Tamra keeps things busy

Tamra (pictured) knows how to make wine and her husband, Simon Kelly, knows how to sell wine. (Photo: Seresin Wines)

Tamra Kelly-Washington is a busy lady. In addition to looking after two small children and making wine for Seresin, she produced four wines of her own from the 2017 vintage and is in the process of launching the Kelly Washington brand locally and on the UK market.

Tamra’s career is neatly summarised on the Seresin website.

“Tamra Kelly-Washington grew up in Marlborough during the region’s viticulture explosion. Spending school holidays working in vineyards and winery restaurants sparked an early fascination with wine and its creation.

With a degree in Viticulture and Oenology from Lincoln University, her first position was in the laboratory at Seresin Estate. She then headed to California to join Franciscan Estate in the Napa Valley. This was followed by stints in Australia’s Hunter Valley and Margaret River. Next came an offer to take the role of Head Winemaker for the Calatrasi Group, overseeing wineries in Sicily, Puglia and Tunisia. After a period as a flying winemaker in the Veneto and Abruzzo regions in Italy, Tamra worked for nearly 10 years as Chief Winemaker for Yealands Estate in the Awatere Valley of Marlborough.

We welcome Tamra back to Seresin Estate, where her wine journey commenced!”

Tamra’s ‘wish list’ included a desire to make wines from organic and/or biodynamic grapes.

Tamra knows how to make wine and her husband, Simon Kelly, knows how to sell wine. In my book that’s a perfect partnership. Simon owns Lubrication Wines, a distributor with a portfolio that includes wine from France, Italy, Austria and the US. Simon has no plans to distribute the Kelly Washington brand which will be handled locally by Mineral, although he’s very involved with all aspects of marketing.

After Tamra left Yealands, she and Simon sold a small Marlborough vineyard and the family home to help fund the new venture. They moved to Waiheke Island which is now the base for both of their companies.

Tamra’s ‘wish list’ included a desire to make wines from organic and/or biodynamic grapes. She succeeded with three out of her first four wines. They chose three wine styles for which there is a ready market: sauvignon blanc from Marlborough (10,000 bottles in 2017), chardonnay from Marlborough (4,000 bottles) and pinot noir from Central Otago (4,000 bottles). Their smallest production wine (2,000 bottles) is a semillon and sauvignon blanc blend from Marlborough. There is some resistance to semillon in this market, although Tamra believes it will find a useful niche.

In 2018 she added a pinot blanc from Marlborough and a Hawke’s Bay cabernet franc. Both varieties have the potential to become rising stars although both are minor players at present. I have not tasted either wine.

My favourite wine was the 2017 Kelly Washington Sauvignon Blanc made from grapes selected from the ‘brisket block’ on Churton’s biodynamic vineyard. A complex, richly-textured wine with obvious oak influence. (NZD $28)

The 2017 Kelly Washington Semillon Sauvignon Blanc was fermented in an egg-shaped vessel, which Tamra believes adds extra texture and “roundness” to the wine. I agree. Bone-dry wine with an obviously grassy semillon character and a reductive struck flint and mineral influence. (NZD $36)

Kelly Washington’s 2017 Chardonnay is from The Rapaura Vineyard. It spent one week in an egg-shaped fermenter before being racked to barrel. A reasonably complex wine with an appealing mineral character. Tamra doesn’t manipulate her wines to control the level of reductive character and doesn’t try to remove it when it appears. (NZD $48)

Finally, the 2017 Kelly Washington Pinot Noir is from the Monte Rosa vineyard in Gibbston. The wine was fermented using 20% whole bunches and spent 11 months in oak. It’s an impressive example of a slightly herbal Gibbston style with cherry, berry and violet flavours predominating. (NZD $55)

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