Less than 150 years ago the land where this vineyard is now planted was under water. This is New Zealand’s Gimblett Gravels in Hawkes Bay, on the east coast of the North Island. 150 years ago this was a flat coastal plain over which a wide river's many channels meandered on their way to the sea. An earthquake in 1867 tilted the land and the river changed course leaving the river bed dry.
Under a thin layer of topsoil the ground is composed of gravel pebbles that go down for many metres, sometimes interspersed with layers of silt and clay, all deposited by the river over aeons. Vines planted on these beds of flat smooth grey oval gravel pebbles must search for sustenance far down in one of the islands of silt and clay. The land doesn’t hold water and so drip irrigation is a must for vines to survive. Poor soil means less vigorous growth, small berries and more intense flavours. The unique terroir with temperatures 3°C higher than surrounding areas, close proximity to the sea and its cooling effects and the skill of grape growers combine to produce what many believe are New Zealand’s best wines, including Babich Winemakers Reserve Pinotage.
The family owned Babich Wines was founded in 1916. Babich now own vineyards in four regions of New Zealand with the majority of them in Hawkes Bay on the east coast of the North Island, where the Gimblett Gravels are.
In the Cape in 2001 we held the first international Pinotage tasting and to everyone’s surprise, by just one point, Babich 2001 Winemakers Reserve came top. “But this is Pinotage!" exclaimed Chairman of the Pinotage Association Beyers Truter who had been certain that it was South African.
The back label says “Enjoyable now, it will improve for several years in the cellar.” It is now seven years later, the wine is nine years old. How has it held up?
Gimblett Road Vineyard
Hawkes Bay 14% abv
Dry raisin nose, maybe a bit Port like, but on the palate there’s an initial burst of sweet blueberry flavours. It is a big wine, really spicy and tangy and there is there is an underlying layer of Christmas fruitcake. Soft, barely present vanilla tannins with a lick of caramel and warm rich blueberry ripeness. This is a delicious wine, but it is probably time to drink up should you have any left.