Part 5: New Zealand's Central Otago region

Rippon was one of the pioneering Central Otago wine producers, but they're located quite a distance from the main regions of Gibbston, Alexandra and the Cromwell basin, up at Wanaka, bordering lake Wanaka in a spectacular setting.

The Rippon story is an interesting one. Back in the early 19th century Frederick Sargood married Emma Rippon, daughter of the Chief Cashier of the Bank of England. In 1850 they moved from England to Melbourne, where Sargood established a soft goods business that went on to be a great success. Frederick's son, also named Frederick, joined the family business and also had a political career. He built a large home, called Rippon Lea, in Elstenwick, Melbourne, which is still there.

One of Frederick's sons, Percy, came out to New Zealand, and built a home which he also named Rippon Lea, as well as buying Wanaka station in 1912. It was Percy's grandson, Rolfe Mills, who first brought vines to Wanaka. He'd been serving on submarines during the last war, and on his way back home he visited Portugal, where he saw vineyards planted on schist soils. He realized that he had schist on his own estate, and this planted a seed in his mind.

But on his return, Rolfe was ushered into the family business of warehousing, so it wasn't until 1975 that he got to play with vines. He experimented, and then in 1982 planted the first commercial block. Rippon was born; one of the very first Central Otago wineries. Rolfe planted everything he could get his hands on, and a period of experimentation showed that it was Pinot Noir and Riesling that did best here.

Since 2003, Rolfe's son Nick has been in charge. When I visited, on a gorgeous summer afternoon, I was received by Jo, Nick's wife, and Brett Reddington (below), assistant winemaker. Later on I was to catch up with Nick and Jo in Wellington, and later with Nick in London, so my notes here are from a number of separate tastings.

Nick and Jo farm their vines biodynamically, and the vineyard is separated into a number of smaller parcels, all of which perform differently. The property is on a gentle slope that leads down to Lake Wanaka, whose water mass moderates the temperature by acting as a heat sink.

Nick uses some whole bunches in the Pinot Noir ferments, but decisions are made based on the fruit. 'We do some whole bunches, says Nick, but this is all done on the sorting table.' He adds that, 'the sorting table isn't about taking stuff off, but it's for me to taste pips and skins, and figure out what raw material we have. If we can chew the stems through then we'll put them in. I'd put in 100% whole clusters if we could. It's a better ferment.' Nick claims that the stems give the wine better structure, allow the yeasts to move around more easily, and the pressing is better. Overall, Rippon Pinot Noir has 25-40% whole clusters. ‘The vineyard is incredibly parcellated,’ says Nick, ‘with all these small microferments. If we get something really good, then we'll put the whole lot in and do 100% stems, but if grapes come in that I don't like the taste of we'll use no stems.’

Jo Mills (above); Nick Mills (below)

Until 2008, just two Pinots were made: Jeunesse and the Rippon Pinot. Then, from 2008, two single parcel vines were produced in addition: Tinker's Field and Emma's Block. In order to preserve the quality of the main Pinot, just 80 cases of each were made, which is equivalent to two barrels of each. The vines under 15 years old go into Jeunesse.

Closure choice is of interest here. Natural cork was used for a long time. Now Diam is the closure preferred. The results seem pretty good, and yet Rippon seem to get some stick for not going to screwcap like almost all the rest of the New Zealand industry.

The wines are hugely impressive, aiming at elegance, complexity and balance over power. The rare chance to taste the 1990 was a treat - the wine had evolved beautifully. 2008 is certainly a good vintage here, and from the barrel samples I tasted, 2009 looks like a very successful vintage too.


Rippon Pinot Noir 2007
Beautifully elegant with nice savoury, spicy notes and good structure underneath bright, fresh dark cherry and berry fruit. Nice freshness, combining sweetness and savouriness at the same style. Quite an elegant style. 93/100 09/10

Rippon Pinot Noir 2008
Fresh, bright, elegant cherry fruit nose with some minerality and gently sappy character. The palate is smooth and elegant with bright berry fruit and fresh cherry notes with some spicy structure. Very fine mineral notes here. Light style but still lots of flavour. 94/100 09/10

Rippon Pinot Noir 2008
Sweet, herby warm cherry fruit nose. The palate is broad and supple with nice freshness and fruit purity backed up by some structure. Nice presence here. 92/100 02/10

Rippon Pinot Noir 2006
Wonderfully pure focused cherry fruit nose with lovely structure on the palate. Nice savouriness with good spiciness and lovely presence. Sweet and ripe but also nicely structured. 92/100 02/10

Rippon Pinot Noir 2003
Nick's first vintage. Lovely spicy wildness to the nose: complex, with mineral and iodine notes. Elegant, focused, spicy palate with lovely complexity. Brilliant stuff with lots of non-fruit complexity. Brilliant effort. 95/100

Rippon Emma's Block Pinot Noir 2008
Planted in 1991, this is a block down on the lake front. The Rippon Vineyards consist largely of schisty gravels with clay leves running through the blocks, and there's some clay in this block, along with the fine schist gravels. Fresh, pure, elegant cherry fruit nose in a light red fruit style, as well as subtle herby notes. Very fine and elegant with some sweetness. The palate is super-smooth and elegant with lovely precise red cherry fruit and some strawberry notes. Very fine and pure. 95/100 09/10

Rippon Emma's Block Pinot Noir 2008
Very focused fresh spicy, Burgundian nose with dark cherries and hints of earth. The palate has some sweetness, a bit of structure and it's beautifully expressive and complex. 95/100 02/10

Rippon Tinker's Field Pinot Noir 2008
Planted in 1982 and 1989 on own roots. Not irrigated, and managed biodynamically since 2003. Coarse schist gravels. Lively nose of red and dark cherry fruit with some spiciness. Quite fine. The palate is powerful with fresh, spicy, herby cherry fruit. A rich, spicy Pinot but it still has some elegance. 94/100 09/10

Rippon Tinker's Field Pinot Noir 2008
Beautifully perfumed and aromatic with subtly sappy cherry fruit. The palate is elegant and pure with open fruit backed up by good structure. Serious effort. 94/100 02/10

Rippon Pinot Noir 1990
This was made by Rudi Bauer. Very elegant, smooth with some evolution. Fresh with good minerality. Beautifully elegant and a bit sappy with real vibrancy. It’s alive. Fantastic. 94/100 02/10

Rippon Riesling 2007
Very nicely aromatic with bold flavours of lime, lemon, apple and honey. Concentrated and limey on the palate with nice intensity. 91/100 02/10

Rippon Riesling 2003
Very precise and limey with great power and complexity. Almost structured, with youthful primary fruit. Youthful and citrussy. 02/10

Cask samples:

J Block 2009 Jeunesse
Juicy, focused and bright with nice precision, purity and fruit.

P Block
Very fine aromatics here and nice precision. Good acidity. Serious, fine.

Tinker's Field 2009
More intense and vivid with a precise, mineral nose. Lovely structure and depth. Taut, spicy, structured – splendid.

Tinker's Field 2009 (new oak, different bit, different clone)
Sweeter with dark cherry and spice, as well as a bit of chocolate. The palate is fruity and focused with good depth. Nice stuff.

Hill Block 2009
In time this may become another single-block wine. It's a gravelly, exposed site. Very pretty aromatics with pure red fruits. Lovely fresh red fruits on the palate. Expressive and pretty.

UK agent: Lea & Sandeman

See also: Photos of Rippon

A short film from my visit:


Felton Road
Mount Difficulty
Pisa Range 
Gibbston Valley

Wines tasted 02/10  
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