Christine Kernohan is not your usual winemaker. Firstly, this "sprightly grandmother" worked in the computer industry and was also involved in agriculture industry research. Secondly, instead of setting up in Marlborough and having an easy life making formulaic Sauvignon Blanc, she set up in the less trendy Wairarapa, and finally, she is from a nation that isn't known for its winemaking history, Scotland!
Christine and her husband David took over the Gladstone Vineyard in early 1996 and their first vintage was overseen by Belgian winemaker, Jean Charles Van Hove. Christine spent the next few years learning her craft before taking over as head winemaker with her own idea of what makes good wine. Her style is not big and crude like a lot of Kiwi producers, she favours a much cleaner style of wine, not an old world imitator but certainly old world inspired! Currently importing their products into the UK themselves, I tasted their range of wines.
The 12,000 Miles range is named after the distance between her birthplace and her adopted homeland. This 'entry' brand shows her talent at producing forward drinking wines that can simply be opened and poured. Winning a bronze medal at the New Zealand International show, her 2011 12,000 Miles Sauvignon Blanc shows green apple aromas, some subtle lime and a tiny amount of elderflower. On the palate, there is a balance of minerals, citrus and some crisp apple once again. With well balanced acidity this is a wine that Marlborough lovers will hate but Sancerre devotees should gobble up. Very tasty. 89pts £11
It's sister wine, the 2010 12,000 Miles Pinot Noir is a wonderfully simple style of Pinot. None of the big, sweet fruit leaping out at you that you would get from Otago, just some bright fresh cherries and a little vegetal backbone to the aroma. The palate is fresh, well balanced and has a touch of sweet fruit coming through, but backed up by acid to keep it clean, an earthy element to give it structure and a bit of spice (white pepper maybe?) to jazz it up a touch! A delicious wine. 90pts £15
The Gladstone Vineyard range of wines are a notch above the 12,000 Miles, and there is a quality shift that is noticeable. The 2011 Gladstone Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc is a lovely wine, but I can't help thinking it just needs a year to balance out. There is some attractive fruit - melon, mango and lime - coming off the nose and the palate has a bit of weight with melon pith and gooseberry coming through. It is very well made but the acid comes to the fore just a touch. It needs the time and it will be great. 90pts at least! £13
I really liked Christine's 2010 Gladstone Vineyard Pinot Gris. Some dried apricots, rose petals and pear shoot up your nose but it is the palate that pleased me the most. It starts off with a bit of weight to the body, a tiny amount of sweetness with melon pith flavours and some white pepper. You start to think 'oh no, it is going to be fat', but then the acid feeds in wonderfully to a nutty, minerally and beautifully clean finish. This is a really good wine, precise and perfect. 93pts £15
Having liked the 12,000 Miles Pinot Noir, I hoped that the 2009 Gladstone Vineyard Pinot Noir would be fantastic and I was so pleased that it was. I have not tried a better Pinot Noir from New Zealand in a long time and certainly not at this price. It is a touch fuller than it's little sister, with sweeter cherries and some tart raspberry coming off the nose. Plum with some savoury and spicy flavours emerge with an earthy element that is dark, yet not dominating. Christine has managed to embrace the spirit of Burgundy yet keep the wine definitely Kiwi. 96pts £20
Finally, her 2008 Gladstone Vineyard Auld Alliance is a blend of Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Malbec and a tiny drop of Cabernet Sauvignon. I don't know if it was because I saw the McLeod tartan on the label or because of the name of the wine but my tasting note contained many Scottish ingredients! Firstly brambles - lots of brambles - followed by a savoury, slightly black pepper and meaty aroma that could only be described as haggis, and then some cloves and a little treacle element. The palate had pipe tobacco, some coffee and blueberries, followed by a vegetal, almost raw cabbage element. Now I know these flavours and aromas don't sound that appealing when bundled all together but this wine was delicious. A massive nod towards the new world with its powerful fruit but by using Cabernet Franc she gets the vegetal structure that you want from a Bordeaux blend in the old world. A lovely bottle of wine. 92pts
Christine Kernohan manages to keep one foot firmly in each of her homelands - European balance and structure with New World fruit and delivery. When wines of this quality are being made, expressing the unique terrior the country has, it frustrates me that New Zealand is trying to stop being the land of Sauvignon and Pinot by promoting other grape varieties. All they need are more Scottish winemaking grannies.
It frustrates me that New Zealand is trying to stop being a land of Sauvignon and Pinot Noir by promoting other varietals, when wines of this quality are being made expressing the unique terroir that this country has. All they need are more Scottish winemaking Grannies.