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Wine of the Week for week ending 27 January 2002
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Pukawa Lake Taupo Pinot Noir 2000
Lake Taupo, New Zealand

David and Margaret Higham Pukawa Vineyard at Lake Taupo have the ideal retirement location, high on a slope above the shores of Lake Taupo. The vista over the lake and surrounding countryside is stunning.

Here they enjoy one of the most unusual retirement lifestyles in the central North Island. For they have planted a vineyard in this most idyllic though unlikely of settings on the southern shores above Pukawa Bay.

It's hard work for the Higham's six months of the year but after a day in the vineyard, tucking and trimming or whatever the task may be, they come back to their house, relax on the deck with a glass of their own wine and think just how lucky they are.

When they first decided to plant vines at what was then their holiday house, riesling and pinotage were all they could buy. Now they've chardonnay and pinot noir as well. And the potential for pinot noir, especially, is looking good. So much so that they've just extended the vineyard by planting 1,000 more vines.

When I tasted the Pukawa Lake Taupo Pinot Noir 2000 (NZ$30), I was not at all surprised on their decision to expand. For it's a wine of depth and some intrigue.

Pukawa Lake Taupo Pinot Noir label

It has a deep and dense carmine colour and a nose that is distinctly pinot noir. But it's not pinot noir as we would normally associate with New Zealand - it has a nuance that is almost European in character. There's possibly a little volatile acidity on the nose but this just adds to the intrigue of the wine in my opinion. Then in the mouth, rich black cherry flavours, ripe fruit, big bold meaty tannins and a lovely savoury character.

This is a dense and powerful wine, interesting and complex with some floral nuances and a crushed velvet texture while sweet black cherry, plum and black peach flavours linger.

The 2000 vintage was good in Taupo, as it was across the whole country. But it seems such a marginal region for grapes, with flowering at the end of December and harvest in May. They have to leave the grapes on the vine as long as possible for ripening. It could be touch and go in some years.

They've other aspects to consider too. With the 500m contour running through their vineyard, they are most probably the highest altitude vineyard in New Zealand and they have an unusual soil type to cope with. It's a pumice pan, the result of the violent Taupo eruptions of about 1800 years ago. This is a free draining, high acid rock that doesn't supply many nutrients.

The grapes are currently transported to the Alpha Domus winery in Hawkes Bay after harvest, where Evert Nijzink crafts the wines.

When I called in to visit the Highams at the beginning of January, a welcome detour on route from Auckland to Christchurch, I took the opportunity to try the a couple of other Pukawa Lake Taupo wines as well.

I'm a self-confessed pinotage fan so I had to try the Pukawa Lake Taupo Pinotage 2001. It's a lightly coloured crisp wine with gamey, earthy aromas, sweet savoury flavours, a herbal note, a mouth coating vinous texture and lingering savoury notes. Varietally correct I think Pinotage fans will love this light, refreshing 'enjoy on the deck in the late afternoon' style. I recommend it be served lightly chilled. $17.

Another good wine for enjoying on the deck is the Pukawa Lake Taupo Chardonnay 2001. Leesy stonefruit and pineapple aromas with plenty of fruit in the palate are backed up with subtle creamy oak. It's a pleasant drinking light style with a touch of sweetness on the perfumed finish. $17

The wines have exceeded their expectations. They will be hard to find unless you pass by the Tokaanu Hotel, where they are available at the bottle store. "They love having a local wine, especially for their restaurant", says Mrs Higham.

There's very little wine available elsewhere and the demand to date has almost exceeded supply. So to get on the mailing list, e-mail the Highams.

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