Central Otago (13) Akarua

Akarua’s terraced 25 Steps vineyard in Lowborn: one of the most instantly recognisable vineyards in the region

Akarua is an important producer for Central Otago. In a region of small outfits, they are a reasonable size, and of late have been on a vineyard-buying spree. With winemaker Andrew Keenleyside (who fairly recently took over from Matt Connell) I visited a few of them.

Andrew Keenleyside, winemaker

The first is the distinctive 25 Steps vineyard, at the end of the Sugarloaf hill in Pisa. Here, terraces have been constructed, each holding two rows of vines. There’s also a vineyard block on the flat top of the hill. The challenge here is wind: it’s an exposed site that gets blown around a lot. This vineyard is 9 hectares, all planted to Pinot Noir.

They also bought the vineyard previously known as Pisa Range. This is now called Lilyvale. And next door is another purchase: what was Kawarau Estate is now De Bettencourt, and it was the first organic vineyard in the region. There are some 25 year old vines here, but they have had to replant much of the vineyard. Akarua also have 21 hectares on Felton Road. Add these together with the original Cairnmuir vineyard, and it makes them the second biggest player in the region after Mount Difficulty.

Looking across the vineyard over Pisa, with the netted cherries and then Lake Dunstan in the distance

The Pisa subdistrict

Looking across over Lake Dunstan

It’s a wind-affected site: short internodes on these vines

The history of Akarua goes back to 1996. It was established by Sir Clifford Skeggs, who made his money in fisheries, and later diversified to take in a range of businesses. He planted a significant vineyard, the 48 hectare Cairnmuir, and the first wines were made in 1999. Skeggs also holds the record for four terms as mayor of Dunedin, between 1977 and 1989. His son David is now in charge of the business.

The original vineyard in Bannockburn

The white area is netted cherry orchards

One of Akarua’s specialities is sparkling wine, and Tony Jordan has been consulting for them since 2009. The base wines are made in Akarua, but the rest of the production process is done at specialist fizz producer No 1 Family in Marlborough. The non-vintage spends 18 months on lees minimum, and the vintage has 3 years. ‘We are consistent on our dosages,’ says Andrew, ‘which says we are doing something right with our tirage – always in the 6-6.5 g/l range.’

Akarua Brut NV Central Otago, New Zealand
Blend across vintage, majority for this one is from 2016. 6 g/l dosage. 13% alcohol. Fresh, pure and clean with lovely crisp citrus and pear fruit. Focused with a bit of structure from the good acidity and a nice finish. 90/100

Akarua Rosé NV Central Otago, New Zealand
Mainly 2016. 6 g/l dosage. Lots of small batch fermentation, and one will be fermented half way on skins and then pressed off to get colour but not too much tannin. This is used as the colour component, and this is added at tirage. Pale pink colour. Linear and fruity with nice precision, showing subtle redcurrant and cherry notes, and good acidity keeping things fresh. Lovely pure fruit here. Dry style. Lovely. 91/100

Akarua Vintage Brut 2014 Central Otago, New Zealand
60 Pinot Noir, 40% Chardonnay. Some barrel ferment of base wine and 3 years on lees. Toasty and complex with subtle brioche and fine citrus and apple notes. Has nice focus and complexity. Lively acidity adds interest. Lovely complexity to this wine. Has richness and depth. 92/100

Akarua Sauvignon Blanc 2017 Central Otago, New Zealand
From an organic block in the De Bettencourt vineyard in Pisa, from 25 year old vines. Pressed, first two thirds go to stainless steel then the more phenolic last third is splashed into barrel with some oxygen. Fresh, delicate, slightly nettle elderflower nose. Delicate palate with nice texture and tension, and lovely green herbal hints and a nice long finish. Very stylish and understated. 90/100

Akarua Riesling 2017 Central Otago, New Zealamd
From the Felton Road vineyard, 15 year old vines, just off dry style. pH 2.89. 12.5% alcohol, 9 g/l acid. Lovely melon and citrus fruit here with keen acidity that is balanced by a little sugar. Really pure and intense. Apricot and lime on the finish. 92/100

Akarua Rua Pinot Noir 2017 Central Otago, New Zealand
Rua is Maori for number two. Aka is the word for the grape vine and Rua is for two (originally Chardonnay and Pinot Noir). Lovely floral cherry fruit nose with a bit of damson bite. So pretty with a nice bitter twist and some sour cherry. Very stylish. 100% barrel aged even though it is second-tier wine. Lovely fruit expression. 92/100 ($25)

Akarua Bannockburn Pinot Noir 2017 Central Otago, New Zealand
Subtle roast coffee edge to the aromatic cherry and plum fruit nose. Elegant, refined cherry and plum fruit on the palate with some fine spiciness. Such a lovely, refined structure: there’s tannin but it integrates so well with the fruit. Harmonious. 93/100

Akarua Kolo Single Vineyard Pinot Noir 2016 Central Otago, New Zealand
From the single block on Felton Road. Loess, plus river gravels and broken schist soils. Open, aromatic nose. Supple, sweet with some bruised apple notes and red fruits to the fore. Very smooth and stylish with light, expressive but nicely concentrated red cherries. This is a very distinctive wine. 94/100

Akarua The Siren Pinot Noir Bannockburn 2015 Central Otago, New Zealand
From different bits of the home vineyard. Ripe and smoothly textured with fine grained tannins and lovely sweet, generous red fruits. Plummy and cherry-scented with nice weight. Very appealing and textured, but there’s also quite a bit of structure. 94/100

Here is a short film showing the various vineyards that Akarua farm:

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