Peter Morrell meets head winemaker Hugh Crichton and finds out why their wines are consistent award winners
My first introduction to a Vidal wine was both memorable and pleasurable. My wife and I were on the tiny Channel Island of Alderney and we were staying at the beautiful Braye Beach Hotel. The very genial general manager Richard arranged a special dinner for us of lobster, crab and halibut which had been caught that day. I left the wine choice to Richard who produced a bottle of Vidal Sauvignon Blanc 2014, it was a match made in heaven.
So when I was recently invited to meet Hugh Crichton, creator of this New Zealand nectar I jumped at the chance. When I me Hugh, a native New Zealander, he talked about his transition from a career in the UK working in commerce to a wine course at Plumpton College. From there his wine journey continued, working at Chateau Soutard Grande Cru Classe in Saint Emilion France, Chard Farm in Central Otago, Donnafugata in Italy and at the Millton Vineyards in Gisborne where his inspiration for environmentally conscious and organic winemaking and viticulture was fostered.
The Estate was started by a young Spanish emigrant, Anthony Joseph Vidal. He was one of the first winemakers to appreciate the natural potential of the Hawkes Bay area. He purchased a small property in Hastings and established the Vidal Estate in 1905. His spirit of adventure coupled with a lifelong commitment to crafting classic, elegant wines remains an inspiration to this day. Hugh started at the Vidal estate in 2004 and became head winemaker in 2006. Over that time he has broadened the range of wines and steadily increased their quality.
There are a number of different price points for the wine, I started at the entry level with the same wine I enjoyed so much on Alderney, the Sauvignon Blanc 2014. This offered distinct notes of gooseberry and passion fruit underpinned with fresh grassy aromas. I moved on to the 2015 vintage and it was quite a different wine, the grass was there but there was also more peach and lemon on the palate. There have been two well deserved awards for the 2014, at the Decanter Asia Wine Awards 2015 and the New Zealand international Wine Show 2015. The price point for this in the UK is about £11.
Hugh has a passion for producing world class Chardonnays and the next wine, the Vidal Reserve Chardonnay 2014 was an example. This had beautifully balanced citrus and floral tones with some good mineral and oak flavours and a crisp finish. Expect to pay around £15-£16 for this wine.
The International Wine Challenge award winner Vidal Legacy Chardonnay 2012 was another fine demonstration of quality, lots of citrus and nutty aromas with that background of what the Franch call “goût de pierre à fusil”, the taste of gunflint. The next wine, the 2014 vintage of the Chardonnay Legacy had equal class and certainly would give any Burgundy a run for its money. These wines are at the top end of the range being priced at around £40.
It was time to move on to the reds which are regarded as exceptional, this is in large measure due to Hugh’s winemaking skills and helped by the ‘terroir’ or environment in which the grapes are grown. Part of Vidal’s terroir is the Gimblett Gravels. This area of land was created in 1867 during a storm when the Ngaruroro River changed its course. The river had deposited low grade stony soil which was poorly regarded by farmers. It was however ideal for growing grapes, being free draining and full of minerals, so from the late1970s there was widespread planting of vines. The added bonus is that the stones act like a storage radiator, slowly releasing heat and keeping the area a few degrees warmer than the surrounding land.
The first red I sampled was the Vidal Estate Merlot Cabernet 2013, it gave intense red fruit in the bouquet, delivered rich spicy notes on the palate and left a long finish. The price point here is about £13. The next was the Vidal Reserve Syrah 2013, this had red berry fruit on the nose which developed into spicy tastes with hints of violet on the palate and left a smooth finish. This wine is priced around £16.
The grand finale was the Vidal Legacy Syrah 2010, a truly majestic wine. This showed lovely fruit and floral notes again with some violets. It had a lovely mouthfeel with warming spices and well balanced tannins, and left a rich, satisfying finish. Expect to pay around £40 for this
This had been a fascinating meeting with Hugh who showcased the quality and variety of wines being produced in New Zealand evidenced by the clutch of international awards that Vidal have won.
Vidal Wines are available from good wine merchants. For more information about Vidal go to www.vidal.co.nz