It was always going to be a risky venture to plant vines at 380m/1,247ft in on the slope of Mount Barker in Central Otago on New Zealand’s beautifully rugged South Island. Each spring, there is a nail-biting period when late frost is an ever-present threat and autumn is not much better. If things get tough, the helicopters are called in, mixing up freezing and slightly warmer layers of air to protect the precious young shoots from freezing.
But Andrew Donaldson, the owner of Akitu, has learned to live with these risks since he planted his Pinot Noir vines in the schist soils and made his first wines in 2012. It is with much calm that he says: “Now that we are coming up to 20 years of vine age, the soils give substance to the vines and we are becoming increasingly confident of the resilience of the vines.”
The 2019 vintage
His consultant winemaker PJ Charteris says: “The challenges of 2019 – on the back of 2018 which was a powerhouse of a year – we shifted into a much cooler phase. The cool spring resulted in low fruit set and lower yield, which in a cool climate is lucky because you simply would not ripen a big yield. I reckon these 2019 wines show this clearly, they have a depth and a core that belies the season.”
Donaldson and Charteris presented three wines. Up first was the Pinot Noir Blanc, the third vintage of this wine, first made in 2019 when Donaldson came across a German Pinot Noir vinified as a still white wine. It inspired him to try this at home and Charteris set to work. “It’s a very exciting little project,” Donaldson says.
Charteris explains that his aim was to build complexity and that “more lees work, more time in barrel, partial malo-lactic fermentation, high solid ferments with cloudy juice, thinking about ripeness and picking decision have all given us handles on building the complexity.” A particularly textured win is the result.
Next up was the Pinot Noir A2. Charteris says: “Our brief with the A2 has always been around a wine that has a drinkability, approachability and a generosity that breaks barriers. A wine that while maintaining composure has a come-hither nature and says ‘drink me.’ The 2019 with its wonderful freshness certainly manages that.
A1, the premium wine of the estate, on the other hand, demands bottle age. It is amongst Central Otago’s finest and a testament to the struggle of these wines on that windswept, frost prone hillside.
Read the tasting notes:
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