Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Elephant Hill Viognier

I now have yet another reason that I'd love to visit New Zealand. I picked up this bottle at the 2010 Vancouver Playhouse Wine Festival when New Zealand was one of the year's theme regions, but it just sort of got tucked away. Luckily, it's resurfaced and I took a look at my notes from the festival and saw that the Viognier certainly piqued my interest back then.

I didn't know anything about Elephant Hill beforehand and I wasn't all that familiar with Viognier as an emerging varietal from New Zealand. Like most people, I think Sauv Blanc and Pinot Noir when I think Kiwi wine. But, after this bottle and a bit of research on the winery, I think a visit has vaulted up near the top of the Kiwi Wish List.

907. 2009 Elephant Hill Viognier (Hawkes Bay - New Zealand)

The Elephant Hill winery only opened in 2008, having been started by a couple of Germans who fell in love with the winemaking possibilities of the country during a visit in 2001. By 2003, they had returned to find and plant their Hawke's Bay vineyard. Located on the East coast, half way up the North Island, and right off the beach, the afternoon sea breezes temper the warm temperatures of the day.

This 2009 is part of the winery's third vintage and there were only 740 cases produced. With such limited quantities, we were privileged that Elephant Hill came all the way to the Playhouse Festival. The owners are clearly going for a premium, boutique feel to the wines and winery. This Viognier involved seven separate hand picks of the vineyards in order to capture all the best qualities of the ripeness of the grapes - hardly a cost-cutting means of producing a wine.

The winery also features a celebrated restaurant and has an accommodation wing as well. Sounds enticing to me.

As for the wine, after pressing, the juice was fermented in a combination of stainless steel and oak puncheons, remaining on "light lees for four months" prior to be bottled. Interesting that this is the second reference to "puncheons" I've seen in the last couple weeks - the other being with the Laughing Stock Chardonnay. I doubt I could have pointed you to the use of oak puncheons (or larger barrels) a month ago and here we run into them twice in a couple of weeks.

The use of oak and lees likely contributed to the fuller body of the wine but the fruit still shone through with an intense nose. While profound, those aromatics weren't overwhelmingly fruity or floral as some Viogniers can be though. Everything about the wine was integrated and delicious at the same time.

Both Boo and I loved it! I don't think you can label a winery as a "favourite" after only one bottle, but I'll definitely be on the lookout for more wines from these new kids on the Kiwi block.

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