Dry River vineyard was established in 1979 by Dr Neil and Dawn McCallum. In 2003 the vineyard and winery were sold to Julian Robertson and Reg Oliver with Neil staying at the helm as Chief Winemaker until his retirement in 2011. The name Dry River was that of one of the earliest South Wairarapa sheep stations.
Although their vines are planted several kilometres away on the northern boundary of the Martinborough township, Dry River aptly describes the very arid, gravely and free-draining site. The first wines, Chardonnay, Gewurztraminer and Pinot gris were bottled in 1984 and Dry River has since developed a reputation as one of New Zealand’s most iconic pioneering wineries. The wines are largely sold by mail order and are not widely available through the retail trade. We are lucky enough to be able to present some for sale to you.
The vineyards and winery are cared for by a small and dedicated team overseen by Ant Mackenzie, General Manager. In the winery, Wilco Lam is the winemaker with Coralie Allexant-Manière assists him. Heather Gibbs looks after administration and the vineyards are tended by Nick James, Vineyard Manager, Rob Smith and Michelle Mills.
To our memory this is one of the more approachable Chardonnay’s we have produced so far. The small cropping levels we experienced did not necessarily produce a more intense wine, on the contrary, maturity was slowed down due to weather induced stress. These vintage circumstances formed softer tannins with a more ‘open’ and friendly phenolic structure.
A bright apple flesh colour reflects the early life stage of the wine. At first the creamy lees character supresses the aromatic profile of the wine and might be a reflection of time spent on full solids in barrel. With time in the glass the wine is sure to show tropical fruit characters like persimmon, pineapple and nectarines. By now almonds and brioche make their presence with coconut faintly in the background, paying respect to the oak.
The wine carries sufficient weight forming a stout and broad mouthfeel whilst it spreads consistently over the palate. This remarkable strength subdues the acidity creating an all-round experience. The ripe fruit is visible mostly on the back palate in the sense of white peach and nectarine, complemented by nougat and almonds. In its youth we recommend to open this wine well before consumption, allowing time to breathe, or be sure to decant. Our Chardonnay tends to evolve for another three to five years, but can be cellared longer for those with patience.
A darker straw appearance. It is on the nose where the vintage shows its true colours. With coconut flesh, caramelized orange rind, scented vanilla and Amaretto, the wine delivers an unusual introduction where fruit opulence is in minor. These seductive characters persist with Grand Marnier, crepes Suzette and flambéed orange juice. This certainly is a wine with many discussion points.
Again a drier palate in terms of residual sugar at 20 g/L with a moderate alcohol level of 13.5%, this makes for a complex and textural Gewurztraminer. The varietal expression shyly comes through on the palate with concentrated and condensed tannins. Ginger, Amaretto and caramelized cane sugar are the predominant characteristics. More intricate are the higher aromatics like lychee and zest of orange & mandarin. Fenugreek and cardamom spice make for a firm and complex finish, with the acidity ever so minimal in order to retain the focus on the aromatic profile. Looking back in our cellar, Gewurztraminer is not to be underestimated in its capacity to evolve for three to seven years, possibly longer in a good cellar.
Where in the last few years this wine showed rich and powerful aromatics, now elegance, refinement and authority are key words. Again, a purity of flavours is overarching a base layer of savoury components. The gentle scent of harakeke in flower, Nashi pear and exotic tropical aromas like papaya and guava are combined with butterscotch and vanilla custard.
Like the Gewurztraminer the Pinot gris is less sweet than previous years with 20 g/L residual sugar. Without a doubt this has an impact on the perception of the wine and interaction with the phenolics. With less distraction at the entrance of the palate the focus rapidly turns to the texture and weight of the wine, round and buoyant. There is no clear division of taste, but a complexity that knows no boundaries or demarcations. Of recognisable interest are pistachio nuts, nougat and vanilla liqueur, further heightened with raisin pinwheels. Those familiar with it might recognise the traditional German amalgamation of fruit compote Rumtopf, without the excessive alcohol. The acidity acts as a faithful servant, maintaining freshness and length. We praise this wine for its early approachability, but it will certainly gain further interest over the next five to seven years.
Clones 5, 10/5 and some Dijon clones from the ‘Dry River Estate', ‘Craighall' and ‘Lovat' sites, with whole bunch inclusion from 0-40%, averaging 20% fermented to 13.1% alc., the wine aged 12 months in 20% new oak, of which 75% was in 300 L and 350 L hogsheads. Dark, deep, purple-hued ruby-red colour. The nose is tight and firmly concentrated with a complex melange of black berry and cherry fruits, dark raspberries with lifted violet perfumes and nuances of dark herbs and earthy elements. Medium-full bodied, full, rounded and softly succulent flavours of black cherries and raspberries are interwoven with oak spices, herbs and minerals. The acidity is soft and adds poise and background freshness, and the tannins silky in texture. The palate flows very smoothly, with the structure and extraction building on mid-palate, carrying the flavours to a very long, sustained, dry but floral nuanced finish. This is a dark berry fruited Pinot Noir with smooth and fine textures that build in substance. (Raymond Chan 2012)
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