Bell Hill ring the changes

Marcel and Sherwyn of Bell Hill (Photo: Bell Hill Wines)

Bell Hill is one of New Zealand’s most exciting wine producers (owners, Marcel Giesen and Sherwyn Veldhuizen, prefer to be called wine growers, not winemakers).

Their 2ha vineyard is situated on an old chalk quarry at Waikari about 15 minutes drive west of Waipara on the way to Hanmer Springs. It’s not open to the public but if you buy from their mailing list and are able to beg a little, you might be able to organise a pilgrimage to this very scenic property.

I first visited Bell Hill in 2000. Planting had begun in 1997 so not a grape had been harvested. In 2001, they drained a swamp to establish an irrigation pond and discovered the most important Moa and Haast’s Eagle bone site in the past 100 years. I snooped around at the time and was given a much-treasured claw from a Giant Moa by a visiting archaeologist.

Bell Hill is a chardonnay and pinot noir specialist. Marcel and Sherwyn did plant a small amount of riesling but eventually uprooted the vines without making a drop.

The really exciting news is that they have bought an adjacent parcel of land totalling 8.4ha, although Sherwyn believes that only 2-4ha of the chalky, undulating site is suited to grapevines. They have just begun to map the land and are planning on sourcing suitable vine and rootstock material. The prospect of Bell Hill doubling production is exciting indeed, although it will be some time before wine from the new site is bottled and released.

Sherwyn also revealed that they’d extended their winery slightly and were planting a wetland area to establish a natural environment. They are now fully certified organic producers having achieved Bio-Gro certification in 2015.

Winemaking relies on endemic yeasts for primary fermentation and natural bacteria for malolactic fermentation. They do not fine or clarify their wine and do not add sulphur to chardonnay until it has spent 12 months in barrel.

Another exciting development is the pending release of Bell Hill bubbly. They have 700 magnums of a chardonnay and pinot noir blend from the 1999, 2001 and 2002 vintages that is due for release in the year ahead. That will be followed by 450 bottles of bottle-fermented wine from the 2003 and 2004 vintage. I anticipate a ready market for both.

Anyone wishing to buy wine from Bell Hill should start by sending an email to Sherwyn at info@bellhill.co.nz They are making their annual wine release in late October when you will be able to buy small quantities of:

Stocks are strictly limited. Don’t bother grovelling for more than your allocation, it doesn’t work, I’ve tried it. I buy as much Bell Hill and Old Weka Pass Road chardonnay and pinot noir as I can afford on every release.

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