If you travel twenty minutes west of Christchurch on the West Coast Road (SH73) you’ll enter the leafy locale known as West Melton which is home to a plucky community of winegrowers including Melton Estate. Previously known as Sherwood Estate, the Melton Estate winery is the brainchild of Philip Caunter, a million-miles-an-hour man who can add ‘software entrepreneur’ and ‘ardent fan of the West Melton RFC’ to his busy business card. He’d asked me to pop out to the vineyard one warm, sunny day a few weeks back to sample some “summer love”. I thought about it. He did sound quite nice on the phone and my husband did happen to be away for a few days so I said “sure, what’s the harm”.
Upon arrival, rather than asking me up to see his etchings Philip led me out into the small, but perfectly formed vineyard where he began talking about Melton Estate’s flagship wine, a sparkling riesling called, wait for it, Summer Love. “I started the sparkling riesling as an experiment” says Peter, “I visited the Yarra Valley and sampled a Pink Moscato, something I’d never tried before at a place called Innocent Bystander. It was spritzy, sweet, refreshing and I loved it. I came back and said to our winemaker “let’s make this” and he said “well clearly we can’t grow Moscato here” and I agreed, but then he said “so we’re gonna make it with riesling and add 10% pinot noir to pink it up” laughs Philip. “We’ve mixed something that’s never been done before and it’s worked”. Initially I thought sparkling riesling sounded cheesy and lightweight, but on sipping it, the end result is anything but. “We’ve been making it for three years now, every batch seems to get better and better so we think we’re onto a winner” he shrugs. Melton have doubled production each year and it still sells out.
Pinot noir is another variety that has Philip fizzing and looking at his pinot noir block it’s incredibly green and lush. “We’ve had a lot of growth this year which is amazing because this block doesn’t get watered at all. And we’ve been very aggressive fruit thinning and leaf plucking aiming for maximum ripeness. Today we’re about 19brix (which is a measure of sugar ripeness) but by harvest we need to be up around 24”. Harvest chaos begins here around the week of April. “Canterbury has a really nice autumn” adds Philip, handing me a taste of the newly bottled 2010 pinot. “Canterbury maintains those essential warm days and cool nights right into May, which is just fantastic for growing grapes. It’s quite even-tempered, but come July it’s custard like the rest of the south island, but the vines bounce back.”
The vineyard is fully netted. “Birds are aggressive here in Canterbury because they’ve got very little to feed on, so they’re going to turn up and decimate your crop if you’re not careful”. Sauvignon blanc isn’t a grape he’s worrying about however, “what’s the point? We could grow great sauvignon, but when you see it in the supermarkets for less than ten bucks a bottle it aint worth it. We make a Marlborough sauvignon that we serve for our events here, and that works for us.” Everything is very compact at Melton Estate, and every inch of land is utilised by the vineyard, a function centre about to undergo some sensational renovations and Philip’s house, unlike much of West Melton’s ‘lifestyle’ surrounds which appear proudly devoted to dogs, ponies and tennis courts instead.
Ninety percent of the wines are sold onsite, and while other cellar doors revel in their rusticity and ramshackle charm, Melton Estate makes no bones about promoting themselves as a slick, high-tech, corporate-friendly function centre. “What we learnt early on is that we had all these people turning up for weddings, functions and corporate events and they only really wanted to drink Heineken and sauvignon blanc” admits Philip. “We realised that rather than overtly or aggressively promoting our wine, we were happier encouraging wine hospitality. People come here for lunch or for an event, and the fact that our wines are nice is an extra bonus”.
FOUR OF THE BEST
Melton Estate Summer Love Sparkling Riesling $25
There are three things I like about this wine. First is that a squirt of pinot noir gives it a pretty ballet-shoe pink colour while on the nose it has lovely fresh, vibrant peach stone and citrus aromas followed by a bright, spritzy, fruit-forward burst of flavour. Secondly with a positively demure alcohol content of 6% it’ll hardly knock you sideways and thirdly, it’s also available in a 375ml bottle, just perfect for picnics. www.meltonestate.co.nz
Melton Estate Canterbury Pinot Noir 2010 $25
If this is any indication of what the 2010 pinot’s from Canterbury are shaping up like, then I’m a very happy camper. With baked strawberry, rosemary and rhubarb aromas and ripe, summer-pudding berries on the palate, this is definitely a tasty drink. It is still just a puppy, but I can see those layers of flavour developing nicely over the next year or two. www.meltonestate.co.nz
Two Rivers Convergence Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2010 $22
Wow! Intensely pungent pea-pod, green bean, lime and passionfruit aromas leap out of the glass and in the mouth it sings with pure citrus, crushed nettles and a hint of feijoa. The acidity slices across the tongue adding excitement to the clean, tangy length of flavour. Amazing with homemade paua fritters sprinkled with lemon and salt. www.tworivers.co.nz
W5 Marlborough Chardonnay 2009 $14
This is a classic rich, juicy chardonnay that oozes layers of tropical undertones and grapefruity goodness all wrapped up in a cosy cardigan of oak. This is not available in shops but all you need do is tap www.blackmarket.co.nz into your browser and you’re away laughing – or should I say ‘sipping’.