Wednesday, 27 April 2016

Black to Basics

Producer: Black Estate

It’s comforting to know that despite increasing decrepitude I can still muster enough energy to do the things I want before losing the ability to distinguish a Pouilly-Fuissé from a Pouilly-Fumé. While visiting the South Island of New Zealand, the timing was perfect to squeeze in a refreshing morning swim with wild dolphins in Kaikoura before driving one and a half hours to Waipara for an appointment with Black Estate. There was scarce time to admire the coastline but I did manage to get a few shots of the ruggedly beautiful scenery at one of the thoughtfully placed pitstops along the way. Road accidents, many caused by driver fatigue, is taken seriously here.

This was my second time visiting Waipara, a small region that bears a clutch of family-run wineries. I had previously visited Pegasus Bay and its beautiful lawns, but was unable to eat at their famed restaurant due to a labour shortage which had forced a temporary closure. Fortunately it seems that the region is continuing a steady recovery, as evidenced by the number of visitors and traffic on the roads. Black Estate also accommodates a restaurant, a chic yet welcoming setup with tall windows that allow for plenty of natural light and great views of the surrounding vineyards. The menu is sourced from locally farmed ingredients, and in a country where the produce is as fresh and delicious as New Zealand, there really is no reason to go any further than your own back yard. My main course was gurnard (a type of bottom-dwelling fish) with potato mash and cavolo nero, a flavourful dish where the ingredients spoke for themselves. The restaurant makes good use of colour to enhance visual appeal, and our camera phones came out automatically when the appetisingly presented cheese platter arrived. 

Black Estate is run by the husband and wife team of Nicholas Brown and Penelope Naish. The Naish family bought the winery from Russell Black in 2007, hence its name. Penelope’s previous career was as a high-powered corporate lawyer, a role that she says prepared her for running Black Estate as General Manager. The estate has been on a steady route towards organic and biodynamic viticulture. “Our philosophy is that we want a very true expression of what grows here. We hope to get the best, honest flavours with organics and as a result we've become very passionate about the environment.” She likens the use of chemicals in the vineyard to applying makeup to cover flaws, and states that biodynamics aims to address root problems rather than treating the symptoms.

The winemaking sheds are where Nicholas (pictured above) can be found hovering over the open-top fermenters where the juice slowly percolates into wine. The homely setup reflects the amount of manual work and attention required during the harvest season. Absent are the rose bushes used by some wineries as early detectors of fungal diseases. Nicholas explains that they are in the vineyard so frequently that they would be quick to notice any problems. The original plot has been supplemented by two other vineyards that the family has purchased, Damsteep and Netherwood, leading to a total size of 24 hectares. I found the wines to be supple and light with an emphasis on freshness rather than alcohol and power. As Nicholas explains, this is due to two factors; the soil type and the propensity to pick early. Apart from the mainstays of Riesling, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, Black Estate also produces a light, refreshing rosé made from co-fermented Chardonnay and Pinot Noir with partial carbonic maceration.

Black Estate currently does not have any distributors in Singapore, but a list of stockists in other countries can be found at Well worth seeking out.

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