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Unkel Wines

Unkel Wines was recently established at the former Rimu Grove vineyard and winery in Bronte Road, and they’re not just another wine label. Under the guidance of winemaker and co-owner Rob Burley Unkel Wines produce a range of natural wines.

The term ‘natural wines’ has been the subject of much discussion in recent years and I have tried natural wines that cover the spectrum from stunningly good to what ** is this!

Rob & Kate Burley from Unkel Wines – Photo Zico O’Neill

With that in mind I arranged to meet Rob and his wife Kate at their tasting room to find out a bit more about their winemaking philosophy, and to try some wines with an open mind, a lot of hope and just a touch of trepidation, but any concerns I had quickly disappeared.

Rob started his winemaking qualification in New Zealand before completing it at Charles Sturt University in Australia and worked in a large traditional winery, “it was just a huge factory making a commodity and a bit soul destroying for a young winemaker” he says.

He then travelled through Europe and ended up in London where he worked in a natural wine bar called Terroir, “I tried all sorts of weird and wacky wines, wines some people still like but we have found a direction for us, we want to make clean natural wines that anyone can drink. We need to make a wine people want to buy so it needs to be enjoyable and not too funky and strange.”

He started working for Patrick Sullivan at Patrick Sullivan Wines (also a natural winemaker) in early 2016, “he was amazing, I learned so much and he encouraged me to explore wine differently and then he allowed us to use his winery to make our own wines, he was incredibly supportive.”

Kate has a marketing background with a particular specialty in digital marketing in the food and beverage sector so she was able to use these to establish Unkel Wines in the marketplace when they established the label in 2016.

After establishing a market for Unkel Wines in Australia and export markets in Japan and New Zealand they decided it was time to move back to New Zealand to start a family and fulfil their complete vision for Unkel – “To be farming our own fruit and making wines that we are deeply connected to, in our homeland.”

View from the tasting room at Unkel Wines in Bronte Road

In 2019 they were fortunate enough to make that dream come true by establishing themselves and their business on the 4.9-hectare block on Bronte Peninsula.

Kate says “2020 is our first vintage from our home block and we are so excited to share these wines with people. We are also in the process of converting the vineyard to an organic vineyard, a process that takes about three years to achieve organic certification, in fact the whole peninsula our vineyard is on has organic vineyards. We will be fully certified for our 2022 vintage.”

So what are natural wines? Rob says “Essentially it means less intervention, the more you do in the winery can take away flavour, aroma and structural components.

“The aim first and foremost is to make clean and natural wines because we believe wines made in this way give the wine more personality. Our wines will be organic or biodynamic, they are already wild fermented, unfined and unfiltered but we do add a minimal amount of sulphur to preserve and stabilise the wine, we’re not going to be crazy about no intervention winemaking, we use minimal intervention techniques so the wines can still express their personality but still be fault-free.

“We’re figuring out where the vineyard will take us, we need to understand the flavours and characters we can get from this site, and that will take time. We also want to make early release wines that are bright and fresh for more immediate drinking but hold some wines back to age, these will be a little more serious.”

As well as using minimal intervention winemaking Rob and Kate are also prepared to experiment with the wine blends they produce, for example their first releases includes a Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir blend called the ‘In My Mind’, this blend may seem a little weird at first but when you think about it the two varieties come from the same family of grape. Pinot Gris has a pink skin and is only a clear wine because the skins aren’t usually left to soak in the pressed juice.

This particular wine has Pinot Gris dominant aromas but savoury, cherry, toasty Pinot Noir dominant flavours. It has some nice mineral acidity that gives a juicy finish after quite firm tannins. This is a great summer wine, a lighter style red to have in the fridge this summer.

All Unkel wines are bone dry “because that’s what we like to drink” says Kate.

Rob and Kate Burley are creating a range of wines that will challenge your concepts of what a wine is but don’t be afraid to try them, they are well made, clean natural wines that are really tasty and you should visit them this summer at their refurbished, and now open, cellar door on Bronte Road this summer.

Wine picks

Unkel Wines After Party Riesling 2020 – $30 – 4*

Pale lemon in colour it smells like freshly crushed Riesling grapes just starting to go through fermentation and the flavours are bright, crisp and dry bursting with lemon/grapefruit characters wrapped around powdery minerality from Moutere Clay soils. What a lovely expression of bone-dry Riesling,

Unkel Spring Jurassic Pinot Noir 2020 – $34 – 4*

This light summer red is a classic sweet-fruited pinot noir with flavours of fresh red berry fruits that are bright and clean. Ultra-fine tannins, dry acidity and a certain richness in the finish make the wine simply delicious.

Published in the Nelson Mail 09-12-2020 

I have been writing a regular wine column for The Nelson Mail newspaper since 2000.

Unfortunately the column space is not big enough to include my thoughts on all of the many wines I taste. Hopefully this blog will fix that. It also gives me somewhere to archive the many columns I write. I will also include some favourite recipes from my dearly beloved who loves cooking and of course because wine and food simply go together. I will also point you in the direction of upcoming events and websites I think are great. Enjoy, Neil

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