Anything But Sauvignon – The Gibson Bridge Story
My days in Marlborough were packed with multiple vineyard visits. One of my first stops was Gibson Bridge Vineyard‘s eclectic Cellar Door (in New Zealand, a tasting room is referred to as a “cellar door.”) Their award winning cellar door is in a former garage/flower workshop. Featuring boudoir style decor, mirrors, chandeliers, and original artwork with the motto “excellence through passion,” it oozes old-fashioned charm.
When he founded his vineyard, my unassuming host Howard Simmonds was looking for peace and tranquility. A way of life that was away from the hustle and bustle of the big city life in Auckland, where he was a lumber merchant and a builder. He found that peace in Renwick, a small village near Blenheim. There he purchased the property, situated on the bank of Gibson Creek, which happened to be located in the heart of New Zealand’s Sauvignon Blanc growing region. The trouble was, Howard liked Pinot Gris, not Sauvignon Blanc!
Howard and his wife Julie made a decision to fight the Sauvignon Blanc tide and plant Pinot Gris instead. They were determined to produce wines from only the best grapes, so they decided to grow their own fruit rather than source it from nearby growers. They set out to plant 5,500 vines, learn viticulture, fix up the buildings they purchased, and learn how to use the equipment.
As a hands-on producer, the proprietors do everything themselves. They do the planting, pruning, leaf pulling, spraying and even harvesting. These are no easy tasks, even on a small vineyard. Narrow spacing, shoot thinning, leafing, meticulously grading every cluster, hand picking and hand sorting, and low cropping are the hallmarks of his viticultural practices. In addition to Pinot Gris, Howard and Julie have planted a small section of Gewürztraminer, a challenging, low-cropping grape. They also grow Syrah, Malbec, Merlot, and Pinot Noir. Gibson Bridge is a micro-production vineyard of ultra premium wine crafted by winemaker David Tyney.
David, a talented industry veteran, was born and raised in Adelaide, South Australia and earned an agricultural business degree with a major in wine marketing. He worked for the Yalumba Wine Company in the Barossa Valley for 3 years and later joined Constellation Brands in California, where he was inspired to become a winemaker.
He enrolled in Lincoln University on the South Island of New Zealand, and earned a post-graduate diploma in winemaking and viticulture. After a 6 year stint with Giesen Wines making Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir he joined the MVL Group, a large operator of contract processing facilities in Marlborough and Central Otago. David also makes wine for his own brand, Cirro. He is an acting consultant for a number of other New Zealand clients besides Gibson Bridge. He also consults for wineries in the Yunnan Province in the Ningxia Hui, an autonomous region of China.
Gibson Bridge is clearly a Pinot Gris house featuring a variety of Pinot Gris including vintage blends, etc. White wines are crafted as reds, with judicious oak influence. Their Reserve Pinot Gris has won numerous awards since its first vintage, including a Gold medal in the New Zealand International—validation for all the hard work Howard has personally put into this effort. Rosé gets full press—after fermentation it goes to barrel, then back to stainless steel. Gibson Bridge makes excellent Gewürztraminer, but it is their dessert wine that rearranged my head in one swift golden colored sip of liquid heaven. It is reminiscent of New Zealand’s prized Mānuka honey. This nectar of the Gods belongs in a blind tasting with the best of them and should make d’Yquem very nervous. At NZD $120 a bottle, it is well worth it, impressive indeed.
Sixteen rows of Pinot Gris were left on the vine to produce this “sticky” called “Sweet 16,” made from botrytis-affected fruit, which was hand harvested, meticulously sorted and cold fermented. A golden beauty, it smells of nectarine, white peach, apricot, white fig, passion fruit and intoxicating delicate floral aromas of jasmine and hyacinth. On the palate unfolds a symphony of flavors and sensations framed by exquisitely balanced, nuanced acidity and pure, lush citrus fruit. The finish easily lasts a minute and a half. It drips with pure hedonism.
Gibson Bridge wines are produced in miniscule quantities and are worth seeking. I would walk across the Pacific for another sip of the 2011 Botrytis Pinot Gris. Luckily I bought a bottle to take with me and it is currently beckoning me from the corner of my desk. Kudos to the Simmonds’ uncompromising nature and let the hedonism reign!