On the Trail

AKITU

 

Akitu was a recent “discovery” for us. Our buyer Ryan Woodhouse first saw the wines in the UK and was intrigued by the vineyard site. The name “Akitu” meaning “summit” or “pinnacle” in Maori, has dual meaning, physically it references the vineyards high elevation on the slopes of Mount Barker close to Wanaka. Ideologically it speaks of the pursuit of upmost quality. Owners Andrew and Scott Donaldson made the tough (but commendable) decision to not produce a wine under their own label from the site for over ten years while the vines matured and gained their balance on the challenging site. Fruit was sold off under the name Hawkesbury Estate, the brand Akitu itself only came into being with the 2012 vintage. The vineyard is one of the most radical in the whole region. A very cold, marginal site, facing north to Lake Wanaka and the snow capped Mount Aspiring National Park of the Southern Alps. The soil here is hard schist. The massive glacier that carved out the Cromwell basin couldn’t remove this rugged outcrop and now the vines have to work very hard to get roots down in the compact schist. But grapes struggling to produce fruit on the geological and climactic margins often produce the most compelling wines. The consulting winemaker for Akitu is PJ Charteris, an award winning winemaker who has worked for the likes of: Flowers, Penfolds, Jaboulet, Brokenwood, Adelshiem…etc. The wines have incredible focus and precision. They walk on a knife edge of bright, lifted fruit and wet stone mineral. There is power and concentration here but in a very linear form. The wines are presented in two different labels: “A1” and “A2”. A1 is what you might call the most terroir driven wine, the wine that is selected to be the most authentic reflection of the vineyard in given season. More tightly wound, more of a cellaring style. It comes almost entirely from the “Abel Clone” blocks on the vineyard. (Abel clone or the “Gum Boot clone” is a legendary clone that was smuggled into NZ many decades ago from Domaine Romanee Conti “La Tache” vineyard. The customs officer, Malcolm Abel, that discovered the cutting hidden inside a rain boot, made sure it wasn’t destroyed and after quarantine set about propagating it all over NZ!)  The A2 is produced in a slightly more forward and accessible style. It’s a full mixture of clones and more focused on a pure expression of the fruit from a given season. Both are really special wines from a fascinating vineyard site.