Winemaker’s Notes – Reserve Tannat 2015

The Key Points:

·         Another exceptional Hawkes Bay vintage

·         Approx 17% new French oak

·         Medium time on skins (see “the Winemaking” below)

·         Un-fined and unfiltered

·         Estate bottled, hand-labelled and individually hand-numbered

·         Small production – 1846 bottles only

The Vintage:

Following on from the warm, dry conditions of 2013 and 2014, 2015 was another fantastic Hawkes Bay vintage.
Almost unheard of to have 3 stunning vintages in a row!

The Grapes:

The Tannat vineyard is a small picturesque vineyard adjacent to the Tukituki River in the Te Mata Special Character Zone.

The Reserve Tannat grapes are sourced predominantly from a small flat vineyard parcel close to the north-facing Grande-Reserve Tannat terrace. These vines are younger and slightly more vigorous than the Grande-Reserve vines.
Everything about the Tannat variety is ‘big’ – big bunches, big berries, thick skins, naturally high acidity and very high tannin levels. The fruit is very late ripening and is markedly resistant to botrytis.

The vines are quite vigorous and throw a relatively high yield per vine. A critical step in producing this wine is reducing the yield back to 1-2 bunches per shoot – this is done progressively through the season with a final thinning just prior to veraison and netting.


Tannat achieves sugar ripeness very easily but it is the tannin ripeness (especially seed tannins) that dictates the picking decision and wine style.


This variety originates in the Madiran region in south west France and is the variety directly associated with the so-called ‘French Paradox’. The incidence of heart-related disease is very low in this area despite the diet, with research pointing to the high level of tannins in the local red wine (Tannat) as providing a number of benefits that support this.

The Wine Style:

The wine style here is all about emphasising the key elements of this unique variety – magnificent colour, rich tannin structure and a fruit flavour profile dominated by blackberry/ blueberry fruit and ‘earthy’ notes.
We produced our first Tannat in 2009 and since then, have slowly evolved the wine style.

My first efforts were all about showcasing the huge mouth-puckering tannins and black colour.

Over time, my winemaking has evolved toward more polished tannins with a rich, luscious and velvety mid-palate.
Compared to our Grande-Reserve Tannat, this wine comes from younger vines and has a lower level of new oak – essentially to highlight the fruit and pare it back to a pure expression of the fruit.

The Winemaking:

Winemaking for this wine is all about managing the acid and tannins but at the same time, delivering fruit vibrancy in the attack. This means carefully controlling the level of tannin extraction – fermentation temperature, time on skins, aeration and the physical handling of skins are critical.


The grapes were handpicked, crushed to an open top fermenter and inoculated with a special red wine yeast.
We co-inoculated with malo-lactic bacteria after 2 days of fermentation. The cap was hand-plunged 3 times per day, with regular aerated pump-overs during the vigorous period of fermentation. A major shift in how I make this wine is in the time on skins, a change driven by the fact that I believe it is difficult to get the seed tannins of Tannat fully ripe – almost regardless of how hot/dry the vintage may be.
Unlike skin tannins (which tend to have riper tannins and extract more easily and earlier in the fermentation) seeds require more time in full alcohol to release their tannins.
I believe we get better colour, better tannin quality and more vibrant fruit with medium length macerations. I now apply the same thinking to our Montepulciano.


Once the wine was pressed off skins, it was filled to French barriques (~17% new oak).
The wine was racked with air approximately every 3 months and held in barrels for 15 months.


As with the 2014 Tannat, this wine was bottled unfined and unfiltered.

The wine was simply racked several times to ensure it was very clean before going to bottle.


Estate bottled and hand-labelled with every bottle individually hand-numbered.

Tasting Notes:

Colour: – rich and vibrant hue of real intensity

(a French customer to our Cellar Door recently told me that in the Madiran region of South West France, Tannat has the nickname ‘la folle noir’ – literally ‘the crazy black’ grape)

Nose: – a totally unique fruit profile with blackberry/blueberry notes and an underlying earthiness with hints of fountain-pen ink and a seam of French oak. At present, the wine displays a youthful vibrancy. Our experience is that with bottle age, the primary fruit gives way to earthiness and increased complexity.

Palate: – a burst of black cherry fruit in the attack with a fresh and lively mid-palate.  A tighter and more linear structure than the 2014. Firm, robust tannins with a seam of light acidity that expresses itself as a mild ‘saltiness’.

A succulent and vibrant fruit finish.
This huge wine will work well with a wide range of red meat dishes.


We expect this wine to last a very long time (10+ years).