The wines of Corofin, interpreting interesting Marlborough terroirs through the lens of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir
For me, Corofin is one of Marlborough’s (and New Zealand’s) most exciting wine projects. The people behind it are Mike and Anna Paterson, and the idea is to tell the new Marlborough story: interesting, organically farmed terroirs seen through the lens of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.
First vintage was 2012, and since this start new vineyards have been added. Mike says that he’s begun picking earlier, because there’s no one who regrets picking too early, but plenty of people who revisit their wines and then wish they’d not waited so long to pick. Part of the problem is waiting for uniform ripeness, which usually means that a lot of the fruit is a bit over-ripe. ‘It is easier said than done,’ he admits. ‘We are lucky that we are only taking three or four tons, so this allows us to pick on the cusp of ripeness.’
The Marlborough story is evolving as quite a few people are now focusing on making single-site wines. ‘In Marlborough there are plenty of great vineyards,’ says Mike, ‘but for many of these sites, there’s only one person speaking about them.’ He envisions a scenario where there’s a collective realization of which sites are effectively Marlborough’s Grand Crus. This could happen if in addition to the winery vineyard owners, other people made wine of these top sites.
Mike really likes working with Chardonnay. ‘As a winemaker you have a bit more impact with the Chardonnay,’ he says. ‘There’s always a sense of detail. With Pinot, if you pick it at the right time, then you do pretty much the same thing all the time.’ For his Chardonnay he does not battonage, and the wine is sulphured and then goes to stainless steel for the last six months. He doesn’t use sulfites until this stage, but he thinks that if you only add sulfites just before bottling, then it disappears, so the wine looks good for a while, but then looks tired. It needs to be built up, hence sulphuring before the six months in tank.
I’ve tasted these wines on a few occasions, both in Marlborough with Mike, and also remotely from the UK, and the notes are gathered here. The new 2020 releases show a continuing progression towards more precision and detail, coupled with the overlay and a good, warm growing season.
Corofin Wrekin Vineyard Chardonnay 2020 Marlborough, New Zealand
13.5% alcohol. The Wrekin vineyard is tucked into the foothills of the area of Marlborough known as the southern clays, and it’s in its own small valley that’s at the end of the Fairhall valley. It’s organically farmed. This is a remarkably expressive Chardonnay showing a beautiful crystalline citrus fruit core with notes of lemon, green tea and a slight salinity, with a tapering finish. Such purity and finesse: an exciting Marlborough Chardonnay, with amazing texture. 95/100
Corofin Brawn Vineyard Chardonnay 2020 Marlborough, New Zealand
12.5% alcohol. This is from a site on the southeast Wairau Valley floor with a fertile silt loam soil. Very fresh and fine on the nose, with bright lemon notes and a hint of green tea and white pepper. The palate is taut and restrained with lovely bright lemony notes. Very pure and fine. So expressive, showing good acidity and real purity. 94/100
Corofin Settlement Vineyard Pinot Noir 2020 Marlborough, New Zealand
13% alcohol. This comes from the organically farmed settlement vineyard, owned by the Sutherlands of Dog Point. Pale in colour with very fine aromatics of sweet red cherries and wild strawberries, showing real finesse and very fine herbal hints which add some sappy detail. The palate is sweet and supple with real finesse, and a silky edge to the strawberry fruit, with a hint of orange peel and mandarin. Such finesse and elegance. This is a lovely infusion style but elegance doesn’t come at the cost of flavour intensity. One of the best Marlborough Pinots I’ve ever had. 96/100
Corofin Wrekin Vineyard Pinot Noir 2020 Marlborough, New Zealand
13% alcohol. Tucked into the hills of the southern valleys, the Wrekin vineyard is organically farmed and has clay-rich soils. This Pinot Noir is aromatic and enticing, with fresh red cherry and plum fruit on the nose as well as some spicy hints. The palate has plenty of flesh: it’s rich and sweetly fruited, but there’s also some redcurrant, a bit of grainy structure, and also some lively acidity that has a slight sweetness to it. It’s a distinctive expression of Marlborough Pinot Noir with a lot of character. Elegant, but also showing some acid lift. 93/100
Notes on the 2019 releases, from April 2021.
‘For us these set of wines represent the most accurate and singular expressions of site we have made to date,’ says Mike Paterson. ‘We believe these are a unique group of wines as their personality seems to hang solely on textures and aromas without viscosity. The Pinots especially are only 12.0-12.5 % alcohol but are grown on sites that demand earlier picking through abundant physiological ripeness at lower sugar levels. We certainly aren’t going out to deliberately pick early, as flavour ripeness from site to site is so individual, and being this is what we are trying to capture, we would never compromise.’
‘Generally speaking, 2019 growing season was exceptionally warm with moderate/low yields,’ says Patterson. He says that maturity was early across the region in all varieties. ‘Managing extraction especially with Pinot was crucial as tannins were a significant feature especially off the clay-based soils.’
There is a change in the sites used. The new one is the Wrekin Vineyard, which is in the foothills of the Brancott Valley, in the southern clays. It’s organically farmed, as all the sites used now are. This has meant that Mike has had to drop Cowley. And Churton takes a one year rest in 2019.
‘From 2020 harvest onwards all Corofin and Meltwater wines will be 100% organically farmed and made,’ says Paterson.
The Meltwater range massively over-delivers. These are proper wines. ‘Our aim with Meltwater is to introduce a more commercial range for Corofin while allowing us to maintain all our core ethos of minimal intervention from vine to bottle (hand harvest, natural ferments and no fining or filtration),’ says Patterson.
Corofin Meltwater Sauvignon Blanc 2019 Marlborough, New Zealand
13.5% alcohol. This is ripe and quite exotic with some quince character as well as bold passionfruit and mandarin, as well as a slight smokiness on the nose. There’s good concentration to the ripe fruit, with some melony richness, but it all comes together in the bright, juicy finish. A lovely characterful, forward Marlborough Sauvignon, but with nice edges and a bit of complexity. 92/100 (12/20)
Corofin Meltwater Chardonnay 2019 Marlborough, New Zealand
13.5% alcohol. This is a beautiful expression of Marlborough Chardonnay. It has a fine, spicy edge to the nose with crisp lemony fruit, and a touch of orange peel. The palate has amazing freshness and a lovely grainy, saline character to it. This has a nice sour cherry edge to the lemony fruit, and it’s really engaging and compelling. Fresh, with nice detail. Such a lovely wine. 93/100 (12/20)
Corofin Meltwater Pinot Noir 2019 Marlborough, New Zealand
13.5% alcohol. Wonderfully floral on the nose with sweet cherry and plum fruit with some meaty richness and a spicy edge. The palate is fresh, showing good concentration and intensity, with bright, sleek berry fruits and some fine spicy notes. Lovely intensity and vitality: this is a serious Pinot Noir with a lot of personality. 92/100 (12/20)
Corofin Chardonnay Wrekin Vineyard 2019 Marlborough, New Zealand
13% alcohol. The Wrekin vineyard is tucked away in the southern valleys, and has clay-rich soils. This is rich and quite rounded with a mandarin and pear character, as well as some peachy richness. There’s a fine spicy thread here with a nice mineral streak. Characterful and quite bold with nice weight, and a rich mid-palate. Has some grainy texture and a hint of apple on the finish. 93/100 (12/20)
Corofin Chardonnay Folium Vineyard 2019 Marlborough, New Zealand
13% alcohol. This is from Takaki Okada’s vineyard in the Brancott Valley, and the vines are dry grown. Clay-based top soils moving into silt loams after 20-30 cm. 12 months in 3 year old puncheons and then into a stainless tank where sulphur is added over 7 months settling prior to bottling. This is quite powerful and bold, with pear, peach and citrus fruit. There’s a lovely fruit intensity here with a touch of grapefruit and good acidity sitting under the bold fruit. Very fine with some nice toastiness in the background, and notes of meal and spice from well-judged oak. This is a really lovely Chardonnay with focus and depth, and it should age beautifully. 95/100 (12/20)
Corofin Pinot Noir Settlement Vineyard East Slope 2019 Marlborough, New Zealand
12.5% alcohol. This is a vineyard in the Omaka Valley owned by Ivan Sutherland of Dog Point. It’s hillside clays planted at 5000 vines/hectare, and it’s all 777 clone. 12 days cuvaison, with no pre-ferment cold soak, natural ferment, pressed on dryness. 12 months in older oak. This has a beautifully aromatic nose with sweet berry and sour cherry fruit, some floral notes, and a hint of leafy greenness. The palate has lovely focus with more of the sour cherry character, a hint of undergrowth, and a lovely finely spiced structure to the fruit. This is pretty serious: it’s got bags of Marlborough character. I love the sour cherry notes which are just wonderful, and integrate really well with the green herby characters. Lots of personality here. 95/100 (12/20)
Corofin Pinot Noir Wrekin Vineyard 2019 Marlborough, New Zealand
12.5% alcohol. Newer Dijon clones 828, 943. Hillside clays, planted at 5000 vines/hectare. 14 day cuvaison. This is focused, dark and a bit grunty, with structured black cherry and raspberry fruit, with some plummy notes and a touch of citrus peel. It’s grippy and assertive with a juicy edge to the fruit. There’s a sense of freshness, as well as just-ripe fruit and an intriguing savoury, spicy, slightly gravelly edge. Notes of blood and iron on the finish. A really serious Marlborough Pinot. 94/100 (12/20)
This was a chance to taste through the 2016s from Mike Paterson’s impressive Corofin project. 2016 was a pretty good vintage, but the following two weren’t. 2017 was a tricky vintage in the region, but Sauvignon suffered the most and Mike’s sites did quite well, and the Pinot is really good, he says. 2018 was more of a challenge: it was a humid summer and there was 200 mm rain at the end of February. ‘The Pinot was close to ripe,’ he says, ‘so we were struggling. There were a lot of mealy bugs around, and a lot of the stuff on the sorting table wasn’t good.’ He discarded 40% of what he brought in.
The 2016s are looking very good indeed. Mike’s model is to make Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from privileged sites in Marlborough, many of which are shared with others. It’s a great model, and it’s important as it helps establish which really are the best spots in the region for these grapes: more than one interpretation of a site does this better than a single producer. ‘If there can be half a dozen people making wine from these sites, the more the better,’ says Mike.
Corofin Folium Chardonnay 2016 Marlborough, New Zealand
Complex, mealy and spicy with real texture. Has a supple, fresh personality with some lemony detail. Finishes taut and finely spiced. 94/100
Corofin Carter Ashmore North Corner Chardonnay 2016 Marlborough, New Zealand
Fresh and linear with lovely citrus and pineapple, as well as bright citrus fruit and some lovely minerality. Detailed and precise, this is potentially very long lived. Pristine. 95/100
Corofin Settlement Vineyard Pinot Noir 2016 Marlborough, New Zealand
This is an organic vineyard in Omaka planted at 4500 vines/hectare, 15 years old, 47% whole cluster. There are no punchdowns here: everything is sealed for six days, with whole cluster fruit at the bottom and destemmed fruit on top. Then the lid is taken off, there’s some foot treading, and the rest of the fermentation rips through in three days. Supple and bright with lovely fine spiciness and a bit of grip. Has some fine herby notes with nice raspberry and red cherry fruit, with taut structure. Finishes grippy with good purity. 94/100
Corofin Cowley Family Vineyard Main Slopes Pinot Noir 2016 Marlborough, New Zealand
22 year old vines planted at 3200 vines/hectare. 40% whole bunch. Supple with lovely red fruits, very fine grained structure and nice brightness. Raspberry fruit with some sappy notes. Forward, with a bit of flesh, and very fine. 95/100
Corofin Churton Vineyard Pinot Noir 2016 Marlborough, New Zealand
Supple, bright and fresh with lovely juiciness. Very fine and expressive with redcurrant and sweet red cherries, a hint of sappiness and some juicy detail. Nice precision. 94/100