Artisan wine: small is beautiful

by Michael Cooper / 03 January, 2013
The wines from the best small producers are full of personality.
A Central Otago Vineyard
A Central Otago Vineyard, photo/Thinkstock


What is “artisan” wine? Several producers joined forces recently under the banner of Artisan Winegrowers of Central Otago.

The group’s six members – Auburn, Ellero, Georgetown Vineyard, Lindis River, Lowburn Ferry and TOSQ – barely make 5000 cases of wine a year between them. No wonder – they have to do everything. “The same people that own the brands are the people working in the vineyard, crafting the wine and selling the product.”

In a recent book, Grape-A-Hol, Michael Spratt (owner of Destiny Bay Wines on Waiheke Island) and Mark Feldman argue the New Zealand wine industry is split between two conflicting forces: “Small artisan winemakers and large multinational mass producers of alcoholic beverages made from fermented grape juice.” These popular wines are dismissed as “grape-a-hol”.

In fact, New Zealand’s greatest wines flow from small, medium-sized and large producers; no size category has a monopoly on quality. The wines from the best small producers are full of personality. Definitions of artisan wine vary, but they are generally understood to be linked to a specific vineyard, labour-intensive and hand-crafted.

Auburn Bendigo Central Otago Riesling 2012
This is rare – only 851 bottles were made. It is light-bodied, with lovely depth and delicacy of vibrant, citrusy flavours, hints of spices and apricots and a gently sweet, crisp, lasting finish. $30 (5/5)

Lowburn Ferry Home Block Central Otago Pinot Noir 2011
This full-coloured red is mouthfilling and savoury, with strong cherry and spice flavours, finely balanced tannins and excellent complexity. Best drinking 2014 onwards. $48 (4/5)

TOSQ Central Otago Pinot Gris 2011
This fleshy, full-bodied wine has strong, ripe stone-fruit flavours of peaches and nectarines, hints of apricots and spices, a sliver of sweetness and considerable complexity. It’s delicious now. $24 (4/5)

Ellero Pisa Terrace Central Otago Pinot Noir 2009
Still fresh, this is a full-bodied, ruby-hued red with ripe, sweet-fruit characters and good depth of plummy, spicy flavours. $39 (3.5/5)

Lindis River Central Otago Pinot Noir 2008
The colour is lightish, the palate mature and savoury, with ripe, nutty, spicy, slightly earthy flavours, showing considerable complexity, and a rounded finish. Drink now. (3.5/5)

WINE OF THE WEEK


Georgetown Vineyard Central Otago Pinot Noir 2010
From close-planted vines, this is a deeply coloured red with layers of ripe cherry, plum and spice flavours, showing lovely texture and depth. Still very youthful, it is a classy red with great personality. $45 (5/5) (wine@georgetownvineyard.co.nz)
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