Today I’d like to introduce you to another boutique producer in Martinborough – The Elder Pinot.
Margaret and Mike Hanson got talked into planting a vineyard in 1999 for Bill Brink from Walnut Ridge (later taken over by Ata Rangi). Bill thought it was a “crime” that they had planted olives on the land they had bought, that it should only be planted in grapes. So with the arrangement that if it was a nice day, and if they were in the mood, they would help, they let Bill plant a vineyard alongside the olives.
Unfortunately Bill died a few years later and Mike and Margaret were left with a vineyard that they didn’t know how to care for. They went looking for help – for someone to take them under their wing. Martinborough Vineyard was the answer. And the viticulturist at Martinborough Vineyard at the time was Nigel Elder. Under his tutelage, Mike and Margaret went through a steep learning curve on how to grow grapes for premium wine. They got hooked.
Over the following years while the vineyard supplied grapes to Martinborough Vineyard, Nigel always kept a close eye on what the vineyard was producing. By 2010 he was confident of the potential of the vineyard, and so approached Mike and Margaret about working together to produce a top flight Pinot Noir. And hence The Elder Pinot came into being.
Let’s meet the Elder Pinot team …
Our team now comprises of Nigel, who does most of our sales and marketing, Bridget his wife, who keeps us on track financially, and Mike and Margaret, who do most of the vineyard work.
Luckily, we are also helped by Paul Mason as our wine maker. Paul is employed as the winemaker for Martinborough Vineyard, and has worked with grapes from this vineyard since it first started producing.
What is the story behind your name?
Obviously the name is partly prompted by Nigel’s surname. But it was also to reflect that although we were a new label, we were not a new vineyard. And that we wanted to make a classic pinot noir. Nigel’s vintages in France had exposed him to what great Pinot Noir’s can be. His dream was to do create truly elegant wines.
What’s your signature wine?
We only make Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris. We believe that over time, we will be particularly known for our Pinot Noir. Already, it is developing beautifully as the vineyard matures. But it was our Pinot Gris that first got people’s attention.
Right from the start it has been a complex, textured, dry Pinot Gris. It catches people by surprise. Every tasting we do, people tell us that they don’t really like Pinot Gris, but on tasting The Elder Pinot Gris, they become fans.
What makes your winery special?
The vineyard is special. It is on an old riverbed overlooking Te Muna valley outside of Martinborough. The stony, free draining soils, the elevated and largely frost-free site, and the wind which keeps crops low and disease rare, combine to produce fantastic fruit. Being small, only about seven acres, allows Mike and Margaret to be obsessive about maintaining the vineyard and coaxing the best possible reflection of this terroir. We talk about uncompromised quality. And we mean it.
Most memorable winemaking moment
Ours is a tasting moment. Prior to doing our own label, the grapes had been sold to Martinborough Vineyard. The wine from our Pinot Noir grapes were kept separate prior to blending, so we had been able to taste them along the way. We knew what Pinot Noir from our site would taste like. But we had never tasted our Pinot Gris. 2010 was the first vintage of The Elder. In 2011, Mike and Margaret were having to head to the US and wanted to take some of the wine to show friends. None of us had tried the wines yet. The first tasting had to be together.
So before Mike and Margaret left, the four of us went out dinner with a bottle each of our newly minted Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris. It was a very serious and somewhat nervous group. This was to be the unveiling of whether we were on the right track or not. The Pinot Gris was opened and poured into glasses. No-one was speaking. We each cautiously smelt and tasted the wine. And everyone broke into huge grins. It was fantastic. That first vintage of Pinot Gris sold out within six months. We were on our way.
How much wine do you produce?
We are very small, about seven acres. It is still at the size (just) that Mike and Margaret can give the vineyard the attention we think is needed to produce premium wines. From that, we keep only the best grapes, selling the rest. Typically our production will be around 500 cases each year.
Our vintage parties are …
Why wait for vintage? All our business and all our celebrating is done over good food and wine. Sometimes ours, sometimes others from the region, or sometimes to explore the wine from around the world.
Did you invent something along the way?
We didn’t. But visiting friends who watched us bend, squat and kneel at each plant as we tended the vineyard (and then walk stiffly for the next few days as the season started and muscles were getting reacquainted with the task) said there had to be an easier way. So they have taken the elements of a kneeling chair and mobility scooter to develop what has been christened the “vine mobile”. It is about to get its first outing.
Tell us a bit more about Martinborough
The Martinborough region makes fantastic wine. Partly because of the terroir with its naturally low production – probably some of the lowest in New Zealand. But also because the wines are almost all made by small producers dedicated to exploring how to make the absolute best wines.
They share ideas, they challenge each other, and they appreciate each other’s successes. Over what has been an eventful journey in developing the vineyard and the The Elder Pinot, we have been given so much help, advice and encouragement that is rare in a competitive industry.
Hot spots in Marlborough
Yes you can do all sorts of adventure stuff in the Wairarapa – cycling, hiking, ballooning, jet boating, diving, surfing. But for us the top things to do are all about food and wine.
Starting with stopping in at C’Est Cheese in Featherston – perhaps the best cheese shop in New Zealand. Sampling the chocolate at Schoc chocolates in Greytown – our last overseas visitor couldn’t decide what she liked the best, so ended up taking a dozen different chocolate with her. A leisurely lunch at Poppies Martinborough. A drink sitting in the sun at Micro Bar – or wrapped in a blanket in the back courtyard on a crisp winter night. And wine tasting in between, where many times you actually get to talk to the people who are making the wine or growing the grapes. It is small, it is intimate, it is authentic.