Felton Road has become one of Central Otago’s leading wineries in the US market thanks to the ceaseless promotion of their wines across the world’s major wine markets. Critics and writers can do much to enhance a winery’s reputation (and Felton Road has certainly done well in that regard) but you’ve got to pull the cork (or twist the cab in the case of these wines) for the trade and consumers to show there’s some proof to the pudding.
What’s most exciting is that the winery has become one of leading proponents of bottling individual vineyards separately creating, in essence, premier cru sites among the plantings they have dealt with over the past 25 years. Bottlings from their Calvert and Cornish Point vineyards complement the original plantings at the Elms vineyard and show distinct differences even though the sites are only a few miles apart.
But what has been really intriguing to those involved in the more geeky side of wine is their early commitment to drill down even further and to bottle individual blocks from their vineyards. Felton Road quickly noticed that certain blocks of their pinot noir plantings performed exceptionally well in their blending trials and began to bottle them separately. The Felton Road “Block 3” and “Block 5” Pinot Noirs have quickly become iconic wines and show the completely different profiles that can come from vineyards not that far apart. The winery has essentially completed the arc from making village-level wines to discovering and bottling their interpretation of grand cru-level cuvees. This is essentially a window into how New Zealand’s pinot noir industry is maturing.
When it comes to chardonnay, Felton Road’s history has seen them release three chardonnays over the years: a Bannockburn regional cuvee, a more-focused bottling from the first vines planted at the Elms Vineyard and their single site Felton Road “Block 2” Chardonnay which was first produced in 2001. Recently, winemaker Blair Walter found that the chardonnay vines from their Block 6 had matured in such a direction that the 2015 wine deserved to be bottled separately. And tasting through a bottle of the 2015 Felton Road “Block 6” Chardonnay indicates that this new bottling will be a perfect addition to the winery’s portfolio.
The grapes for both cuvees are from the Elms Vineyard, the winery’s original plantings from the early 1990s. Both vineyards have similar soils and are planted to the Mendoza clone, the more popular selection used throughout New Zealand until the Dijon clones began to arrive. Block 6 has a more northerly slope (perfect for catching the sun’s energy) and higher elevation than its sibling which faces east.
The new wine is a perfect foil for the winery’s “Block 2” Chardonnay. That chardonnay celebrates a more Chablisienne style with a taut, leaner palate framework, some toasty oak on the edge and a firm fruit presence. It demands introspection as well as some aeration or cellaring to really show itself.
The “Block 6” still retains that Felton Road classicism in terms of the shape of the palate and its emphasis on fruit over oak. But here, there are more tropical notes on the nose and the medium-bodied palate, a statement originating from the Mendoza clone. The bouquet is a bit more outgoing with spice and a whiff of mead mingling with the riper fruit components and chalk-laced citrus to focus the finish.
Overall, the Block 6 possesses just a bit more plumpness to the palate and softer textures which will provide for more immediate appeal while the firmer Block 2 charts its own path. But the path that is exciting is the confidence the winery is taking to bottle wines from the best parcels of their original plantings. It will be exciting to see what happens as they drill down further on their other vineyards as the future unfolds.