The wines of Neudorf, Nelson
An in-depth look at one of New Zealand's top producers

Tim and Judy Finn’s Neudorf Estate is one of New Zealand’s most respected producers. Based in the Nelson region, at the top of North Island, they make excellent Chardonnay, Riesling, Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir from their 33 hectares of vines, spread over two sites: the home vineyards at Moutere, and a second site at Brightwater, south of Nelson. I caught up with them to hear their story and taste their wines, including some back vintages.

Back in the 1970s Tim Finn was a research scientist at Ruakura Agricultural Research Centre in Hamilton. His speciality was animal behaviour. In particular, he was studying the social and disease problems in New Zealand dairy herds that were the result of herd sizes increasing from 150 to around 600. ‘I enjoyed it,’ he recalled, ‘but it wasn’t something I could do myself out in the country. The “back to the land” movement was calling us.’

Near to Ruakura was the Te Kauwhata Viticultural Research Station. It was at this time that Tim got interested in wine and began thinking about growing grapes. ‘I realized that I didn’t want to be a scientist forever.’

Heading-up Te Kauwhata was Dr Rainer Eschenbruch, a soil scientist. ‘The sad thing is that the industry was paying no attention to him,’ says Finn. ‘He’d been telling them that they shouldn’t add water to wine and things like that.’ The flip side of this was that Eschenbruch had time to spend with people who would listen, such as Tim.

Finn recalls that these were exciting times. ‘New Zealand was just starting to come to terms with the wines of the world, and there were lots of interesting wines at the research station.’ Along with Tim and his wife Judy, lots of people were joining the industry who hadn’t been in it before. ‘I had to try to convince Judy to leave the joys of middle class New Zealand to head out to the hippy land of upper Moutere.’

Tim and Judy moved to Nelson in 1976 to look for land that would suit them. He was still working as a government scientist. ‘On paper Nelson had a lot going for it,’ says Finn. ‘It was an alternative place—it still is—and at the time had lots of communes. The 1960s had had its effect.’

Tim, with long hair and a beard, bought an old commune called ‘Farmagusta’, which at its height had been home to 20 people. When Tim and Judy bought the land, there were still two families on it. 

The Finns were pioneers as winegrowers in the region. ‘Hermann Seifried was already there. When we came to look and bought our land we didn’t realise he was down the road from us. He started at pretty much the same time.’

‘We started off with about 5 acres, and we grafted the vines ourselves. We made a little grafting machine of three saw blades. First of all we put the vines under heat and humidity in a downstairs toilet, and then we grew them in a nursery for a while. It was very hard to get rootstock. Hermann told us we should be on rootstock but no one had bulked it up.’

The first vintage was 1981, with some Riesling, Chardonnay and Gamay Beaujolais (which turned out to be misnamed – it was actually a clone of Pinot Noir). ‘I thought “shit I don’t want to be famous for an ersatz Beaujolais”’ says Tim. ‘But we realized it was Pinot Noir and cut down crop, and made a Pinot Noir.’ He was really pleased with the first Chardonnay. ‘Even though it was unoaked, it had some great character to it.’

‘I worked out we could earn $64 000 a year, and said to Judy that if we didn’t do this we could head back to the city. We never did go back.’

Tim reflects: ‘going through 30 years of vintage gives you a lot of insight. We didn’t know what New Zealand could produce, and we didn’t know what we could produce. We’ve been through a time when the change in the New Zealand industry has been so huge. If you look at the next 30 years, we’ll have old vines and more knowledge. The future for the NZ wine industry is great.’

Judy Finn adds, ‘to make wine was the first challenge. To make good wine was the next challenge. The goalpoasts have moved out: the country now wants to make great wine. For people like us, there is no point in making wine that is a commodity. We have to make wine that has spiritual and artistic integrity.’    

I think the wines are superb. My pick of the bunch isn't the more famous Pinot Noir, but the Chardonnay, which is world class.


Tasted 10/10: 

Neudorf Sauvignon Blanc 2009 Nelson
13% alcohol. Very aromatic and fresh with nice tropical notes and rounded fruit. The palate is lively with grapefruit and tropical fruit notes, and lots of presence. Really good stuff. 91/100

Neudorf Riesling Moutere 2009 Nelson
9% alcohol. Crisp and limey on the nose, leading to a fresh, limey palate with real texture and presence. Very bright with lovely sweetness and good acidity. Youthful and primary. 90/100

Neudorf Brightwater Riesling 2009 Nelson
12% alcohol. Reductive with a matchstick edge to the nose. Fresh and limey. Crisp, tight and limey on the palate with high acidity. Just off-dry. 89/100

Neudorf Riesling Moutere 2002 Nelson
10% alcohol. Showing a bit of evolution on the nose with a hint of petrol as well as bright citrus notes. The palate is lively with a nice texture and a creamy finish, with a hint of residual sugar. 90/100

Neudorf Maggie’s Block Pinot Gris 2009 Nelson
13.5% alcohol. Fresh and aromatic with a grapey nose. Nice purity of fruit on the palate which is textured yet dry with melon richness and a bit of smokiness. Very nice. 91/100

Neudorf Pinot Gris Moutere 2009 Nelson
13% alcohol. Grapey, melony fruit with some smokiness on the nose, as well as an attractive herbiness. The palate is grapey and rich with nice texture and melony richness. Hint of sweetness. 90/100

Neudorf Pinot Gris Moutere 2001 Nelson
14% alcohol. Interesting melony, herby nose with melon richness and citrus freshness. Quite powerful and very fruity. Broad, herby palate has nice intensity of melon and citrus fruit. Distinctive. 92/100

Neudorf Chardonnay 2008 Nelson
13.5% alcohol. Taut, reduced, mineral nose leads to a palate showing taut, lively, toasty, nutty notes. Lovely freshness and an appealing savoury dimension. 92/100

Neudorf Chardonnay Moutere 2008 Nelson
Taut, toasty nose is lively and fresh with some citrus and nut character. Crisp and bold in the mouth with lovely fresh complexity and a lively, intense personality. One for the long haul. 93/100

Neudorf Chardonnay Moutere 2002 Nelson
14% alcohol. Rich, toasty, creamy and buttery, with some nutty notes. Lively and mineral in the mouth with appealing toastiness and fresh finish. Exciting. 93/100

Neudorf Chardonnay Moutere 2000 Nelson (from magnum – 20 were made, cork sealed)
Really complex with nice matchstick reduction. Crisp, mineral citrus and pear fruit with some toasty notes. Lovely fruit here with real precision and richness, finishing fresh. This is evolving beautifully. Thrilling wine. 95/100

Neudorf Pinot Noir Moutere 2008 Nelson
14% alcohol. Lovely right, aromatic nose of dark cherries. Focused and fresh with real vibrancy. The palate is fresh and has nice cherry fruit with a hint of sappiness and an almost metallic spiciness on the finish. 91/100

Neudorf Tom’s Block Pinot Noir 2008 Nelson
13.5% alcohol. Sappy, vivid and elegant cherry fruit nose. The palate has crisp cherry fruit as well as nice greenness. Juicy and bright. 91/100

Neudorf Pinot Noir Moutere 2004 Nelson
14.5% alcohol. Lovely cherry fruit nose with some herby complexity. Taut undergrowth notes complement the fresh cherry fruit, adding a nice savoury dimension. 92/100

Neudorf Pinot Noir Home Vineyard 2006 Nelson (magnum)
Vibrant dark cherry and plum fruit nose with some spiciness and a subtle green herbal edge. The palate is dense, spicy and a touch green with lively fruit. Slightly sweet and sour. 91/100

Neudorf Pinot Noir Moutere 2000 Nelson (Magnum)
Very sweet aromatic nose with cherries and sweet, spicy, fudge and soy sauce overtones. The palate is sweet showing some tar and spice evolution. Complex, warm, spicy and rich with nice complexity. 92/100

Tasted 10/09:

Neudorf Sauvignon Blanc 2008 Nelson
Intense, fresh and grassy with nice fruit as well as green herbal notes. A rich, complete style. 90/100

Neudorf Chardonnay 2006 Nelson
Very bold, toasty and dense with pungent notes of figs, herbs and pineapple. Concentrated and bold with dense herby fruit. 92/100

Neudorf Chardonnay Moutere 2006  Nelson
Sophisticated and intense with notes of toast, lime and pineapple. The palate has elegance combined with power. Intense, bold and spicy with high acidity. Lovely. 94/100

Neudorf Pinot Noir Moutere 2006 Nelson
Bright and nicely aromatic with floral cherry fruit nose. The palate is elegant with a hint of meatiness to the lovely fruity palate. 90/100

See also:

Visiting New Zealand: Central Otago
Visiting New Zealand: Marlborough, Waipara, Hawkes Bay and Gisborne

Published 06/11  
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