“My philosophy with winemaking is uncompromising,” says Shane Munn, winemaker at Woollaston Estate, located in Nelson, at the most northern winegrowing region of New Zealand’s south island. “We let the wine do what it wants to do.”
Woollaston Estate was established in 2000 by the (then) Mayor of Nelson, Phillip Woollaston, who originally set it up as a retirement hobby, before it grew into a fully fledged business. Phillip Woollaston was the Conservation Minister for the New Zealand Labour Party before being elected as Mayor of Nelson in 1992. The Estate is managed organically, having been converted over in 2007 by Julian Coakley, Woollaston’s viticulturist.
“The vineyards weren’t established as being organic,” explains Shane. “Julian began converting them over without telling the owners that’s what he was doing. Once they saw the results (of organics), they asked him if he could expand the regime to include the whole estate.”
Both vineyards were certified organic in 2011 through BioGro.
“Setting up a vineyard organically can be a little less cost effective in the short term,” says Shane, “but once it’s up and going, and you’ve got things working well, it’s as equally cost effective as any conventional vineyard of the same size.”
Woollaston is comprised of two separate vineyard sites within Nelson’s coastal region. The Waimea Plains host all of Woollaston’s white grape varieties (sauvignon blanc, riesling, pinot gris) on gravelly, free draining soils, while the home vineyard is located 200m above sea level, upon the Moutere Hills, on rich clay-bound soils, which is where all of Woollaston’s pinot noir is grown. The winery is located here also, and is built into the side of the hill.
“The soil from the Waimea Plains, which are free draining, gravelly rocks and boulders, usually show more detailed, delicate and linear aromatics,” says Shane. “They retain their acidity nicely, whereas up in the hills, on the rich, free draining clay, it gives the pinot more textual complexity, with more power and finesse.”
Shane has an intimate knowledge of Woollaston Estates vineyards’, because, ultimately, that is where the wines are coming from. He works closely alongside Julian to drive the vineyards and get them to express their own individual qualities within the different parcels of fruit as they arrive in the winery. His aim is to make site expressive wines.
“Our Waimea Plains white wine vineyard is dead flat,” says Shane. “The soil depth is the same from one corner to the next, so what makes the difference in our wines there is picking decisions. Whereas, the pinot vineyard undulates up, down and across, through four to five valleys, spaning over 20ha, which consists of 22 clones of pinot.”
“When you know exactly where the fruit is coming from after each individual pick, the challenge is to know what to do with each parcel… and it’s a fun challenge,” says Shane.
When it comes to the challenge of making wine from the Woollaston Estate vineyards, Shane takes an uncompromising approach.
“Any sub-standard fruit just doesn’t make it into the winery,” explains Shane, “and you need to take that uncompromising approach if you want to make great wine.”
To help Shane make great site driven wines, he is able to utilise Woollaston Estates modern winery, which is gravity-fed and built into the side of the hill. This means the wine is moved through the different winemaking stages using gravity, rather than pumps, and the cellar experiences minimal temperature fluctuations.
“I’ve worked out that we can get our pinot from grape to bottle in five moves, without ever having to use pumps,” says Shane. “We also have our own bottling line, which adds to the authenticity of the product, because we can bottle it whenever we’re ready.”
Shane uses minimal intervention winemaking techniques to produce the wines for Woollaston Estate. Every wine is fermented using indigenous yeast, and Shane doesn’t make any unnecessary additions to bring the wines into being.
“We’ll get visits from sales people, trying to sell us this or that additive or whatever, but because we’re organic we can’t use three quarters of the stuff, anyway,” says Shane, “and we just don’t need them. We’ve most likely already bought some already, but it’s usually gone off before we can use it.”
“I have such great confidence in the fruit, that I just don’t need that sort of stuff,” says Shane.
Despite using minimal intervention winemaking techniques, and not making any unnecessary additions to the wines, Shane stops short of describing himself as a natural winemaker.
“We don’t make natural wines, but we make wines naturally,” explains Shane. “I’m not even trying to make an alternative expression of any particular grape variety, I’m just trying be intuitive, and to express in the wine whatever is happening out there, in the vineyard.”
D// – The Wine Idealist