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Nigel Greening, a Brit, sold his film production company and moved to Bannockburn, New Zealand, to plant the Cornish Point Vineyard. Shortly after, the owner of Felton Road, Stuart Elms, decided to sell his vineyard and winery and Greening snapped it up in 2000. Greening had been the largest private customer of Felton Road in the UK. Greening kept the team in place including winemaker Blair Walter and viticulturist Gareth King.
Felton Road Wines is located in Bannockburn, Central Otago in New Zealand, the most southerly wine growing region in the World. Here, vineyards are nestled into small macroclimates totally surrounded by high mountains, many of which are snow capped all year round. Though the location is on the edge of sustainable viticulture these microclimates consistently combine hot days, cool nights and long dry autumns: perfect for the creation of fine Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Riesling. The latitude of 45 degrees south is similar to the Willamette Valley in Oregon and some of the finest wine regions of France. Of the five distinct microclimates so far identified in Central Otago, Bannockburn, with its gentle north facing slopes and deep loess soils seems well suited to the production of complex Pinot Noir.
The first vineyard, The Elms, was selected by Stewart Elms in 1991 and planted the following year. There were fewer than 75 acres of vines in Central Otago at the time. It located is a north-facing gentle valley, one of the few in Bannockburn to escape the attentions of the gold miners who sluiced many of the Bannockburn slopes. Careful attention was given to the matching of vine varieties and rootstocks to the soil variations that are found on the site. Natural gullies have been retained which guide cold frosty air through the vineyard away from the vines. Today, there are 35 acres of vines at The Elms, about half Pinot Noir, the rest Chardonnay and Riesling
In addition there is a 20-acre vineyard at Cornish Point Vineyard in Bannockburn, dedicated entirely to Pinot Noir. This 25-acre vineyard is planted in loess over river gravels derived from schist. At Cornish Point, there there are 18 different combinations of variety and rootstock, each carefully matched to the soil profiles. The vineyard is designed to allow separate vinification of each section: a veritable laboratory of Pinot Noir and its possibilities.
The winery also has a long term lease on a neighboring vineyard: Calvert Vineyard, which is entirely devoted to Pinot Noir. All of the vineyards are farmed biodynamically and have Demeter certification.
Viticulture makes extensive use of handwork and is heavily influenced by organic and biodynamic practices. The canopies use the Vertical Shoot Position trellis system with all pruning, positioning, shoot thinning, leaf plucking and fruit thinning performed carefully by hand. There is extensive use of cover crops to supply a natural biodiversity in the vineyard which aids vine balance as well as helping control disease and pests. The use of natural manure obtained from organic sources creates a "gentle touch" approach to the vines. Harvesting is by hand starting around the beginning of April and each block is harvested and vinified separately. The three level gravity-flow winery is specifically created to make wine by hand in the gentlest way possible.
Felton Road's winemaker, Blair Walter, studied at Lincoln University and Oregon State University, before working in New Zealand, Australia, Oregon, Napa, and Burgundy. Walter was working in Oregon at Sokol Blosser when Elms started to plant and later helped plan the winery, and ended up becoming both winemaker and a shareholder. His philosophy is to let the fruit speak for itself: gentle handling, as little intervention as possible; wine is given a helping hand to express itself rather than molded into an artificially created winery style. He ferments with indigenous yeasts, uses minimal additions, and avoids fining and filtering.
The Block 3 Pinot Noir is from Elm's original plantings where the soils are schist-derived, fine sandy loam known as Waenga. Block 5 Pinot Noir is planted on loam, clay and gravel and is darker. The Cornish Point Pinot Noir is spicy with strawberry up front. Felton Road Chardonnay and Riesling are also superb examples of Central Otago wine.
The wines are exported to the United States by Wilson Daniels. Production is 12,000 cases annually, 100% of which is estate grown, and includes Riesling and Chardonnay in addition to Pinot Noir.
2014 Felton Road Block 3 Bannockburn Central Otago Pinot Noir
14.0% alc., $69.99. Imported by Young’s Market Co., Tustin, CA. 100% organic and biodynamic viticulture since vineyards first designed beginning in 1991. This wine is taken from older vines in Block 3 of The Elms Vineyard, one of four properties farmed by Felton Road in the Bannockburn subregion of Central Otago. 25% whole clusters, fermented with indigenous yeast, moderately long maceration on skins, aged 13 months in French oak barrels. Bottled unfined and unfiltered. · Moderate reddish purple color in the glass. Engaging aromas of black cherry, sous-bois and tobacco. Beautifully composed, with a delicious attack of black cherry fruit accented with sweet oak and well-proportioned tannins. The finish has remarkable staying power. The oak overlay is not imposing and should further integrate over time. When tasted the following day from a previously opened and re-corked bottle, the wine was even more appealing. Easy to find superlatives for this gorgeous Pinot. Score: 94. Reviewed February 5, 2016 ARTICLE »
2013 Felton Road Bannockburn Central Otago New Zealand Pinot Noir
13.5% alc., $55, screwcap. Imported by The Country Vintner, Inc., Ashland, VA. A blend of three vineyards: Cornish Point, Calvert and The Elms. 25% whole clusters, indigenous yeast fermentation, moderately long maceration on skins, aged 11 months in French oak barrels. Bottled unfined and unfiltered. · Moderately dark reddish purple color in the glass. Lovely aromas of black cherry, rose petal and Asian 5-spice reflecting some whole cluster inclusion. Luscious, yet lively, mid weight flavors of black cherry, black raspberry, blueberry and pomegranate, framed by firm, but balanced tannins. Beautifully composed with the right touch of oak, and a pleasing finish. Score: 92. Reviewed February 5, 2016 ARTICLE »
2012 Felton Road Calvert Central Otago New Zealand Pinot Noir
14.0% alc., $50, screwcap. Biodynamic. · Moderately dark reddish purple color in the glass. The aromatics are very reserved, even with extensive swirling, revealing demure aromas of dark red cherries and berries with a touch of oak. Much more pleasurable on the palate, with a charge of fresh and juicy black raspberry and black cherry fruits, showing impressive persistence on the finish. The rather muscular tannins need more time to integrate, and the aromas have not arrived, but this wine has superb potential. Score: 92. Reviewed August 15, 2014 ARTICLE »
2012 Felton Road Cornish Point Central Otago New Zealand Pinot Noir
14.5% alc., $50, screwcap. Biodynamic. · Moderately dark reddish purple color in the glass. Effusive aromas of fresh black raspberry and boysenberry with a compliment of toasty oak. A suave wine with a silky smooth mouthfeel and very likable dark red berry flavor. The sweet berry fruit builds in intensity on the palate, finishing with a burst of goodness. Oak plays a favorable seasoning role. Score: 91. Reviewed August 15, 2014 ARTICLE »
2010 Felton Road Block 5 Central Otago Pinot Noir
The Central Otago growing region is quite dry with only 14” to 16” of rain annually. The vineyards sit at 650 to 1000 feet and are surrounded by the Southern Alps which shelters them. There is an exceptionally high level of UV radiation. Temperatures cool off dramatically at night from a daytime high in the 80s to a nighttime low in the 30s. · Very fruity aromatics. A plethora of wellspiced dark berries make a statement on the palate, buttressed by soft tannins, balanced acidity and a generous fruit-driven finish. Needs more time in bottle, but hard to resist now. Exceptional. Reviewed August 23, 2012 ARTICLE »
2010 Felton Road Bannockburn Central Otago New Zealand Pinot Noir
14.0% alc., $40, screwcap. Imported by Wilson Daniels, St. Helena, CA. 100% organic and biodynamic viticulture. 20% whole cluster. Wild yeast fermentations, aged 11 months in French oak barrels, unfined and unfiltered. · Moderately dark reddish-purple color in the glass. Aromas of black cherry liquor, black raspberries, blackberries and oak toast. Moderately rich with impressive mid palate presence, a seductively plush mouth feel, and a lengthy finish featuring black raspberry fruit. Oak plays a supporting role and the tannins are well-managed. The most impressive features are the soft, polished texture and the impressive concentration of the fruit. Reviewed October 2, 2012 ARTICLE »
2010 Felton Road Block 3 Central Otago New Zealand Pinot Noir
14.0% alc., $69, screw cap. Imported by Wilson Daniels, St. Helena, CA. · Darkly colored in the glass. Brooding aromas of black fruits, brier, black tea, cardamom spice and leather. Reserved but interesting dark stone fruit and berry flavors with a hint of citrus in the background. A wine of character, tasting mysterious and intriguing but very young and only hinting at its ultimate potential. Silky smooth on the palate with marvelous structure and acid interplay. One of Central Otago’s benchmark wines. Reviewed November 29, 2011 ARTICLE »
2008 Felton Road Central Otago New Zealand Pinot Noir
14.0% alc., screw cap, $33. This is the flagship Pinot Noir from Felton Road. · This wine veers toward the more delicate and nuanced style rather than structural power. The fruity nose changes constantly in the glass revealing scents of black cherries, herbs, root beer, sassafras, and graham. Tasty and juicy medium-bodied melange of blue and dark red fruits with a hint of cream soda. Supple tannins and bright acidity make for easy drinking. Not spectacular, but Very Good. Reviewed April 23, 2010 ARTICLE »
2008 Felton Road Cornish Point Central Otago New Zealand Pinot Noir
14.0% alc., $50, screwcap. Imported by Wilson Daniels, St. Helena, CA. · Moderately dark ruby color in the glass. Haunting perfume of dark stone fruits with hints of oak, compost and pine. Mouth watering and juicy with bright flavors of earth-kissed black cherries, plum sauce, cola, and nutmeg. Well-proportioned tannins and acidity with pleasing persistence of the fruit flavors on the finish. Drinkable now, but can cellar with confidence as it will age effortlessly. The stuff that Pinot dreams are made of. Reviewed November 7, 2010 ARTICLE »
2008 Felton Road Calvert Central Otago New Zealand Pinot Noir
14.0% alc., $58, screw cap. · Darker in color than the regular blended bottling. Subdued aromas of black cherries, plum sauce and woodshed. Delicious core of black cherries and dark berries front and center with complimentary savory herbs and spice. Well-structured with a balancing edge of acidity and moderate tannins. Velvety and very sensual in the mouth. Still very young and will need some cellaring to shed and integrate the tannins. Reviewed April 23, 2010 ARTICLE »
2008 Felton Road Block 3 Central Otago New Zealand Pinot Noir
14.0% alc., $65, screw cap. Imported by Wilson Daniels, St. Helena, CA. Sourced from Felton Road’s original owner’s (Stewart Elms) first plantings on loamy soil, the so-called “sweet-spot” of the vineyard. · Darkest of the three wines reviewed here. Brooding and tight with a hint of smoky black fruits and toasted oak. Picks up fruit intensity and interest over time in the glass. Moderately dense core of earth-laden black plum and cassis fruit with accents of oak. Grand cru flavor intensity and finish. The tannins are still flamboyant and the wine is reluctant to give up its charm now, but will be great in several years. Still closed the following day from a previously opened and re-corked bottle. Very good. Reviewed November 7, 2010 ARTICLE »
2008 Felton Road Block 5 Central Otago New Zealand Pinot Noir
14.0% alc., $65, screw cap. This block is planted on loam, clay and gravel. · Moderately dark reddish-purple color in the glass. Aggressive aromas of dark Bing cherries, forest floor, spice and pencil lead. Dense and unctuous black cherry core with citrus in the background. Fine-tuned tannins buffer the acidity beautifully. An exceptional wine that is really big and really good, but needs time for full expression. Tasted the next day from a previously opened and re-corked bottle, the fruit was more giving but cellaring is definitely indicated. For grown-ups only. Reviewed November 7, 2010 ARTICLE »
2007 Felton Road Central Otago Pinot Noir
14.0% alc., $40, screw cap. · A beautifully composed wine with a delicious mix of dark berries, plums, earth, anise and oak fanning out vibrantly on the palate. Supple tannins softly surround the fruit, the style is graceful and refined, and the balance is perfect. This wine is more forthcoming than the 2006 vintage (which I tasted at the winery) which still needs to shed its tannins. Reviewed October 13, 2008 ARTICLE »
2006 Felton Road Block 3 Central Otago Pinot Noir
The vineyard at Felton Road is certified organic and biodynamic. Owner Nigel Greening, an excellent speaker, noted that biodynamics “is not as wacky as it sounds.” At Felton Road, there are 75 acres planted with 250 acres unplanted. Block 3 is a subsection of the vineyard - the so-called “sweet-spot” of the vineyard. 30% whole cluster. · This is a a great wine that makes you sit up and take notice. Copious, but well framed, dark red fruit nicely complimented by savory Asian spices with an aromatic and tangy finish leaving a refreshing impression. Very classy juice. Reviewed September 15, 2008 ARTICLE »
2006 Felton Road Central Otago Pinot Noir
14.5% alc., $38, screw cap. Imported by Wilson Daniels, St. Helena, CA.. Sourced from the Bannockburn Vineyard. · A complex nose with heady crushed cherry, plum, pepper and hay. A little heat peaks out but is not intrusive. Red and blue fruit flavors lead to a tangy citrus and cherry ending. The most striking feature of this wine is the powerful and persistent finish. Reviewed October 14, 2007 ARTICLE »
2006 Felton Road Calvert Vineyard Central Otago Pinot Noir
13.5% alc., $48, screw cap. Inaugural bottling from the Calvert property. · Lighter crimson in color. Red Pinot fruits star here, particularly Queen Anne cherries. A feminine wine to snuggle up to with soft and persistent fruitiness and a lightly oaked and tangy finish. Reviewed October 13, 2008 ARTICLE »
2004 Felton Road Central Otago Pinot Noir
14.0% alc., $35, screw cap. · Very interesting and complex aromatic profile featuring ripe berries, rhubarb, grass, wood char, and animale. Lithe and seductive blackberry and black raspberry fruit flavors accompanied by a velveteen texture, gossamer tannins and good grippy finish. Reviewed October 13, 2008 ARTICLE »
2004 Felton Road Block 3 Central Otago Pinot Noir
14.0% alc., $49, screw cap. · Alluring Bing cherry and raw meat aromas. Dark red fruits dance on the palate with a touch of mocha, herbs, spice and minerals. Less earthy, redder, spicier and brighter than the Block 5. Very smooth and silky with supple tannins and impeccable balance. A spellbinding wine that belongs in the top echelon of the world’s Pinot Noirs. Reviewed October 13, 2008 ARTICLE »
2004 Felton Road Block 5 Central Otago Pinot Noir
14.0% alc., $49, screw cap. · A big-boned wine with intense flavors that overshadow the restrained aromas of black cherry, blackberry, roasted nuts, herbs and oak. A big gulp of black fruit leads the attack in the mouth, yet the wine is rich, smooth and velvety with a pleasing earthiness and deft use of oak. This wine has a ways to go before it reveals itself completely and should age beautifully for many years to come. Reviewed October 13, 2008 ARTICLE »
2003 Felton Road Central Otago Pinot Noir
14.0% alc., $35, screw cap. · Demure red cherry scents accented with dried herbs, violets, oak, grilled meat and barnyard. Fairly light in weight and a little tart in the mouth with subtle overtones of earth and oak. Nice elegance but a bit austere and acidic and a touch hot on the finish. Reviewed October 13, 2008 ARTICLE »
2003 Felton Road Estate Central Otago New Zealand Pinot Noir
14.0% alc., $35, screw cap. · Pure Pinot Noir. Brisk, bright and modest Pinot fruits with great supporting acidity. A very enjoyable wine accented by a kiss of oak, herbs and cherries on the finish. The nose and flavors offer some earthiness and forest floor so typical of Burgundy. The epitome of balance. You can't ask for much more in a Pinot. Reviewed April 16, 2006
2003 Felton Road Estate Block 3 Central Otago New Zealand Pinot Noir
14.0% alc., $50, screw cap. · Saucy cherries and baking spices on the nose. Perfectly composed vivid Pinot fruits with well integrated spices and herbs. An utter joy and privilege to drink and a benchmark for Middle Earth Pinot Noir. Oh, by the way, there is also a Block 5 bottling which some critics think is the best of all the Felton Road wines. It is no coincidence that Felton Road wines are imported by the same company, Wilson Daniels, that imports Domaine Romanee-Conti to the U.S.. Reviewed April 16, 2006