Villa Maria Production Winemaker Josh Hammond had to be on the verge of exhaustion when he sat down with John Szabo and I at the WineAlign office last week. Hammond was a Montreal stop away from a near coast-to-coast, Canadian jaunt to promote the wines of the New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir pundit. I will assume that Hammond is usually more animated than he was that afternoon and will hedge my bets he is customarily content to let the wines speak for themselves. After 52 pioneering years, Villa Maria has earned the latitude.
Josh Hammond could pass for the second coming or be the separated at birth doppelgänger to The Who lead vocalist Roger Daltrey. I am very familiar with those kind of piercing blue eyes, having gazed into them repeatedly from my 9th row floors Maple Leaf Gardens seat at the December 16, 1982 iconic band’s “final” concert. Hammond has that Face Dances, You Better You Bet, maturing British glam look, marked by rock-star tussle, salt & pepper hair. Petite too and always behind blue eyes. OK, I hear you. Godello digresses.
The 27 year-old wine facilitator’s globe-trotting efforts are in support of an amazing, sustainable journey, aka the vision of Villa Maria founder Sir George Fistonich. Villa Maria is a Kiwi leader in organic grape farming and carbon footprint reduction. Sir George and team are keen to peddle the concept in their literature, employing buzz phrases like, “there is no end point,” “leave something for the next generation” and “overriding business objective.”
Worm farms, vineyard rows wildflowers and snaffling flocks of sheep are all a part of the Villa Maria world. And yet, the discussion and tasting with John, Josh and I virtually ignored the notion of sustainability. No hidden agenda or bad intent was meant to label the Fistonich organic principles as Milquetoast, but this tasting concentrated solely on vintages, terroir diversity and the bottles at the table. Good wine is good wine, no matter the virtuous or commendable maker’s actions.
I got the feeling that Josh cares most about the finished product. Though he’s a child prodigy of the land he now juices to fashion Villa Maria’s large yet manageable output, the peculiarities of the process did not steal the tasting’s limelight. That worked to great effect. We talked about how the 2013 vintage shone on Sauvignon Blanc. We were introduced to the ways of Villa Maria’s unshakable, panoptic Pinot Noir. Here are notes on the six wines tasted.
PRIVATE BIN SAUVIGNON BLANC MARLBOROUGH 2013, Marlborough, New Zealand (426601, $16.95, WineAlign)
Ferly opening wine with winemaker Josh Hammond and surely not anticipated. Opulence upon first aromatic gather, pure and spirited from cold fermented, stainless steel treated 50/50 Wairau and Awatere Valley fruit. The latter adds typical herbaceous and inimical character. Plugged in stellar 2013 vintage, yet with grass uncut, low on mow, left to grow. Still, the herbiage is exaggerated so thanks is owed to the lemon, paraffin and lanolin. Juicy, fresh, crisp value SB. 88 Tasted January 2014
CELLAR SELECTION SAUVIGNON BLANC 2012, Marlborough, New Zealand (974527, $21.95, WineAlign)
The 2012 season was not Sauvignon Blanc philanthropic so extended time on lees pays off towards supplemental body and texture. What speaks loudest is the odiousness of capsicum and even more obvious green cubanelle pepper. More green runs amok, in peppercorn, green tea ice cream and lime sherbet. Unique and conspicuous expression. A cooler year so some residual sugar accords the balancing act. Not able to shake that omnipresent layering of all things pepper. 87 Tasted January 2014
PRIVATE BIN EAST COAST GEWÜRZTRAMINER 2012, New Zealand (357509, $14.95, WineAlign)
Grapes sourced from three growing areas; Auckland, Gisborne and Waipara. Warm, aesculapian tonic, with a coursing note like the spiked heat of a drop of venom in neutral alcohol. Ethereal, jazz/R&B Gew, tropical, unctuous but not chewy, angled by wood sealant spice. At this price, in comparison to other North Island renditions, with a good bitterness, it does the variety proud. Gewurztraminer a world away might say I “see your eyes in mine, leave the rest behind.” Though it may hit the ground running, it makes quick work of itself. 87 Tasted January 2014
PRIVATE BIN PINOT NOIR 2011, Marlborough, New Zealand (146548, $21.95, WineAlign)
That Villa Maria can make 80,000 cases of Pinot Noir this proper is nothing short of remarkable. Aged in French oak for 8-10 months. As Pinot like as could be hoped for considering the case amount. Every drop must go through Malolactic fermentation. Winemaker Josh Hammond and crew insist upon it, though it’s nothing but painstaking cellar/lab work. The Pinot character initially shines, with loads of plum and black cherry, but there is a momentary lapse. But, “if you’re standing in the middle, ain’t no way you’re gonna stop.” So, the definitive Marlborough ectodermal line painted through the in door speaks quickly and leaves by the out-door. From a smoking gun, rising like a Zeppelin. Large volume, big production, drinkable in the evening Pinot Noir. 88 Tasted January 2014
CELLAR SELECTION PINOT NOIR 2009, Marlborough, New Zealand (285361, $32.95, WineAlign)
A selection of Villa Maria’s best fruit is siphoned out of 12-month aged, 30 per cent new French oak barrels. Seemingly entering or hinting at an oxidizing, metallurgical time coming soon. The current holding pattern is a beautiful one, behind blue eyes, very floral and prompts thoughts of the same 2009 vintage in Ontario. From a who’s who of Awatere and Wairau Valley vineyards, sites chosen to qualify for the Reserve wines. From ultra-healthy, crop-thinned vines, the Cellar Selection gives a scent of candied flowers and a taste of rosewater molasses. Fine and warming. Keeps me warm, let’s me wear its coat. Could be confused for $50 Sonoma it’s just so pretty, sweet and fruit forward. The time in glass breathes life back upon itself. Flourishes and finishes with a touch of pipe smoke, signalling quality. 91 Tasted January 2014
SOUTHERN CLAYS SINGLE VINEYARD PINOT NOIR 2010, Marlborough, New Zealand (Agent, $59.95, WineAlign)
From Villa Maria’s Rutherford Vineyard, a gentle north facing slope set upon heavier clays. An SV whose world is a flood…one with the mud.” A heavier style, a jar of clay, yet not overtly varnished by any particular coat. Small berry, dark fruit concentration, in some ways anti-Pinot or rather Pinot of a new religion. The spice is classic Marlborough, vanilla sneaks in and the texture is grainier and loamier than the Cellar Selection. Big, ripe and communicative of a confected sensibility. As far as New Zealand goes, this one floods piously of Adventist Pinot Noir. Leap of faith. 90 Tasted January 2014
Good to go!