ON WINE – by Simon Cunliffe, The Press 21 June 2007
The romance of the vine is alive and thriving on a half-acre (0.2ha) block in Charteris Bay on Banks Peninsula. I have tasted the results and all I can say is that it is a jolly fine romance. It comes in a striking bottle labelled Whistling Buoy 2005 Half Acre Pinot Noir, is fashioned by Kaituna Valley winemaker Grant Whelan and would hold its own against many of the big names.
It takes its name from the whistling buoy that originally marked the entrance to Lyttelton Harbour and is the labour of love of Neil and Jill Pattinson. The couple have been living on their little Charteris Bay plot for about 20 years, have raised three children there, and over the years on a north-facing paddock out the back of the house, also a few sheep, goats, ponies and so on.
But since the planting in 2001 of about 400 pinot noir vines, that spare bit of land has become what Pattinson refers to as "an indicator site", and the most boutique of vineyard operations. Not that the scientist in Pattinson — who has a doctorate in clinical biochemistry — has left much of the operation to chance.
Pattinson got himself up to speed on the intricacies of viticulture through a correspondence course at the Eastern Institute of Technology in Napier. It gave him the knowledge to match burgundian clones and root stock to the low-to-medium fertility clayish soil.
Everything was done by hand - the post-holes, the planting, the cultivation and harvest — with friends and acquaintances pitching in.
And like most romances, there were heartbreaking hurdles to surmount: the first vintage in 2004 was lost to bird strike and wasp infestation. Happily, the Pattinsons took additional precautions for 2005 and harvested about 600kg — at between 24 and 26 brix.
The result is a lovely ruby-violet wine, round and full in the mouth with sweetish pinot black-cherry flavours, well-integrated oak and soft fruit tannins. It is 14 per cent alcohol, but wears this lightly. Naturally clarified, this wine will repay careful decanting so that you get the most from the bottle without the last glass appearing cloudy.
It is not cheap at $39 but in my view it holds up well against others at similar prices — and is a steal when compared to what it actually cost to produce. The Pattinsons aren't revealing that (and neither is Neil about to give up his day job with biotech company Invitrogen), but they are still laughing, still enjoying the romance, and are justifiably proud of their first vintage. With the 2006 soon to be bottled, they intend to set up a mailing list, perhaps sell to one or two selected restaurants, but otherwise are happy to take telephone orders: 021 329 091 or (03) 329-4339.