers, wineries and consumers alike.

Riverby Estate Marlborough Gruner Veltliner 2013 ($25)

With 6 grams of residual sugar, this example is off dry in style. The aroma is sweet and lifted, a little like fresh fruit salad with some gentle perfumed notes and citrus lift.

The sweet, juicy, fruity palate delivers plenty of pear, melon, stone fruit and fig-like flavour coupled with gentle spiciness. Finishes crisply, refreshingly light in style and very approachable.

Only 128 cases produced - available in Marlborough from New World and Winos or on line at Riverby.

Nautilus Marlborough Gruner Veltliner 2013 ($29)

With 2.8 grams of residual sugar, this wine is very different in style to the Riverby and what you choose comes down to personal preference - drier or sweeter in style.

The aroma delivers dried fruit and mineral notes, some spiciness and interesting savoury/herbal notes - particularly crisp oregano. The palate has concentrated flavour - fruitiness coupled with mineral, grass and herbal notes. Lean, stylish and finishing dry as a bone with a subtle hint of rich citrus. There are some exciting tastes and textures in this wine and we have no doubt that it will cellar well.

- The Marlborough Express

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