Martinborough Estate Vineyards 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)

At the Martinborough Estate Vineyards (MEV) I was greeted by Duncan Milne, the winery's new CEO. He told me that their assistant winemaker, Helen Masters, would show me around. Helen – much to my surprise – turned out to be the same Helen who I had met at Ata Rangi a couple of hours earlier. She's the sister-in-law of Ollie Masters, the Ata Rangi winemaker, and had been over there helping them with their tasting notes. She seemed to be as pleased to see a familiar face as I was.

We tasted through about a dozen barrels in the barrel room. MEV (as well as the other top NZ Pinot Noir producers) use several of the same top clones used in Burgundy, California and Oregon, and Helen let me taste wines from the newly planted 667 and 677 Dijon clones as well as wines from older NZ Pinots, such as their "Abel" clone. The flavor depth of the older-vine fruit was impressive, but so was the complexity from the promising younger vines. During her winters, Helen has sought work in the Northern hemisphere. She previously spent a season working at Calera; soon she was to be heading to the Russian River, to help Sonoma-Cutrer produce their first Pinot Noir. (They've been growing the fruit for ten years, Helen said, but selling it instead of making wine).

Back in the tasting room we were tasting the 1999 MEV Pinot Noir, which is quite good, when my jacket pocket began to ring. The jacket has a complicated series of zippers for various compartments, and I frantically tried to free the phone before it rolled over to voice mail. I succeeded; it was Neil McCallum. In twenty minutes someone from Chapoutier would be dropping by to taste the Dry River Syrah, and he probably wouldn't mind if I was there also; would I be interested? Sure, I said. I mentioned the locked gate and he said to take the dirt road past the gate; he seemed curt and a little annoyed.

Duncan Milne seemed quite pleased by what just happened and quite happy for me. He said that this is the best time of the year to visit Neil McCallum. He said that he had seen him socially the night before and he had been very relaxed. (So that's where McCallum was when I couldn't reach him the night before).

I drove to Dry River, down the dirt road, and arrived exactly on time. Neil McCaDry River Gatellum was standing outside, waiting. He looks a little like Phil Jackson, the LA Lakers coach; he's tall (but not 6'8", like Jackson), thin, intense. The man from Chapoutier hadn't yet arrived, but we went inside anyway. He asked me what I wanted to know. I told him that basically I like to visit a winemaker and just see whatever he wants to show me, hear whatever he wants to tell me. He asked what I know about his winery and I said that what I know I learned on the internet. He scowled and said he has some harsh critics on the internet, but they don't know what they're talking about; as long as people like Jancis Robinson respect his wines, he's satisfied. He asked if I know what he produces and I mentioned the several varietals I know about and that he sells them in mixed cases via his mailing list. He said that he sells all his wines in three days. I said that must be quite a relief. I asked