I recently read about a new producer in New Zealand’s Central Otago region named Akitu. They are 100% dedicated to producing Pinot Noir off one tiny vineyard site high on the slopes of Mt. Barker close to the bucolic town of Wanaka. I immediately reached out to owner Andrew Donaldson to taste and explore the possibilities of working with his wines. The samples soon arrived and before I could even open them I was already quite taken by the slick package and label design…now I am not one for judging a book (or a bottle of wine for that matter) by it’s cover, but credit where credit is due…these look smart.
Thankfully once opened things only got better. The 2013 Akitu “A1” Pinot Noir is one of the most profound bottles I have tasted in quite some time. The wine is defined by precision, tension, coiled power and subtle intensity. It speaks very strongly of its schist soil origins. The wine is incredibly pure and dynamic on the palate. It is not overly fleshy or extracted but linear and perfectly poised. You can feel the terroir as much as taste it. This wine is about energy and vibrancy. Sure it delivers fantastic Pinot Noir varietal fruit flavors, ripe berries, exotic spice, earth…but this wine is so much more than that, it’s hard to describe, it’s something that needs to be experienced. I also believe we are only seeing the tip of the iceberg with this wine and that the best is yet to come as the tight, compact layers of flavor and texture unfold.
“Akitu” (meaning “summit” in Māori) comes from a unique site. The vines are planted on a perfect north facing slope, 1600ft up on the on the north west aspect Mt. Barker. In a place like Central Otago that is inherently quite remote…these vines are further defined by their loneliness. This is not an area bustling with vineyards like the hillsides of Bannockburn or along the shores of Lake Dunstan…these are a few acres of vines perched on lone mountain within a windswept alpine valley over shadowed by the snowcapped mountains of the Southern Alps. When I see someone toiling over a site like this, a tricky, labor intensive, on the edge of grape growing site...I am drawn to the wines, because there must be some reason why that person is persisting, they must truly believe they have something special. Founder Andrew Donaldson only started labeling his own wine in 2012 after selling off fruit for 10 years while he waited for his vines to mature and truly speak of their terroir (something we rarely see in this day and age).
When Andrew was ready to start putting his own name to these wines he recruited heralded wine maker and kiwi native PJ Charteris to help tease the best expression from his land. PJ has a very serious resume of former winemaking positions including time with Adelsheim, Flowers Estate, Penfolds and most recently served as icon Brokenwood’s Head Winemaker in Australia’s Hunter Valley for 12 years, during which time he was awarded Winemaker of the Year! This combination of special site and talented winemaker is working wonders for Akitu. The wines are really shining.
Beyond the black label “tête de cuvée” A1 Pinot, we also have Akitu’s white label “A2” bottling. The 2013 Akitu "A2" Pinot Noir offers exceptional value and quality for money. Most Pinot lovers will know that due to the fickle nature of this seductive varietal it is very difficult to find great Pinot Noir for close to $20...it is also almost unheard of to produce noteworthy Central Otago Pinot Noir for this price. The yields are painfully low, farming is very labor intensive…thankfully our direct relationship with Hawkesbury Estate / Atiku has allowed K&L to bring you this wine for a seriously economical price point. This wine is deliberately styled in a more forward, open style bursting with ripe berry fruits, hard ground spices like nutmeg and clove from the whole bunch inclusion, crushed rocks and wild Thyme. The palate has plenty of soft accessible fruit up front, but it is also very long and drawn out on the palate by the wines lovely fresh acidity and fine powdery tannins. A delicate kiss of oak helps polish this gem but does not detract from its purity. All the fruit is still hand-picked from the estate and crafted in the same way and the premier label. Whilst this wine does not provide the lucid insight into this incredible terroir that is afforded by Akitu's "A1" Pinot Noir...it does provide the imbiber instant gratification and a fantastically expressive bottle of classy Pinot Noir at an incredibly reasonable price. This fantastic into in to Akitu’s wines was recently awarded a Pure Elite Gold Medal at the Air New Zealand Wine Awards (NZ’s biggest and most prestigious wine competition).
I entreat you to check out these new additions to our selection and I hope you find them as compelling as I do.
Ryan Woodhouse - K&L New Zealand Wine Buyer