'Getting the feel' for wine

03:43, May 07 2012

Ivan Donaldson has always been one of my favourite people – not the only doctor (an associate professor of neurology, no less) to have been seduced by the fruits of the vine but one whose contribution to the wine industry has been enormous.

But the wines that he and his family produce at Pegasus Bay, in Canterbury, tell only part of the story.

He is, when it comes to wine, what you might call a man for all seasons; a neatly trimmed expert in growing and making wine, in the science of wine, in judging it at the highest level, and, as a wine writer, communicates his thoughts on all things wine in a way that everyone can understand.

It all fits neatly with his reason for becoming involved in the first place, which was the result of reading a book called Wine, by British writer Hugh Johnson, given to him by the girlfriend who became his wife.

"I just fell in love with the idea of wine," says the good doctor, now retired.

"Then I fell in with a group of like-minded nutters who had the concept it would be possible to grow grapes and make wine in Canterbury," he reveals in an interview published in the latest edition of WineNZ magazine.


Of course it was possible to grow and make wine in Canterbury, but not in the suburbs of Christchurch, as he and some of his professional friends and fellow nutters soon found out.

That was back in the mid 70s, 10 years before Ivan, his wife Chris and their family bought land in the Waipara Valley, just north of Christchurch, where warm days and cool nights would allow the grapes he would turn into wine to remain on the vines until they had developed really full flavours.

But his vision did not end there.

What he wanted, and his son Matthew and his wife Lynette Hudson, the winemakers, continue to strive for are wines you can also feel; wines that fill and satisfy the mouth.

In other words, wines with structure as well as flavour and aroma; wines that will age and while they are doing so, develop other interesting (secondary) characters.

All of which works perfectly, especially for the pinot noirs and rieslings with names that reflect Chris Donaldson's love of opera, and which have earned Pegasus Bay much of its reputation as one of New Zealand's most exciting winemakers.

Likewise it has earned wide recognition among smart consumers, for its well-priced, failsafe second-tier Main Divide range of wines made using fruit from various South Island vineyards.

Like the wines in the main range they are given some time in the bottle before release. Among the latest releases in this range are a mouthfilling 2010 medium riesling with a lick of honey for good measure ($20); a rich, soft and generous 2011 Waipara Valley pinot gris ($20); and a soft and savoury, red berry-fruited 2009 pinot noir ($25).

The latest from Pegasus Bay:

Pegasus Bay Pinot Noir 2009 ($47): A ripe, richly, berried, plummy wine that's loaded with flavour and perhaps more power than at first appears. Typically elegant and refined. Drinkable now but cellaring will make it even better.

Pegasus Bay 2009 Prima Donna Pinot Noir ($84): A blend of wines from the best barrels and the oldest vines, this is a super rich and sumptuous example of Pegasus pinot at its best. The fruit is beautifully expressed with earthy, savoury characters providing support.

Pegasus Bay 2010 `Bel Canto' Dry Riesling ($32): Made from the best fruit from a good year for riesling in the Waipara Valley, this wine muscles-up in the mouth to reveal a luscious honeyed array of stone and citrus fruits with a refreshing mineral streak.

And just remember what the doctor says next time you pour whichever takes your fancy: "Wine is a natural food."

For Ivan Donaldson's other views on wine, whatever, read From the Prescription Pad at pegasusbay.com

The Southland Times