Long hours backed by knowledge

NEIL HODGSON
Last updated 12:26 26/04/2013
Appleby Vintners winemaker Steve Gill
QUALITY FOREMOST AIM: Appleby Vintners winemaker Steve Gill.

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Neil Hodgson's wine column

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Owning a winery may seem like a glamorous occupation, but believe me, there is plenty of tiring work by many hard-working people behind every drop in each bottle of wine; from the viticulturist who grows the grapes, to the pickers and the winemaking team, they all suffer sleep deprivation at this time of the year after they have been working 12-18 hour days, seven days a week for anything up to six or eight weeks.

One winemaker who has been working crazy hours is Steve Gill, winemaker at Appleby Vintners, which is owned by the same people who own Te Mania and Richmond Plains. They also make wine for other producers.

And not only does Steve make organic and bio-dynamic wines for Te Mania and Richmond Plains, he makes conventionally produced wines for others. That means having to ensure everything in the winery is kept separate.

You can imagine the number of tanks and barrels of different wines that need to be managed to ensure the integrity of the finished product. As an example this year, he is responsible for making five different sauvignon blanc wines.

Steve brings plenty of high-quality experience to the job at Appleby Vintners; his first full-time job in the industry was working with the incomparable Neil McCullum at Dry River Wines in Martinborough, where the approach to winemaking is based almost on pure science.

He then spent a number of years at Greenhough Vineyards, where the approach, while science based, has a more artistic feel and where co-owner Andrew Greenhough tries to make wines that make a statement. This is Steve's fifth vintage at Appleby Vintners, so he has had plenty of practice juggling the needs of different producers.

So what encourages someone to take on the challenge of making wine? In this case, Steve's father was a North Island-based wine writer, and after completing a degree in Neuro Science from Otago University, he went to Lincoln University to complete a post-grad degree in winemaking.

Add the experience at Dry River, Greenhough and vintages in Burgundy, Alsace, Mosel and California to his passion and you have a person who is highly focused on delivering a quality product. The fact his wife, Sally, is also a winemaker means she totally understands the long hours he spends at the winery during vintage while she spends her time at home with their baby.

As to the 2013 vintage, Steve says they normally take six to eight weeks to harvest the fruit for Te Mania and Richmond Plains, but this year it was all over in three weeks.

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He says even though the vintage was hurried because of the rain the fantastic summer meant the fruit was fully ripe and packed with flavour. He also says he thinks a key reason for such good fruit is the fact the vineyards are either organic or bio dynamic and they coped very well with the rain when it came.

Steve Gill is one of those winemakers to watch. He has the skill and experience to produce outstanding wines, and the wines from his first four vintages at Appleby Vintners are impressive.

I HAVE BEEN DRINKING

Waimea Family Estate Wines 2012 Nelson Chardonnay – RRP $25 There has been a resurgence of interest in good chardonnay in the last couple of years and Waimea Estates has always delivered quality examples, this version is no different. It is bursting with creamy stonefruit aromas and with lush peach flavours that are enhanced with a streak of minerality while the balanced use of oak adds spice and richness. Super value for a great example.

Woollaston ‘Mahana' 2011 Pinot Noir – RRP $52 This is a very special wine that deserves to be served at a special dinner. Intriguing toasty, peppered plum and spice aromas are paired with a palate of finely tensioned tannins balancing smoky black cherry flavours and fresh acidity in the exceptionally long finish. Served with lamb or duck, its qualities will shine.

- Nelson

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