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.
This is a wine we are very proud of. Our Craighall Chardonnay is nearing the intensity and structure we so desire from the old Dry River plantings, which are in decline due to old age. This is very promising to see, since for many years Dry River was so unique in its quality. The warmth of the vintage has left its signature through complexity, restraint and approachability.
In our eyes it is what one can expect from a classic style of chardonnay; delicious, luscious. The wine is laced with soft tones of oak with almond meal, freshly baked croissant skin and pistachio nuts showing through. The complexity of the individual aromatics are subtle, but rather overwhelming as a whole. It is cloaked with spices like coriander, cumin and caraway seeds, then fennel, nougat and cinnamon quill.
The palate is seamless and focussed. This is mainly resulting from a solid backbone of soft acidity coated with a creamy, velvety texture. Hints of popcorn and oak are quickly muted with an array of classic chardonnay flavours and a light buoyancy. It ticks all the boxes for us and the subtle style we would like to produce.
The drinking recommendation would be in the next five years, but feel confident to cellar up to ten years.
The pale golden colour reflects that of freshness and rigor. Tropical peach and kiwifruit characters reflect the warmer vintage in 2018. However, since we picked this very early - 14 March, we were able to maintain the subtle fragrancies we seek out in Riesling; lime sherbet, lemon zest and apple blossom. The additional benefit of an early harvest is that we retain a strong mineral acidity, which manifests on the nose in the form of wet river rocks and citrus blossom.
The palate follows a similar pattern to the nose: dense with a touch of sweetness at the entrance which makes it feel broad, with ripe fruit flavours. We often see the more tropical influence from our Craighall block 5 Riesling, which is planted with a better aspect to the sun. Craighall block 6 Riesling is planted perpendicular to block 5, east/west, causing more shading of the fruit. This brings out a palate that is long and drawn out with chalky phenolics which highlight the textural feel of the wine. The acidity creates a fresh tension to firm up the wine and show a linear and horizontal structure. This firm acidity helps to salivate the mouth and drive the wine creating a long finish, which makes it a good food matching wine.
Expect this wine to further evolve for optimal drinking pleasure after three to five years.
The warmer vintages like the 2018 benefit our Alsace varieties in the vineyard for the style we pursue, in this case Gewurztraminer: a broader, denser wine with full, decadent aromatics and a touch of residual sugar.
Hallmark aromatics of quince, ginger, rose petals and lychee are seamlessly woven into more difficult to decipher aromatics; perfumed stone fruits and papaya with lifted spices. Some of the 2018 Botrytis bunch selection wine was blended into this to provide some more depth - honey suckle and orange peel characters with fresh, dried herbs.
The palate is structured, even a bit stern at first, then becoming more ‘elastic’ and viscous with the alcohol spreading through the wine, giving an element of buoyancy. The well natured character is reflective of the vintage: warm, calm, soft with a bright spark and a friendly twinkle. The botrytis portion expresses honey rate and orange marmalade. We see a marked duality in the evolution over the palate where it spreads and broadens, then dries and salivates, but is never lost in direction.
If possible, refrain from drinking this wine for the first two to three years, it will open up and soften beautifully.
To refresh the memory, 2016 was an outstanding vintage, no less for Syrah. After a moderately warm and very dry summer, the long autumn helped with the late slow ripening of our Syrah perfectly. Little rain at the end of the season made picking easy and ensured impeccably healthy grapes came into the winery.
A deep purple colour with a tamarillo hew indicates the wine is still in infancy stage. The influence of fine, mostly older oak preservesthe primary and floral characters like cherries, fresh blackcurrants, violets and Christmas spices. It cries ripe characters of black liquorice, dark boysenberries and crème de cassis. The wine has more to reveal behind the veil of primary fruit characters, toasted almond paste and black olives.
The low cropping levels combined with the elevated ripeness of the Syrah clearly contribute to the heavy fruit weight, mainly on the mid-palate. Approachable and fine grained, more powdery tannins are focussed on the centre-mid area of the palate, stretching lengthways to the back like a long rod. Combined with a gentle acidity,the wine still shows firm and compact, hiding the more elegant and delicate fruit charactersandleaving it up to time to emerge and unfold. Amiable yet shy, the 2016 Syrah will require another five more years to reveal its full potential.
Our Pinot gris vines are amongst the oldest planted at Dry River – the majority was planted in 1979 making them 40 years old. They provide a consistency, depth and character unlike most of our other wines. Still on their own roots, they well fend off droughts and have adapted to ameliorate vintage fluctuations. Here it shows the heavier aromatics to symbolise its deep foundation through vanilla, toffee, dulce de leche and ripe pears. Fresh characters like melon, fennel and honey suckle bring lightness and are likely to reflect fruit from our younger pinot gris block. This wine spent a long time maturing on lees, partly in oak barrels, to bring aromatic complexity in the form orange cake and nougat.
An overwhelming sensation of grace and serenity hit us when tasting this wine for the first time after blending. Comforting and luscious, the gentle nature is like a welcome home wine, if you don’t mind the sweetness of the residual sugar. Its translucent and timid character make it rich and buoyant without the bling factor. The creamy fluffy textural element is that of a groomed gruffness, presumably from the time on lees in barrel, with hints of liquorice root and rock melon.
Our Pinot gris gives drinking pleasure as a young wine, but is rewarding with time in your cellar – preferably five to seven years.
The 2017 growing conditions were nearly identical to the 2014 vintage, in numbers. The flowering conditions were sub-optimal, which caused some patchy fruit set and lowered the potential yield. This might have been a blessing since in the second half of the summer we experienced lower sunshine hours due to continuous cloud cover, and higher winds, which subsequently slowed down ripening conditions.
The presence of adequate heat, but a lack of sunshine (UV-light) brings out previously un-seen characters in our Dry River Pinot noir. We usually utilise sunlight to our advantage to benefit both tannin and aromatic accumulation. Provided we pick at their peak, we can gently extract these characters during fermentation. This year we had to delay picking by seven to ten days and thus had to work a little harder to extract the desired components in the winery, resulting in a more approachable, sappy rich wine, full of flavour.
The nose is very attractive, with a perfume-like finesse and a lighter than usual appearance. A fresh, complex and floral nose shows Christmas lilies, violets and honeysuckle. There are the hallmark, darker Dry River characters of fruit of the forest, plum and berry compote, mixed with a gentle touch of oak. Upon first approach the wine is soft and broad, with ripe, almost sweet fruit characters on the front of the palate. The intricate and round tannins have a mature presence with seamless integrated oak, something we would normally only see after two to three years. Towards the mid palate the wine is gaining power with a dynamic force, presumably a combination of the fruit and tannin density, governed through a radiant acidity. The structured finish is long and abundant in fruit, lingering to ponder the interest in the typicity of the vintage.
Please note this wine has been un-fined and unfiltered in order to safeguard aromatics and structure. Therefore a deposit might form in the bottom of the bottle.
Though approachable as a young wine, the 2017 will benefit from three to five years additional evolution for optimum drinking pleasure.
Four subsequent years of dry conditions had severely impacted the Tempranillo. With hard pruning necessary during winter, the yields were always going to be low for this wine, and only 400 bottles have been produced. This is also the last year we will release this wine as a single variety wine; it is now part of our new blend The Twelve Spies.
The colour is of a purple core with a red garnet fringe. Only one older, large barrel was required for the small amount produced; this preserved the fruit characters as anticipated. Dark fruit tones of ripe brambleberries, blackcurrants, and lighter raspberries provide a freshness. On the other side, there is nougat, mulled wine spices and stewed red fruit compote that show the darker side of the wine. Further complexity comes unexpectedly from thyme and oyster shells.
Intense, dark, dense fruit with deep flavours make for a full-bodied wine which is summoned down to a more shy level by the acidity. Initially, the tannins are gentle in nature, especially on the front of the palate. However, they are not to be underestimated, for they built outwards from the core and strengthen in their presence towards the side of the mouth. Courteously, they reside towards the en d,leaving a smooth and seamless finish at the back. In line with the Tempranillo wines in our cellar, we see a gradual evolution over three to six years to reach full drinking potential.
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