Felton Road Visit by Jane Boyce MW
Last month I had the pleasure of spending a day at Felton Road with their talented winemaker Blair Walter. Blair has worked at Felton Road since 1996 and has overseen the transformation of this special place in the Bannockburn area of Central Otago. You need to be there to take in the location and the geography of the place. They were the first people to plant on the Bannockburn slopes. The vineyards planted here doubled Central Otago’s area under vine. Blair and owner, Nigel Greening shared the vision of making Felton Road a totally sustainable and fully biodynamic estate. To this end they became organic in 2002 and fully biodynamic in 2003.
Nigel Greening & Blair Walters from Felton Road
Those living and working in the vineyards of Central Otago, Bannockburn in particular, share a great community spirit. They are all of the same generation and help each other out when needed. There is a strong Pinot Noir focus with a significant influence from Burgundy and Oregon. No-one has come from a “corporate” background and they all share an “estate / family” philosophy. Interestingly, the links with Burgundy go beyond vague infatuation. Nick Mills of Rippon and Paul Pujol of Prophet Rock have lived and worked there and there is now a Central Otago / Burgundy exchange programme whereby 40 young stagistes get the chance to experience viticulture and winemaking at the other end of the world. Apparently, a tasting of Central Otago Pinot Noirs was held last year in the Hospices de Beaune! Changed times in Burgundy for sure!
Bannockburn Vineyards, Felton Road
Blair is an ardent campaigner for making the Bannockburn area a GI in its own right. He feels Central Otago is too broad and vast an area to have any real meaning and the quality within the area varies immensely. The Central Otago GI covers 2,000 hectares of which 325 are in Bannockburn – so the Bannockburn vineyards cover roughly the same size of area as Nuits St Georges.
A tasting of the 2018s from barrel:
Felton Road Pinot Noir Bannockburn – the Bannockburn is a blend of up to 20 components coming from the 4 properties within the estate. The wine is currently showing beautiful ripe red fruit and spice on the nose. The texture is pure silk with very fine tannin and lively acidity. All the elements are in tune for a harmonious, delightful wine.
Felton Road Block 3 Pinot Noir – 20-30% whole bunch. Raspberry fruit and herbal notes on the nose. It develops slowly on the palate to great depth and breadth. A long serious yet sumptuous finish.
Felton Road Cornish Point Pinot Noir – Ripe plum, sweet forest fruits, spices. On the palate it has a gorgeous creamy quality with almost sweet, juicy red fruit. Full bodied, generous and easy to understand.
Felton Road Calvert Pinot Noir – more reticent on the nose, slowly revealing floral notes, perfume and exotic spices. The palate is much firmer than the Cornish Point with mineral notes wrapped around the taut structure. Tanins are assertive but ripe. A serious wine for long ageing .
Felton Road Bannockburn Chardonnay- for this wine the components are racked, blended and then go back to barrel for a few months before bottling. It is bottled without filtration and they haven’t fined with bentonite for years. 10% new barrels. Rich notes of peach and hazelnut on the nose. Precise and focused palate with a fine vein of acidity balancing the creamy core.
Felton Road Block 2 Chardonnay – no new oak on this wine in order to create a unique expression of Chardonnay. The vines here are 25 years old, evidenced by the minerality and complexity of the wine. Citrus and stone on the nose with a broad palate supported by a fine, but tight vein of steely acidity. Very long.
Felton Road Block 6 Chardonnay – Immediately riper and more forward on the nose. Melon and peach with floral notes. More expressive palate: opulent and broad with balanced citrus acidity and a lingering, zesty finish.