At the #DrinkCheninDay a few months ago, I tasted an impressive Chenin Blanc from Gisborne, New Zealand. When I learned that the owner of the winery, Annie Millton, would be in town to present her wine, I jumped at the chance to meet her.
Located in Gisborne on the eastern coast of North Island, Millton Vineyards was established by James and Annie Millton in 1984 following a winemaking stint in France and Germany. They started by replanting most of Annie’s father’s vineyards and practising organic farming. After just two years, the Milltons turned to biodynamic viticulture – the first vineyard in New Zealand to do so. Their winemaking philosophy is “grown, not made”.
New Zealand wine is mostly single-varietal or Bordeaux blends, and 98.6% of the total vineyard area (36,680ha) is made up of 11 varieties. Gisborne is the most diversified region, with the most other varieties planted (159ha of 1,180ha, equivalent to 13.5%). This is reflected at Millton Vineyards, where over 10 varieties are cultivated.
There are only 22 hectares of Chenin Blanc in New Zealand. Millton Te Arai Vineyard Chenin Blanc 2016 was fermented and matured in old 600-litre barrels. It has pleasant aromas of citrus and white fruits supported by fresh acidity.
Clos de Ste Anne Naboth’s Vineyard Chardonnay 2015, its flagship wine, is elegant with multilayered flavours.
The most intriguing wine at the tasting was Libiamo Field Blend 2017, a blend of Viognier, Marsanne and Muscat fermented and aged on skin for a whopping 200 days! This wine is slightly cloudy, but it has fresh, fruity and herbal aromas. I love its structure and texture on the palate. It may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it has character and is definitely a clean, well-made natural wine. Apparently, the Libiamo blend is different every year. The 2018 vintage is a blend of Viognier, Gewürztraminer, Riesling and Muscat, with only 48 days of skin contact.
Millton’s Chenin Blanc may make one associate it with South Africa, but I think it is its Libiamo that carries the South African winemaking creativity. James and Annie also make a Libiamo Amphora Chenin Blanc and Crazy by Nature Cosmo white and red blends, but these wines are not available in Hong Kong just yet.
Millton Vineyards stands out from other New Zealand wine producers and shows to wine lovers that New Zealand is more than just mainstream wines. I hope we can soon see more diverse New Zealand wines like Millton on the market here.
Millton Vineyards is available in Hong Kong at wine’n’things.
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