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The International Wine Industry
In Praise of Gimblett Gravels
Thursday, 1st January, 2009  - David Farmer

It's been fun observing the spread of new vineyards across Australia in the last 40 years. Vineyards dating from the historical regions of settlement have been supplemented with numerous new areas. Some regions, such as Tasmania, Orange, and Canberra, have a history much younger than 40 years. Already we are finding that wines from some 'new' regions are superior to others. A handful perhaps are making world class wines.

It's the same in New Zealand and regions such as Central Otago make wines that are breath- taking. Wine drinkers should marvel as this unfolds as we are privileged to live in a time of wine history in the making.

I first looked at the vineyards around Hawkes Bay in 1988. My guide (Phil R) showed me some unremarkable ground, a stony, river terrace, near the town of Hastings which was of promise. I don't recall it being referred to as the Gimblett Gravels though it may have been. Prior to 1990 there were only 20 hectares of vines and this expanded quickly through the 1990's and there are now 800 hectares of vines. The reason for this growth is simple. This stony river terrace is now producing astonishing reds of power and great beauty. I have tried a great number of Gimblett Gravel wines over the years, most being green and weedy but the promise was there, go for example to A Brilliant Red from New Zealand. Some recent wines from Craggy Range shifted my perspective and the clincher was a bottle of Villa Maria Reserve Gimblett Gravels Syrah 2006 which is simply astonishing and a very great wine.

From the Gimblett Gravels site you find that the abandoned flats now called the Gimblett Gravels, appeared in 1867 after the Ngaruroro River flooded and moved. Changes are natural as rivers swing back and forth across wide areas during flooding. The terraces that are stranded are prime vineyard sites in many New Zealand regions (and elsewhere). The stranded arm of the Ngaruroro River is known as the Omahu Channel. Prior to 1867 when the river swept around Roys Hill it dumped the coarse sediment fraction of cobbles and gritty sands and built the terrace which is now the Omahu gravels. The vineyards on the Omahu gravels are now called the Gimblett Gravels.

To the shock of purists who see 'terroir' in old world terms as something to be venerated and even mystical the winemakers of the Gimblett Gravels talk openly about 'terroir manipulation' to produce desirable grape quality. Very simply the Gimblett Gravels do not retain water and without irrigation the vines die. This tiny region is about 2-3 degrees centigrade warmer than other Hawkes Bay sites which means an earlier start to the growing season and new research shows that the stony terrace retains heat longer into the evening which adds to the factors making fruit quality.

As I've mentioned before many New Zealand vineyard regions are one degree removed from hydroponic farming. Of them all though the stony terrace of Gimblett, shows even more clearly the factors that produce quality grape flavours. The implications will have profound implications as never could we have imagined a hydroponic experiment to be so decisive.

For $30 to $60 you can buy world class wines that rate as highly as Bordeaux which is good news. It's a big call but I join others who believe that New Zealand has found it own Bordeaux and stony, dry land that recently had no value is now surprising many wine drinkers. We will return to the Gimblett's...

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