Hot new Hawke’s Bay winery

Rod and Emma Easthope. Bob Campbell MW

Easthope Family Winegrowers is like a hot new restaurant that nobody knows about or a newly listed stock that could go sky high. After a talk, tour and tasting with owner/winemaker Rod Easthope I certainly felt bullish about his future prospects.

“We tread lightly on our land, whereby viticulture is only a small part of the overall ecology. In the winery, we only do that which is necessary. – Rod Easthope

Rod left his job as chief winemaker for Craggy Range in 2012, and with the help of funding from Naked Wines and a guaranteed outlet for his production, he sourced grapes from several different local wine regions. Rod was voted Naked Wines’ “Winemaker of the Year” in 2014. The Rod Easthope brand is exclusive to Naked Wines in the UK, US and Australia, which is why it has a low profile in this country.

Rod and his wife Emma purchased a 20-hectare (ha) property above the Ngaruroro River in the Mangatahi district of Hawke’s Bay and planted 4ha vineyard with 1.5ha becoming productive in 2019. He has built a new winery on the property as well as a house for his wife Emma and three boys Stanley, Baxter and Ralph – 12, 10 and 8 years old respectively.

The vineyard is managed organically but has yet to gain certification. The new production in 2019 includes syrah and chardonnay with cabernet franc and gamay coming into production a little later.

The Easthope Family Winegrowers label was launched in 2014 with a chardonnay from the Skeetfield vineyard (Tony Bish Wines also makes chardonnay from the same vineyard). A year later Rod launched a Gamay from a grower in Maraekakaho. He will shortly release the 2018 Two Terraces Chenin Blanc, also from Maraekakaho.

I tasted a tank sample of the chenin blanc, which had been whole-bunch pressed and fermented in old barriques without clarification or the addition of sulphur. The wine will not be fined and has been given just a “light polish” filtration. It’s a weighty, textural wine in a riper style with an appealing mix of quince and apricot flavours.

The 2017 Easthope Family Winegrowers Skeetfield Vineyard Chardonnay is made from grapes grown on unirrigated Mendoza vines that were planted around 25 years ago.

“It was the sort of vintage that resulted in quite a lot of reductive character. I could have copper-fined the wines to make them less reductive, but I didn’t want to blur the vintage signature.”

The wine is unfined and unfiltered. (NZD $39.95)

The 2017 Easthope Family Winegrowers Gamay was fermented without destemming.

“I was after whole-bunch character, not the distinctive flavours of carbonic maceration.”

It’s quite a tight and focused red with good berry, cherry and spice flavours that are supported by moderately firm tannins. The wine is made without any sulphur addition and without fining or filtration. It’s an adventurous and intriguing red. (NZD $39.95)

Rod neatly summarises his winemaking philosophy when he states,

“We tread lightly on our land, whereby viticulture is only a small part of the overall ecology. In the winery, we only do that which is necessary. This results in wines uncluttered by artefact or fashion. Instead, they transparently convey their site and vintage derived character.”

These wines are made in small quantities but can be purchased through their website. I expect great things from this new producer.

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