It would be all too easy to dismiss Seresin Estate wines as the vanity project of a very talented and very successful cinematographer who needed something to do with his money. Certainly, had you never been to the winery, nor tasted the wines, you could be forgiven for as much. There are plenty of folks who made a lot of money in Hollywood and then plowed it into a few acres of grapes, some expensive barrels, and some very heavy bottles.
Anyone who might have tasted Seresin wines, however, would be hard pressed to uphold this misconception, however. And a visit to the winery in its rather plain corrugated aluminum sheds would permanently banish the notion that this operation really had anything to do with one man's ego.
In fact, the best way to think about the relationship between Seresin Winery and its founder, cinematographer Michael Seresin, comes down, perhaps appropriately, to vision.
Michael Seresin was born in Wellington, New Zealand, but spent most of his life away from his home country, primarily in Europe and then off and on, in America. He fell in love with wine in Europe and at the height of his (still strong) career as a director of photography for Hollywood blockbusters, he visited Marlborough and fell in love with the region. He bought a house that had some vineyards attached, and decided that he'd like to make some wine.
That decision, however, was rooted in his understanding of farming as he saw it practiced in Tuscany, where he had spent much time, and so he conceived of a farm built on that vision. Knowing his kids would need to play there, he adopted organic farming methods from the first day of ownership, and knowing he wanted more than just a bottle with his name on it, he hired a team of talented people and told them simply: make the best wine you can.
And that's it. Seresin visits regularly amidst his busy schedule around the world. He likes to taste the wines and understand how they're being made, and how the farm is doing. But the story of Seresin Estate is not his story, really. It's the story of a team of people who have made it into one of the largest biodynamic vineyard estates in the world and one of the most exceptional producers of Marlborough Pinot Noir.
This team has largely been assembled in the last seven years, beginning with the arrival in 2006 of winemaker Clive Dougall, who came fresh from a stint as assistant winemaker at Pegasus Bay, and estate manager (or "Farm Manager" as he prefers) Colin Ross. Ross is an import from Australia, where he spent the previous ten years of his career converting Brooklyn Valley Vineyard to biodynamics, before arriving at Seresin to do the same thing.
Assistant winemaker Richard Gabrielsson, a Swedish-born sommelier who came to New Zealand looking for work in the industry, started behind the counter at the winery's cellar door, but was quickly drafted by the winemaking team and has spent the last four years in the cellar with Dougall.
This triumvirate of gentlemen is filled out (or perhaps balanced) by a young woman named Wendy Tillman, who joined the winery in 2008 under the title of Biodynamic Viticulture Practitioner. Tillman has a masters in viticulture from the University of Adelaide, and serves as the conductor of the multivariate regimen both for Seresin, and for a local group of Marlborough winemakers who don't have the luxury of the self-contained farm over which Tillman presides.
Tillman and her teammates farm a little more than 274 acres planted to vines, as well as tending to more than 5000 olive trees, 165 animals (cows, sheep, goats, etc.), and several produce gardens.
"We're trying to be fully self contained," says Ross, proudly, showing me a pat of freshly churned butter from one of their cows that someone left in the refrigerator with an "eat me" label that morning.
The farm works on a fully biodynamic regimen, down to the scraggly little Alder tree planted near the goat run that plays host to deer bladders stuffed with Yarrow at least once per year, as required to make preparation 502.
Tillman, as the local doyenne of biodynamics, has perfected the use of cow pat pits, which transform the manure from lactating cows, egg shells, and a few other ingredients into a silky, rich compost for the vines.
The estate also uses mountains of traditional compost, piled in huge arcs at the bottom of a hill strewn with ancient rusty vehicles, as well as all the typical biodynamic preparations. These preparations, including the various teas employed during the year are sprayed by a horse drawn tractor. All the grapes are hand picked with the exception of the grapes that go into the winery's entry-level brand Momo.
The vineyards are spaced to allow wide swaths of cover crops to grow between sections of vineyard to create insectories promoting good insects and attracting the bad ones away from the vines (or playing host to still other insects that eat the bad ones).
The three primary vineyards of the estate are the Home Vineyard, whose silty soils quickly give way to the pure gravel of the old Wairau River; the Tatou Vineyard, which sits at the ancient intersection of two Wairau river courses, and therefore has fine topsoil over larger cobbles that dropped out of the converging flows; and Raupo Vineyard, which sits over the hills in the region known as the Southern Valleys, and has incredibly compacted clay soils "that required a jackhammer to dig soil pits," says Dougall.
The winemaking regimen at Seresin, overseen by Dougall and Gabrielsson is about what you'd expect from an operation so fully dedicated to biodynamics.
"We're on to fully native yeasts now," says Dougall. "It's taken us five or six years to get there. We're finding balance and returning to more of an old fashioned kind of winemaking. We don't filter our reds at all, don't use hardly any additives -- perhaps sulfur occasionally and a fining agent if necessary, but even that is rare." Macerations run between 4 and five weeks on the skins, with daily hand punchdowns, and the use of new oak is extremely judicious, usually hovering somewhere around 30 to 35 percent.
"We're not into 'natural winemaking' necessarily" he continues, while pouring a sulfur-free Sauvignon Blanc, "but we're experimenting with those sorts of things. It's not going to be the focus of the business, however. It's something that goes along behind the scenes."
Under the stewardship of this team the winery has gradually deepened its focus on site-specific Pinot Noir, and now has expanded from the two Pinots that Seresin has historically produced to make seven different Pinot Noirs under the Seresin label and the Momo label.
Of the 65,000 cases the winery produces annually, about 60% of those bottles are MoMo Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc, while the rest are bottled under the name Seresin. After what Dougall describes as "a full 50% cork failure rate in the year 2000" the estate has moved its entire line under screwcap, including its flagship Sun & Moon Pinot Noir. Of course, in New Zealand, no one batted an eye at this.
I've been tasting the Seresin wines off and on for years, and I came away from my recent visit quite impressed with where this young team of people have taken them. The Chardonnay, which used to be the winery's signature wine, remains excellent, but the increasing focus on Pinot Noir seems to be bearing remarkable fruit. The meticulous and intensive biodynamic approach that now guides Seresin's every move has no doubt made some impact, but I believe the secret sauce is in the dynamics between the team, who are busy trying to make the best use of what nature has given them, along with a little help from their boss.
Not all the wines make it to the United States, sadly, but the two blended Pinots (named after Seresin's mother and daughter) are brought in by their importer The Sorting Table. Buy 'em if you can find 'em.
2012 MOMO Sauvignon Blanc, Wairau Valley, Marlborough, New Zealand
Pale greenish gold in the glass, this wine smells of gooseberry and lime zest. In the mouth there's a wonderful bright salinity to the wine, and combined with the lime and gooseberry brightness the wine has the distinct character of a salted margarita. Super juicy and yummy. 13.5% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $15. click to buy.
2010 MOMO Pinot Noir, Wairau Valley, Marlborough, New Zealand
Light garnet in the glass, this wine smells of raspberry and kirsch with the slightest hint of wet dirt and farmyard. In the mouth, bright acidity brings flavors of raspberry and redcurrant to the fore, while faint, powdery tannins lightly grasp the edge of the tongue. Smoothly textured, the wine has a nice balanced and good finish. A great value. 14% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $16. click to buy.
2011 Seresin Sauvignon Blanc, Wairau Valley, Marlborough, New Zealand
Pale gold in the glass, this wine smells of wet stones and mixed citrus zest. In the mouth the wine is quite stony, with a wet chalkboard character that underlies flavors of lemon juice, lemon zest, and lemon curd. A hint of salinity in the wine, plus fantastic acidity keeps the mouth watering for a long time. Plus there's 5-8% barrel fermented Semillon in there for an extra lemony kick. 100% native ferment, no temperature control. Outstanding. 13.5% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $25. click to buy.
2012 Seresin "Sulfur Free" Sauvignon Blanc, Wairau Valley, Marlborough, New Zealand
Light gold in the glass, this wine smells of star fruit and citrus. In the mouth the wine offers quite a chalky, powdery texture in the mouth with a bright lemon and kumquat brightness and also a darker wet leaf quality to it. Notes of tropical fruits linger in the mouth. Excellent acidity keeps the wine bright. Distinctive. 12.5% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $??
2010 Seresin "Reserve" Chardonnay, Wairau Valley, Marlborough, New Zealand
Light gold in the glass, this wine smells of lemon curd, cold cream and toasted, buttered sourdough. In the mouth, gorgeously bright melted butter salinity mixes with lemon curd, lemon juice and lemon zest flavors. Fantastic acidity and a lightly tannic grip to the wine gives the whole package structure and dynamism. Gorgeous. 14% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $35 click to buy.
2010 Seresin "Leah" Pinot Noir, Wairau Valley, Marlborough, New Zealand
Light garnet in the glass, this wine smells of raspberry, cherry, and wet leaves. In the mouth, leathery tannins wrap around a core of bright, briary raspberry fruit with hints of cherry. Excellent acidity and great length. A blend from the three estate vineyards, named after Michael Seresin's daughter. 14% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $30. click to buy.
2011 Seresin "Leah" Pinot Noir, Wairau Valley, Marlborough, New Zealand
Light garnet in color, this wine smells of wet leaves, wet dirt and raspberries. In the mouth, muscular tannins firmly grip the palate as flavors of raspberry and cherry reveal a deeper earthy note to them. Hints of citrus linger in the finish, but it's mostly forest floor and wet leaves. 14% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $30. Not yet in the USA.
2010 Seresin "Rachel" Pinot Noir, Southern Valleys, Marlborough, New Zealand
Light garnet in the glass, this wine smells of raspberry and cherry and wet dirt with a hint of wet wood. In the mouth, deep earthy flavors are accentuated by powdery but aggressive mouth-coating tannins while excellent acidity brings flavors of raspberry, green herbs and redcurrant to life with juicy brightness. Nice balance, and the tannins will definitely smooth out with time. Named after Michael Seresin's mother. 14% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $50. click to buy.
2010 Seresin "Home" Pinot Noir, Wairau Valley, Marlborough, New Zealand
Light to medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of cherry, licorice, wet dirt, and wet leaves. In the mouth very beautiful, powdery tannins wrap around a core of floral, black cherry fruit mixed with wet earth. Gorgeous acidity, fantastic balance, and a really special character to the wine. 14% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $95.
2010 Seresin "Raupo Creek" Pinot Noir, Southern Valleys, Marlborough, New Zealand
Light garnet in the glass, this wine smells of gorgeous floral raspberry and cedar notes. In the mouth, fine, powdery tannins wrap around a core of raspberry and redcurrant fruit mixed with crushed stones. There's a tiny signature of new oak in this wine that sticks out (despite there being only 25% new oak used in the winemaking), sort of like a burr on the surface of a smooth fabric. This will likely disappear with time, and isn't objectionable. Fantastic acidity and a wonderful earthy finish. 14% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $75.
2010 Seresin "Tatou" Pinot Noir, Wairau Valley, Marlborough, New Zealand
Light garnet in the glass, this wine smells of redcurrant and raspberry with hints of crushed herbs and a touch of wet leaves. In the mouth bright redcurrant flavors are clasped by muscular tannins that, combined with the dark stony, earthy quality of the wine offer an amazing counterpoint to the bright, tart fruit. There's a floral note that lingers in the finish, along with earth and wet redwood bark. 14% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $88.
2009 Seresin "Sun & Moon" Pinot Noir, Southern Valleys, Marlborough, New Zealand
Light ruby in the glass, this wine smells of stony and floral raspberry aromas with a hint of crushed green herbs. In the mouth the wine has a gorgeous brightness with fantastic acidity that makes flavors of raspberry and redcurrant come alive with juiciness. Fantastically fine grained tannins seem to float in a fleecy cloud on the palate, coating the mouth but not impeding the expansion of the fruit which seems to float sunnily through the whole mouth. This wine is made from the fruit that comes from the top few rows of the estate's main hillside vineyard named Raupo. 14% alcohol. Score: around 9.5. Cost: $135.
2010 Seresin "Sun & Moon" Pinot Noir, Southern Valleys, Marlborough, New Zealand
Light garnet in the glass, this wine smells of wet stones and raspberry. In the mouth the wine has a tightly wound quality with gorgeously smooth and supple tannins that have a mysterious power to them. Raspberry and wet earth flavors have a hint of anise and green herbs dangled in them. Wonderful acidity and fantastic balance, this wine is darker and brooding than the more accessible 2009, but this wine in three or four years will be as or more impressive than its predecessor. Very very impressive. 14% alcohol. Score: around 9.5. Cost: $135.
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