Blackenbrook vineyard recently celebrated its tenth birthday. As vineyards go, it is pretty young — not even a teenager yet. Don’t let its youth confuse you though. Its wines would suggest a much more established vineyard.
The idyllic 20-hectare vineyard, with a northern aspect, looks over Tasman and the Moutere Inlet. Ursula and Daniel Schwarzenbach first planted vines here in 2000. They were both born in Switzerland, but Daniel has been in New Zealand so long there is just the barest hint of a Swiss accent. Daniel is the winemaker and Ursula takes care of the marketing — one of those husband and wife combos that you find in a number of boutique wineries.
Daniel originally started in the medical arena but decided winemaking seemed a lot more interesting. He retrained and took part in vintages in Austria, Germany and France’s Alsace region. Then he worked with Seifried and Kahurangi, before embarking on his own venture. That early European experience can be detected in the couple’s wines, particularly the aromatics.
Blackenbrook doesn’t have as high a profile as some other wineries in the region. Its wines are not in supermarkets and they don’t operate a tasting facility, although they do have tastings if pre-arranged. It is truly a boutique vineyard, producing just 4,000 cases annually.
Blackenbrook grows seven varieties — Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Muscat, Pinot Noir, Montepulciano, Pinot Gris and Gewürztraminer. They had a small block of Riesling but this was removed and will be replanted on a different part of the vineyard. One thing that is evident in whatever variety they are making is the thread of quality that runs throughout their wines.
The Sauvignon Blanc is an award-winner with wonderful tropical tones, still fresh but without that griping green acidity. The Muscat is not a common variety in Nelson and this one is in a drier style for the grape, packed with flavour yet refreshing. Served chilled, it is a great summer afternoon wine. For me, however, the two white wine stars of this vineyard are the Pinot Gris and Gewürztraminer. Both are made medium-dry, just as aromatics should be, and emulate the Alsace style. These are wonderful wines with persistent flavour and superb mouth-feel — unctuous and delicious. The Gewürtz just goes on and on, and the Pinot Gris is a wine that could turn you into an alcoholic. It’s impossible to put down.
The real surprise for me was the Pinot Noir. When I was there I tried two: the Blackenbrook Reserve 2012, the top label; and the St Jacques, Blackenbrook’s second label. I have been critical of Nelson Pinots for exhibiting green fruit characteristics. This certainly was not the case with these two wines. The reserve was harmonious without any unpleasantly hard tannins. A little shy at first, it developed into an absolute winner when it was given some air. Its brother, the St Jacques Pinot, also exhibited beautiful fruit but was a little more edgy. It would be perfect with a barbecued steak, while its posh brother would match nicely with lamb or duck.