After trying a succession of really good, and pretty smartly priced wines from the Askerne label in 2020 – including a viognier that took out the Trophy for Champion wine at the NZIWS, I made sure that a visit was on the agenda when I was in Hawke’s Bay recently. I’d also got my hands on a new Chardonnay for them (I know) and was very impressed with that – The Archer 2018, which I thought easily deserved a place at the top table of the region’s best.
The Cellar Door has recently been upgraded and has an ideal location just outside Havelock North and with a few other notable vineyards and wineries in the locale. It’s a family-run affair and I was greeted by one of the younger members of the family and taken through the history and current wines. I do love to run into a ‘junior’ member of a wine family – someone who has clearly grown up with wine as part of their upbringing. Their passion is obvious, but it’s so ingrained in their life that it’s an unconscious and unguarded side of their personality. Laura is like an encyclopaedia of what’s going on in Hawke’s Bay winemaking! Such was my afternoon at Askerne, and I’d highly recommend a visit if you’re in the region.
WineFolio: As you know, I’m very impressed with the new Chardonnay you brought out and send me a bottle to taste. I think I described it as “a wonderful addition to the top tier of Hawke’s Bay chardonnays”.
Laura Loughlin: The story behind the Archer is that Kathryn is my Mother, and she had a dream about taking the best parcels and using them, in a really good year, to make a superior Chardonnay. We’d identified back in 2013, when we changed our cropping – went from 4-cane to 2-cane, that there’s some standout fruit. Her maiden name is Archer, and she loves Chardonnay. 2018 was a great year, and we’re a little bit later at this site, so the rain didn’t affect us as much as other blocks. This was the first year we had been able to say ‘we’re doing it’ and it showed great promise the whole way through. Being the first year of The Archer it was very exciting but it needed time to develop and grow. Mum had tears in her eyes the first time it got a great review – that it was being recognised for what we hoped it would be.
Mum and Dad looked for a parcel of land – and this had been used for growing asparagus. It was half the size it is now, but they bought the neighbouring orchard in 1999, and that’s when they started growing red varietals. Over the years we’ve played around with different areas and what works where. We are believers in giving things a go, and it’s not like the big corporates where you’d have an accountant looking over you. We always grew up with wine, we had little wine glasses and we’d have the sweet wines.
We’re believers in making wines that we like, even though sometimes we think that they’re not what the General Public likes? Semillon is an example, where it was once more of a ‘buzz’ wine. There are still Semillon drinkers around though. Our vines are right there outside the Cellar Door. Have you had much Semillon?
WF: I’ve had a bit – mostly Aussie Semillon. I was in a wine store in Melbourne and was asking about alternatives to Chardonnay, and the sales assistant took me over to Semillon.
I think it was Hunter Valley and he said “this is the current vintage – 2009” Hahaha! That’s brilliant.
LL: Our Semiilon has got some white-fleshed nectarine type characters. It’s quite light but it does have a textural creaminess coming through. It’s partially barrel fermented and partially tank fermented. A great food wine. When we were doing a clearout in the warehouse recently I found a 1997 – and it was awful (laughs) Well, you’ve got to try these things! It’s funny where some wines you’re just not too sure about, and then you leave it a day and it’s great.
We also do a Sauvignon Blanc/Sauvignon Gris/Semillon blend. We started doing this that’s a little bit different. We’ve got an interesting soil make-up here, with lots of different soil types. It’s also partially-barrel and partially tank fermented. Really herbaceous in flavour and its quite acid forward but when you have it with seafood the acid really cuts through.
Our Viognier recently won the trophy at the New Zealand International Wine Show. It comes off the newer block that we have. I had the job of picking it this vintage – we decided it was safer to do the picking separately and your bin had to stay yours during picking. We were meant to do two picks, but we did the first one and the brix came back at 25, so the next day we were like “right, picking again today!!” Our driver for Viognier is about 24 brix to get those real apricot flavours, so this one is a little different to what we’ve done in previous years. We’re trialling having it slightly drier, and for 2020 it looks beautiful – I tried some of the wild ferment barrels. Viognier has been one of our ‘golden stories’ I guess. We’ve had two trophies with it over the years, in 2016 and 2019 which we’re really pleased with. It’s underrated in New Zealand, and it’s a fantastic food wine. I guide people into trying it and 99 times out of a hundred people like it.
WF: There’s definitely still a burble of interest in it. A few comments I get are that people like to drink it as an alternative to the normal whites, ahead of Pinot Gris for example. I think it’s lost that novelty factor now too where people didn’t know it, know how to pronounce it..
LL: It’s more versatile as a food wine than Chardonnay. And I’ve heard a lot of Chardonnay drinkers do enjoy it. De la Terre did a Chardonnay-Viognier in 2019 and it’s a really cool wine.
WF: Tietjen Witters from Gisborne do one. It’s called CV, and it’s a 50/50 blend. I said “Why are you doing that?” and they replied “well, try it”. And it just works.
LL: Te Awanga did one as well as a ‘One Off’ in ’18 or ’19. I’ve had it. For my palate I like it more than the straight Viognier, but that’s very personal.
We’ve got two Gewürztraminers. Well, actually we do a Late Harvest as well, so three. In ’18 we had quite a low crop and we made two different styles of it, from two picks that proved to have really different characteristics. The Estate version is really in that fresh style where you have that orange zest, ginger and lychee coming through. Away from that Turkish Delight flavours. It’s a variety that my Mother has always loved, and we’ve also had good success with it over the years.
WF: I like that. Without the distraction of the rose petal. It’s there but that’s not what it’s all about. You said orange but I’m getting something more like lemongrass, or that preserved lemon where it’s a quite savoury type of citrus flavour.
LL: The Reserve Gewürztraminer is from the same year. The first one you tried had 17.5 grams of residual sugar but it’s got really balanced acidity. This one here has 15 grams residual sugar but it’s got a lot more creaminess and Turkish delight flavours that go with the ginger spice.
WF: Lovely floral nose. Hugely different in texture. That one is all about the feeling in the mouth isn’t it? And really good spice to that one – that’s got great personality. Sometimes gewurz I find just wide and flabby. I like the crème fraiche character at the back of that one.
LL: I love gewürztraminer. If I’ve had a long week, I think I’m just going to mellow out with a glass of that. But also if you put it with the right food then I think it’s one of my favourite white varieties. It does also scare a lot of people though. Looking from this side of the counter you see the reactions. From “Wow this is amazing” right through to “Why is this in my glass, and why do you make it!”. It’s such a fascinating variety. Do you have much at home?
WF: I’ve got some quite good ones sitting on the shelf. I probably don’t drink it as much as I should.
We move on to trying some of their reds – I’ve had some of these before, and Laura wants me to try the new ‘icon’ Syrah.
LL: Now – this is our 2018 Syrah, and then our 2019 ‘Tere’ Syrah. The ’18 is our Estate wine, and has some lovely succulent fruit. It’s smoky but it’s got this real nice attribute to it that you don’t need food with it. I love Syrah but sometimes it’s just a bit much. I don’t find you can just chill out with a glass of Syrah, but this one I actually can. 22 months in barrel that one.
WF: (checks the Cellar Door pricelist) $23.90 for this. That’s absolutely fantastic. You’re kidding yourselves – that’s a beautiful wine! Hahaha. I’m actually laughing about that – that’s a hilarious price for something this good. Is it from here, this site?
LL: The conversations I’ve had about pricing our wine!!
Everything you’ve tasted today is from here. That’s from the old riverbed down the back. The story behind the other wine – the ‘Tere’ that is going to be the sibling of ‘The Archer’ – is that we live on Maungateretere Road, and in out initial plans for doing ‘icons’ there was an ‘Archer’, a ‘Dr John’ which will be a Cab Sav and looks like we’ll be making in 2020.
But when we came across this Syrah which had such complexity and balance, with smoky characteristics coming through that we thought this needs to be given the respect it deserves. We came up with the name ‘Tere’ which means ‘fast’ in maori and it’s in recognition of the river currents – the river that created the soils that we have down the back. This wine has balance – smoky but integrated oak and lovely fruit.
WF: I’m going to be troublesome and say I prefer the Estate. Possibly because I’m sitting here, having the “Tere” for the first time, and maybe if I was at home with them both open, sitting in my favourite chair, it might be different. The Estate is very easy to love. The ‘Tere’ is a bit more serious and you’d need time with it.
LL: For Cabernet Franc, we do it in a good, or hot year, and we’re quite proud of it. It’s got really nice balance on the palate, and a lovely dark plum fruit character.
WF: That’s a doozy as well. I love that bright cassis fruit, but then it’s got an umami, mossy, iron-earth type of savoury/mineral. Nice whack of spice. Did you say this is a ’19, so quite new? It’s got quite a heady, intoxicating perfume and sleek on the finish. Stunning.
LL: Same price as the Syrah (laughs). Cabernet Franc is just such an under-rated drink. People will say ‘I love a good Merlot or a ripe Cab Sav’ and I always tell them – ‘try the Cabernet Franc’. There’s not a lot of them out there and I think we’re one of the few wineries who set out with the intention of making a single varietal one. These got bottled during Lockdown and we opened that and the ’19 Reserve Red. And this just shone. I can still remember tasting it for the first time.
I’ll get you to taste the 2019 Reserve Red as well, to go with the story. Merlot dominant with Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. It’s very smooth for its young age. Dark and a bit of nice chinese spice flavours in there. I‘m interested to see how this integrates over time, considering it’s very palatable currently.
WF: Merlot dominant… in a good year, it’s fantastic. It’s so taken for granted now isn’t it? I’m looking at it from a consumer point of view and I’m guilty of saying ‘yes, this is an amazing wine.. but so? And? Why?’ Like just being fabulous isn’t quite enough any more? I like that wine, and it doesn’t have that slightly over-rich, astringent, tar-like quality that I sometimes find in Hawke’s Bay Merlot.
Finally, as we’re getting well into the swing of things now – Laura suggests something more unusual and produces a smaller bottle that immediately piques my interest.
LL: This is nineteen vintages of Noble Semillon, it’s under a Solera system.
WF: OK (blustering, laughs) so – did you know? I’ve written on my website how I’m the only person I know who thinks things like a Solera is cool, and how everyone I try tell about it just laughs at me and rolls their eyes. I have a minor obsession about Solera wines.. and they’ll say “What’s it called, a solenoid?”
LL: We had tried an Australian wine – De Bortoli ‘Black Noble’ and thought ‘I wonder if we could do that?’ Started putting some back each year.
WF: It’s really complex isn’t it?
LL: Treacle, coffee, tar…
WF: Black tea, caramel, lime zest. That’s a special wine. I love things with hidden depths and flavour to find. My wife will kick me if I go to a Farmers’ Market or somewhere like that and I’ll ask to try the honey. And she’ll say “Oh God, don’t start..”