No, your eyes do not deceive you, we are representing a New Zealand winery. Not just any winery, mind, but Bellbird Spring, the result of the vision of an old friend of mine, Guy Porter. We met on the Diploma course in 1991 and cut our teeth on the kind of wines that today one can only dream about drinking. I went on to do an MW and Guy studied winemaking at what was then Roseworthy. When he left I made one of those promises that you do when emotions are running high: I told him that if he ever made his own wine, I’d import it.
A man of my word, and here we are, 20 years later. I’ve been to see him twice and it’s clear that all his classical training in the UK has not been forgotten. I’m no New World expert but I can’t think of many wineries in the Southern hemisphere that never either chaptalise or, more surprisingly, acidify. His vineyards in Waipara are cut off from the sea and back onto the Mount Donald hills. Winter here is damn cold, harvests are late, and frost damage is a way of life. All the ‘Block’ series are hand-harvested and fermented with natural yeasts in old French oak. Guy’s wines are as artisanal as anything on our list and there’s more than just a hint of the Walter Massa about him.
Mouthfeel is a word that Guy uses again and again and it’s the wines’ European structure that I find so appealing. The Home Block White captures this beautifully and is a field blend of Riesling, Muscat, Gewürz and Pinot Gris. Yields were less than 4 t/ha and Guy chose not to inoculate even when the yeast fell asleep on the job. There’s a spoonful of residual with firm acidity to balance and the understated fruit character we prize in Alsace. I wouldn’t be surprised if this ages for a decade. The Pinot Noir is just as elegant. There’s a little (20%) new oak but it’s the concentrated fruit from his cherished Dijon clones that really sets this apart. We blind tasted his Pinot in a flight Kiwi Pinot Who’s Who and it showed well - not the biggest but certainly the most complete in this price range. Finally, there’s his work-a-day Pruners Reward. The Porter family resemblance is clear but it’s machine harvested from rented vineyards and is pitched at a more friendly price.
Michael Cooper Scores Bellbird Spring - June 2017