An email arrived halfway through January from Michael Henley, CEO of Trinity Hill Wines. “Trinity Hill are releasing our 2012 Gimblett Gravels wines and I was wondering if you would be interested in receiving some samples?” “Save your samples”, I wrote back, “I’m actually in Hawke’s Bay right now and I’m happy to pop over and taste them on the spot”. “Excellent” he replied, “as well as tasting the 2012’s, we can show you some barrel samples of the 2013 wines”. Needless to say I was there before he could type ‘kind regards’.
2013 is being hailed as ‘the vintage of the century’ for Hawke’s Bay, ‘an absolute screamer,’ a vintage where all your wildest dreams could come true if you were a winemaker in the region; which was pretty good going at just 13 years into the century.
Last year I’d quizzed their winemaker Warren Gibson about whether Trinity Hill were still growing marsanne, and if so, what were they doing with it? Today was my chance to find out, as he poured the liquid drawn from the barrel. “It’s a marsanne-viognier blend,” he said. “We don’t have a lot of marsanne left in the Gimblett Gravels now, probably just a hectare or so, which is enough for us to play with. John (Hancock – Trinity Hill’s President and Founder) planted marsanne back in 2007 but it’s taken a while to get it up and running”. It had a gorgeous nose of pure white peach, dried herb and hay notes, lovely florals and a really interesting, slightly grainy texture, yet a clean, crisp palate feel. “It’s 100% hand picked, barrique-fermented with 100% indigenous yeasts and it’s really building nicely – so we’ll leave bottling it until at least after harvest this year” says Warren. Despite using 100% wild yeasts, it’s not funky, it’s actually really clean and pure and I can’t wait to get my hands on a bottle.
Warren then poured me tastes of what will end up as components of their White Label Hawke’s Bay chardonnay and their Gimblett Gravels Black Label chardonnay from 2013 and I asked him what his feelings were about that vintage for that variety. “2013 wasn’t super-warm, but it was very, very dry” he says. “I think it’s a very strong chardonnay year, a ‘bankers’ chardonnay year – and they’re going to be age-worthy too. Chardonnay, syrah and the cabernet family for us are just stunning from 2013. Other than 2010 and 2007, it’s probably the best vintage in the last 8 years, but we’ll see when the wines come out” he laughs.The 2013-chardonnay samples I tasted had a lovely acid line through them, real purity and great fruit concentration. “Controlled power” added Warren. One day we’d like to come out with something really special that represents the very best chardonnay we can do – so we’re trialling that now” Henley says, tapping his hand on a large hogshead barrel. We tried to do one in 2011, but Warren chickened out, it’s his call at the end of the day”.
Next up was a syrah completely aged in stainless steel, “It’s from our Gimblett Stones vineyard and made almost in a pinot noir style meaning we tipped 100% whole bunches into a 6-tonne, open-fermenter and foot-stomped them” explained Warren. There was definitely a slight ‘stemmy’ character and it had real grip in the mouth. “It’s a very pure component that we’ll almost certainly use in our Homage 2013,” he says. Then Warren gave me a splash of another wine that’ll end up in the 2013 Homage. “It’s grown on our Hillside vineyard up behind the winery, and it’s becoming seriously impressive, so if our aim with Homage is to produce the absolute best syrah we can, then more of this will be included. We just won’t be able to call the wine ‘Gimblett Gravels’ because this fruit obviously isn’t grown down there – but we’re ok with that.”
The last samples were core cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc components of “The Gimblett” 2013. Aromatically they were outrageously pretty and palate-wise they were serious wines, with real density, concentration, chewiness and power.
However what worries me is that with all the hype and big talk about 2013, people might possibly overlook some absolutely lovely 2012 wines which are about to be released, and may still be on the shelves when the 2013’s hit the market. 2012 was a cooler vintage than average with pesky rainy patches occurring during the March-April harvest. This means it was a challenging season. But from what I’ve tasted so far, those who knew what they were doing, timed their picks well and didn’t panic, have managed to craft some really nice wines
“Our 2012’s were all bottled prior to the 2013 harvest, which doesn’t usually happen with our reds (to compare, Trinity Hill’s 2013 reds wont be bottled until after the 2014 harvest, probably between July and October), but that was just the vintage, it’s what the wines wanted to do” says Henley. “Wines sometimes get overpowered from sitting in barrel for too long, and the 2012’s didn’t need it” Warren adds. “The were lighter in tannin structure, had nice elegance, good flavours and they were ready to be bottled. But for the 2013’s it’s like we just need to tame these beasts before bottling. Just because it’s a dry, warmish harvest, you still have to think about how ‘prepared’ the wine is. I think a lot of people just chuck their wine into the bottle before it’s really ready – and then there’s no going back”.
Warren also advises to be a little bit careful with the 2013’s because there will be some big, chunky wines, which may or may not be as attractive to drinkers. “With the whole 2013 ‘wow’ thing, you just have to be aware that it did get quite dry and if you haven’t managed your vineyard or your tannins very well in the winery, then there’ll be some 2013 wines that you won’t want to go near for years – or they may never come right”. He’s not wrong. Even in ‘hero’ vintages like 1998 or 2002 – some producers took things too far, trying to extract too much from the fruit and the wines suffered because of it. “In vintages like that, if you knew what you were doing you’d be fine, but a long, hot, dry vintage is not the time to get greedy.
The Gimblett Gravels is in a zone that means the fruit can get quite skeletal if you’re not careful, “you have to ‘put the body with the bones” he says. “So you’ve got to be really careful in years like that because you don’t want a skinny wine. Also because we don’t get the luxury of a vintage like 2013 that often, we don’t actually have disciplines in place that they might have in say Australia or California where they look at things like seed tannins, phenolics and do all sorts of analysis to determine the perfect time to pick. We just go “shit, another easterly is coming so we’ve gotta get the fruit off!” Unless we get more of those types of vintages we’re never going to get tuned in to picking at the absolute right time. There’s always a tendency to pick over-ripe, because ‘23 brix is good, but 25 must be better’ and often that’s not the best thing”.
Trinity Hill Gimblett Gravels Chardonnay 2012 $35 ★★★★
This might be an oak-aged chardonnay fermented with 100% wild yeasts and been put through 100% malolactic fermentation, but this is one heck of a super-fresh chardonnay. It possesses classic white peach and citrus characters, has a nice acid spine and layers of lovely, crisp texture on the finish. It’s really refined and elegant. “It’s a genuine expression of the fruit from a cooler vintage and I think this will develop really nicely over time in the bottle” says winemaker Warren Gibson. www.trinityhill.com
Trinity Hill Gimblett Gravels Viognier 2012 $35 ★★★★½
I love viognier (vee-yon-yay) in all ways shapes and forms, but this example will definitely appeal to those who like those lifted peach, apricot and floral aromas but not the big, oily richness that this variety can often produce. This vintage has loads of crisp, fresh fruit, a more restrained feel and and lean, lithe, textural finish. It’s darn nice. www.trinityhill.com
Trinity Hill Gimblett Gravels Syrah 2012 $35 ★★★★½
If you’re after more than pepper in your syrah then you’ve come to the right place. With layers of spicy, biscuit notes with a floral edge and nice, tangy, red fruit flavours, this is a deliciously drinkable yet very elegant example. I like the soft, sandy tannins and solid persistence of flavour. www.trinityhill.com
Trinity Hill “The Gimblett” 2012 $35 ★★★★★
A smorgasbord of the best Bordeaux varieties that Warren Gibson can blend together and this particular version is crafted from 39% merlot, 35% cabernet franc, 9% cabernet sauvignon, 9% petit verdot and 8% malbec. Anyone claiming that 2012 wasn’t a great vintage may eat their words when they sip this wine. Incredibly aromatic and bursting with strong spices, red rose notes, layers of dried herb and cocoa characters then finishing with finely tuned, elastic tannins which stretch the finish out beautifully. www.trinityhill.com