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Felton Road

felton-road.jpgIt's a big call, particularly given the number of excellent producers in New Zealand today and the amount of exceptional wine made.  But as great as the likes of Bell Hill, Ata Rangi, Pyramid Valley, Te Mata, Kumeu River, Craggy Range and many others are, in my opinion none overhaul the iconic Felton Road at the top of the tree for kiwi wine.
Established by Stuart Elm in 1992 in something of a backwater - Bannockburn, near Lake Dunstan about an hour east of Queenstown, Felton Road winery was really only in its embryonic stages with just a couple of wines released before English amusement park owner Nigel Greening swooped, making Stuart an offer he couldn't refuse.  Nigel knew the wines well - reputedly purchasing nearly half of the wine exported in to the UK - and loved them so much he'd purchased a nearby abandoned orchard and commenced plans to plant to a complex mix of Pinot Noir clones and rootstocks (in what is today known as the Cornish Point vineyard).felton-road-sign.jpg
Today the nearly 15 hectare 'Elms' vineyard - the heart of Felton Road - is planted mostly to Pinot Noir (8 ha), with small parcels of Chardonnay (4ha) and Riesling (2ha) throughout 13 distinct 'blocks' incorporating a wide array of clones and rootstocks, matched to variances in soil types.  The initial nine blocks were planted in 1992 to 1994, whilst the last four blocks were planted in 2001.  Continual replanted has taken place as sub-site preferences and suitabilities for difference varieties or clones or rootstocks have been identified.  The vineyard has been fully organic for more than a decade, and certified demeter biodynamic since 2010.
felton-road-block-3.jpgWinemaking, as you would expect, is a thoughtful yet somewhat simple affair.  The Chardonnay is racked straight to barrel the same day as it's picked, with no solids settling, and this Block 2 bottling spent 17 months on gross lees in barrel, of which a mere 12% were new.  All wines are 100% natural yeast fermented,   The Pinot Noirs are de-stemmed and fermented in open-top fermenters with around 20% whole clusters.  The Pinots spend 11 months and 13 months (Block 3) respectively in barrel prior to bottling unfined and unfiltered.

The Block wines are selected as offering exceptional parcels of fruit, generally more powerful and more complex than the regular selections.  The fruit is only a small portion of each from which they come, and quantities are always tiny - several hundred cases at most.  
It's easy to be a little blasé about New Zealand wine, and I think that most Australians tend to be a little bit nonchalent about some of the truly great, artisanal makers of wine (both in this country and NZ).  Because they've been recognised for quite some time and we manage to get reasonable allocations of them, Felton Road, just like local stars such as Giaconda, Bindi, Jasper Hill, Clonakilla and many others perhaps do not elicit the level of excitement that they should.  These are exceptional wines - truly world class - and are produced in relatively miniscule quantities.  
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