Dry River

Owner(s) Neil McCallum, Nick Nicholas, Reg Oliver, Julian Robertson
Web site www.dryriver.co.nz
 
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Dry River

Dry River was the name of one of the oldest Martinborough sheep stations in New Zealand, dating to 1877. It was later renamed Dyerville, and it was near here in 1979 that Neil and Dawn McCallum planted a vineyard. This area has come to be known as the Martinborough Terrace, a gravelly, free-draining area within the lowest rainfall zone in the North Island, located just across the Huangarua River from Te Muna. The Martinborough Terrace appellation has the lowest rainfall on the North Island, a cool-climate appropriate for growing Pinot Noir, and free-draining gravelly soils. There are now more than twenty-five labels originating from this special terroir. In 2002, the winery and 30 acres of vineyards were sold to New York businessman Julian Robertson and California winegrower Reg Oliver who owns El Molino Winery in St. Helena, California. The new owners have infused cash into the operation for expansion and updated equipment. Neil McCallum continues as Chief Winemaker with Katie Hammond assisting. Reg Oliver passed away in 2005 so I am not sure about the current ownership situation.

Two features of vineyard management at Dry River contribute to the style here. No irrigation is employed, despite the low rainfall, causing roots to go very deep for nutrients, stressing the vines, and producing small berries with concentrated flavors. Secondly, crop thinning at veraison is employed to severely limit yields. Neil McCallum makes no apologizes for his resulting style: “My suspicion is that New Zealand and cool maritime climates could have a large impact on the world perception of what Pinot Noir is capable of, although it will take some time before the new styles are completely accepted because Burgundy has been center stage for so long. Our own terroir can yield a predominance of plump, exuberant fruit flavors - to a fault in some instances, but they can also be rich and complex varietal statements. Add concentration and longevity to this, and great wines are possible.”

The Dry River Pinot Noirs are sold mainly by mail order with a small proportion are exported to the United States. One source is Southern Hemisphere Wine Center.

Reviewed Wines

2008 Dry River Martinborough New Zealand Pinot Noir

12.5% alc., $95, long neck bottle. Imported RO Imports LLC, Napa, CA. · Moderately deep reddish-purple hue in the glass. Amazingly vivid array of dark fruit aromas including hi-tone raspberry with nuances of tea and dried rose petals. Delicious and well-mannered complex of cherry and berry flavors with a very subtle leafy note. Seamless and seductive with flavors that caress the mouth and fan out beautifully on the lush and generous finish. More elegant and approachable than some vintages of this wine. One of the world’s greatest Pinot Noirs and one of the most spellbinding Pinot Noirs I have sampled this year. Reviewed November 7, 2010 ARTICLE »

2008 Dry River Martinborough Pinot Noir

12.5% alc., $95. Imported by RO Imports LLC, Napa, CA. · Moderately dark reddish-purple color in the glass. The aromas need time to arrive, eventually showing red berries, spice and vanilla. Delicate in this vintage, with flavors of dark red cherries and berries that are long on the palate. Light on its feet and very supple, the tannins are nicely managed and the wine finishes with some appealing raspberry character. A little better later in the day and much better the next day from a previously opened and recorked bottle. Score: 92. Reviewed September 5, 2013 ARTICLE »

2006 Dry River Martinborough New Zealand Pinot Noir

13.5% alc., $80. Imported by RO Imports, LLC, Napa, CA. · Syrah-like color and structure. Very contemplative nose showing nuanced scents of a variety of wild dark berries, with considerable oak-derived notes of spice, browned marshmallow, brandy, and vanilla. Utterly amazing intense and saturating sun-kissed flavors of plums, blackberries, and currants with a savory, woodsy undertone and a hint of tangerine peel on the extremely long finish. Easy to mistake for a young Grand Cru Burgundy with the biggest tip off being the amazing persistence at the end. Beautifully balanced for the long haul. Still exceptional the next day from a previously opened and re-corked bottle displaying more softness and harmony. A truly unique wine of great distinction that stands out from the crowd. Serve this wine blind to any of your Pinot geek buddies, let them try to guess where it is from, and you will find many surprised winos. Reviewed February 15, 2010 ARTICLE »

2006 Dry River Martinborough New Zealand Pinot Noir

13.5% alc., $90. Imported by RO Imports LLC,, California. · Substantial color and structure. Complex aromatic profile that changes in the glass showing dark berries, vanilla, wood spice, browned marshmallows and brandy. Satisfying flavors of plums, currants, and blackberries with a woodsy and citrus undertone. Intense, even saturating fruit, but not jelly jar rich. Amazing persistence on the finish. The tannic backbone is ripe and substantial and the wine has the balance to age. Easy to mistake for a Grand Cru Burgundy with its expansive and lingering finish. A very unique wine that stands out from the Pinot crowd. Very good. Reviewed December 16, 2009 ARTICLE »

2004 Dry River Martinborough Pinot Noir

13.0% alc., $70, numbered bottles, cork closure. McCallum reported that in 2004 only a few frosts were met with (helicopter protection was used only three times) and there was no damage to the flowers. The growing season was wet but conditions were consistently warm producing solid cropping levels and boosting phenolic ripeness. A more forward wine than the expected to be long-lived 2003 vintage. · A darkly colored wine with a heady nose of black cherries and plums with a smoky oak accent. Fig, prune, black cherry and plum flavors on the doorstep of overripeness but never crossing the threshold. The complexity is astonishing with exotic spices and a number of flavors I have never encountered with Pinot Noir. An epiphanic wine that was the best Pinot Noir I tasted among all the wines from New Zealand reviewed in this issue. Reviewed October 13, 2008 ARTICLE »

2003 Dry River Martinborough Pinot Noir

13% alc., $70, numbered bottles. The 2003 vintage at Dry River was very dry and yields were small. The fruit for this wine was harvested at 1.2 tons per acre. McCallum notes that in a recent vertical tasting of Dry River Pinot Noirs, the 1989 through 1991 vintages were still showing extremely well. Proper cellaring will be rewarded. Bob Campbell, MW, said it best: “This wine is not a fruit bomb - it’s a time bomb.” · The color is a strikingly dark violet. A deep, rich nose features ripe cherries, raspberries, vanilla and smoke. The mouth feel is very big and plush with generous amounts of sweet fruit. The finish is clean and lengthy and echoes licorice, dark stone fruits, and pleasing oak. The wine has a great backbone of acidity and tannins. This Pinot noir has a very powerful charisma. Reviewed October 23, 2006 ARTICLE »

2003 Dry River Martinborough Pinot Noir

13.0% alc., $70, numbered bottles, cork closure. The 2003 vintage at Dry River was very dry and yields were small. The fruit for this wine was harvested at 1.2 tons per acre. · The color is a strikingly dark violet. A deep and rich nose features ripe cherries, raspberries, vanilla and smoke. The mouth feel is very big and plush with generous amounts of sweet fruit. The finish is clean and lengthy and echoes licorice, dark stone fruits, and pleasing oak. The wine has an impressive backbone of acidity and tannins. A Pinot Noir with very powerful charisma. (Reviewed October 13, 2006) Reviewed October 13, 2008 ARTICLE »