Palliser vineyard sign

In late June, 2001 Phillywine director Neal Ewing visited Martinborough, New Zealand. Here's his report.

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Martinborough, New Zealand (continued)

Onward to my next appointment, at Palliser. The first winery on the road from Wellington, so I had to backtrack through the town. But first, I put in a call (I was carrying my daughter's NZ cell phone) to Dry River. I got a voice (presumably Neil McCallum's) which said that no one was available, that the winery was closed, that all of its wines were sold out, that all of its wines were sold via mailing list and that its mailing list was full, but that if I wanted to be put on the waiting list for the mailing list I should leave my name and number. I said (speaking as if to McCallum) that I had called twice the day before, that I was a visitor from the States who ran a wine school there, that I had heard wonderful things about his wines and would like to visit the winery, but that I realized that he was very busy and might not have time to see me, and told him that I would be in Martinborough all day, carrying a cell phone and gave him the number in case he cared to return the call.

At Palliser, assistant winemaker Sharon Goldsworthy led me through a muddy vineyard, past one of the largest machine harvestersmachine harvester I had ever seen. Like a lot of NZ wineries, Palliser uses the Scott Henry trellising method, that is, vines with paralell cordons (arms) with shoots that grow both up toward the sun and down toward the ground. But, especially for compact Martinborough, the machine harvesting is different, and you could see some dried up grapes that the machine harvester had missed during the harvest, months earlier. Sharon told me about their struggles with birds. They had tried overhead netting, but that was expensive and made it difficult to tend the vines. Lately they've experimented with a netting which runs alongside the fruiting zones of the vines like a very wide gauze bandage; with the vine leaves and bases exposed they can leaf-pull or hoe without disturbing the netting. And, although the manufacturer says this type of netting can only be used once, by carefully re-rolling it they've been able to re-use it in successive years.

Palliser's wines sell for about two-thirds the price of the other top Martinborough wineries, largely due to their willingness to experiment with cost saving devices like the machine harvester. In California you see barrels made from French oak coopered (at lower cost) in the U.S. In the Palliser barrel room I saw American oak barrels coopered in Australia. But their frugality has limits. They bought the first – and only – rotary fermenter in Martinborough. But they didn't like the qualities it gave their wines and now it sits there, described by Sharon as a large and very expensive white elephant.