The last hurrah for St Nesbit

Sam Molloy of St Nesbit (Photo: Bob Campbell MW)

Tony Molloy QC and his family deserve some sort of prize for continuing to make wine in the face of extreme adversity for 27 years. On the plus side they have made some very impressive Bordeaux-style reds with richness, complexity and textural depth. On the other side of the ledger Tony’s son, Sam, estimates that the venture had cost them seven figures when they produced their last vintage in 2011.

It all began in 1980 when Tony and Petra Molloy bought 11-hectares in Karaka, south of Auckland, and planted it with the intention of making a cabernet sauvignon-dominant blend of Bordeaux varieties. They produced wine for seven years but were forced to uproot and destroy the vines after they contracted leafroll virus. The vineyard was later replanted, this time with merlot and cabernet franc together with a small amount of petit verdot, cabernet sauvignon and malbec. In 2002 they released their first vintage from the replanted vineyard.

The 2003 and 2004 vintage were not released because they didn’t meet their high standards, although Sam admits that they may have set the bar a bit high and that he has since enjoyed both vintages.

2007, 2008 and 2009 were very good vintages while he described 2010 as a “dream vintage”. They fared pretty well in the very challenging 2011 vintage thanks to a rigorous selection.

The vineyard land, which includes a family home and winery, has now been rezoned and the grapevines are soon to be replaced by houses. Tony and Petra have purchased a smaller property about 10 minutes from their old vineyard.

I asked if they intend to plant more grapevines. Sam said “probably not”, hesitated, grinned and added, “watch this space”.

We tasted a selection of wines from the first (1984) to the last (2011) vintages. 1984 was Sam’s birth year, but despite this emotional attachment he agreed that the wine was very developed and slightly bitter. We had difficulty extracting the cork, which crumbled badly. When the next vintage, 1991, did the same we used a Coravin wine preserver to extract samples from the remaining wines.

The 1991 St Nesbit was also drying to and clearly past its best, although it was still possible to appreciate the wine’s savoury complexity.

2002 St Nesbit, a merlot-dominant first release from the replanted vineyard, was much more attractive though very savoury with toast, malt, Bovril and coffee flavours together with a pleasing texture. At last a wine I would happily enjoy with braised lamb shanks!

I marginally preferred the 2007 St Nesbit to the slightly more evolved and herbal 2008 vintage. Both were probably at, or close to their peak.

The 2009 St Nesbit, the current release, showed good development with roasted chestnut, toast and an array of dried herb flavours. Still with plenty of structure and a drying finish, it is a good food wine.

2010 was my overall favourite. Very “Right Bank” Bordeaux-like (yes, I know it has a Left Bank composition of grape varieties), with a great texture and appealing fruit sweetness balanced by fine tannins. I suggested that they should consider releasing the more forward 2011 St Nesbit before the beefier 2012 vintage. Sam agreed and was keen on holding back the 2010 until 2020 for no better reason than it seemed appropriate from a mathematical point-of-view.

The 2009 St Nesbit is available at various outlets in Auckland for NZD $65-80 but can be purchased direct from Sam Molloy. Enquiries sam@gnarlyvineco.com

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