There is something going on at Woollaston Estates in Nelson; there’s movement at the station, word has got around. I recently spent a very enjoyable afternoon with Shane Munn, the winemaker, tasting wine from the bottle and the barrel. There’s a sniff of mad scientist about Munn — unruly hair and a focused mind — and he has a completely unaffected artistic look to him. All very apt as we tasted wine in Renee and Glenn Schaeffer’s house at the vineyard, a beautiful, modern home, stuffed full of incredible art. In fact, there’s art everywhere at Woollaston. In the winery, tasting room, barrel room and vineyard, wonderful sculptures and paintings abound. These art pieces have been placed on the estate, at considerable expense, not to improve the wine but purely for aesthetics. I like that.
In tasting the estate’s latest offering I can detect a real change in the style and quality of the wines. This could be due to a number of things, not least that the vines are that much older and producing more intense fruit, and the team has got on top of the various terroirs within the vineyard and are using them to their best advantage. However, I think one of the major reasons is Shane Munn, the winemaker. He has been at the winery for over two years and you can definitely taste his touch within the varieties they produce.
As Woollaston is an organic vineyard, Munn wants the grapes and wine to reflect place and time with minimal interference. One thing I really like about his winemaking is that he is trying to enhance the qualities of the grapes to make wines of character, essentially producing a distinctive Woollaston brand. From what I have tried, he is succeeding.
As an example, we tasted an experimental barrel of Sauvignon Blanc that had been fermented on skins and placed in an acacia barrel, undergoing malolactic fermentation. I really liked it, and while Munn admitted that this particular experiment will not be produced in commercial quantities, some of the qualities developed while making it may find their way into the mainstream brands.
As for the wines, I like the direction the vineyard is heading in. The Rieslings, both the Mahana and Woollaston brands, are excellent but are made in slightly different styles. The Woollaston 2013 Riesling is in the German style, with lowish alcohol content and residual sugar, and is fantastic. The Mahana Riesling 2013 is in a drier style with more minerality, perhaps not as unctuous as the Woollaston but still a great wine.
For me, the wines with the greatest promise and excitement are the Pinot Noirs. Munn has managed to create Pinots that have body, with excellent fruit and tannin balance. These are not the light, perfumed quaffing Pinots that seem to be everywhere; they are a more serious, complex version. Drinking well now, they are only going to get better. The Sauvignon Blancs have a distinct French style to them; still obviously displaying Nelson characteristics, with the barrel fermentation giving them weight and texture — excellent.
This is an exciting time for Woollaston Estates, and while Munn may not have the wines exactly where he wants them, he has certainly put them on an express train in the right direction. Buy your ticket for this train now — it will certainly be worth it.