It's said that Pinot Noir is an obsession, not just a wine. Nigel Greening, a self-described Pinot Noir "addict" from England, evidenced that statement when he rushed in to purchase Felton Road Wines, a New Zealand winery specializing in Pinot Noir, before it could fall into the hands of another buyer.
Last week, Greening, 50, bought the 6,500-case winery and its vineyards from its retiring owner, Stewart Elms, for an undisclosed price, believed to be under $3 million. Felton Road makes Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Riesling, plus a small amount of Sauvignon Blanc, in the Bannockburn district of central Otago, on New Zealand's cool-climate South Island.
"I have been one of the winery's biggest fans and biggest private customers for a few years, but never believed I might own it one day," Greening writes. Upon hearing a rumor that a larger New Zealand winery was ready to buy the business, Greening decided that he would buy the winery even if it took every penny he had. "Well," he says, "it took every penny, but a 30-hour plane flight and four days of legals was all else it took. As you might imagine I'm absolutely stoked!"
As Greening headed to the airport to travel halfway around the world to sign the deal, he picked up an English wine-magazine. In it, he was surprised to read a letter he had written commenting on the potential of producers such as Felton Road and California wineries Calera Wine Co. and Au Bon Climat "to achieve ever higher standards, as they are able to benefit from more mature vines, and greater commercial restraint." He noted, "Now I'm in a position to put my trousers where my talk was!"
Though he lives in Surrey, England, most of the year, Greening is not new to the Bannockburn district. He spent some time in Central Otago in 1998 while completing a project for his job as a creative director and, though he has been a devoted Burgundy fan for 25 years, was impressed by the region's Pinot Noir.
That inspired him to recently plant Cornish Point, a 25-acre experimental vineyard, just over the hill from Felton Road, that contains small blocks of Pinot Noir in 18 different combinations of rootstock and clone. The first wines from the property will be made in 2003.
Greening, who now spends about three months a year in New Zealand, plans to keep Felton Road's current vineyard and winemaking staff in place. One change he is considering is the addition of more single-vineyard wines. He also wants to hold some wines longer before release, believing that they could benefit from 24 months in bottle.
Wine Spectator recently reviewed Felton Road's only Pinot Noir to be imported into the United States so far. Describing the 1988 Block 3 bottling as "plump, with black currant and plum flavors on a lithe, polished frame," I rated it 88 points. Its U.S. price of $70 makes it one of the most expensive wines from New Zealand, although it sells for $30 in New Zealand currency (just a little more than $12 in U.S. currency).
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