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Yealands Family Wines: Blazing the way to sustainability and great wine

When thinking of New Zealand wine one typically thinks of Sauvignon Blanc but New Zealand is known for other varietals including Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Riesling and Gruner Veitliner. Such was the case when I had the privilege of meeting the charming and gregacious Winemaker Tamra Kelly-Washington and tasting the wines of Yealands Family Wines over lunch in West Hollywood at the Cecconi’s.

Lealands Family Wines winemaker, Tamra Kelly- Washington.
Cori Solomon
Yealands Family Wines is known for their sustainable Sauvignon Blancs.
Cori Solomon

Prior to this encounter, my knowledge of New Zealand wines was scarce. My tasting experience had only been from a well-known competitor. I was blown away by the quality and elegance Yealands produces especially in the Sauvignon Blancs.

Yealands Family Wines is located in cool climate region of Awatere Valley, Marlborough, New Zealand. The winery is the creation of Peter Yealands; a man one might say is one with the land as he encourages a harmony with nature. His endeavors always have included the terrain and its relationship to the flora and fauna. In New Zealand his name to fame was the creation of farming Greenshell mussels. He made this one of the top exports from New Zealand. Later he established deer farms before creating the winery.

All three projects have one thing in common, the utilization of green practices. Sustainability is of utmost importance for Peter Yealands. The winery was the first to be awarded the CarboNZero certification. In addition they are accredited by the Sustainable winegrowers New Zealand programme.

Some of the sustainable aspects of the winery are the use of solar and wind turbines for the power generated at the winery. A herd of Babydoll miniature sheep acting as weeders, mowers and assisting in pest control can be seen strolling in the vineyards. The compost used in the vineyards is a little different than most. In addition to recycling the grape skins, seeds, stalks and pruning remains, it combines unprocessed lime, seaweed, bark and crushed mussel shells. The vineyard has numerous wetlands that were designed to capture water run-off from the vineyard but also acts as a natural habitat for birds and wildlife who in turn assist with weeding and mowing of the vineyard.

In addition to utilizing green practices and reducing their carbon footprint, the winery incorporates a holistic approach to winemaking. To this extent one will fine classical music played throughout the vineyard and winery, bringing another type of harmony that balances man, land and nature together.

Tamra Kelly-Washington joined Yealands Family Wines as winemaker at its onset in 2007. A native of the Marlborough region, she became interested in wine at a time when New Zealand wines were starting to make a mark in the wine industry. It was only natural that she would express a strong desire to pursue this field of work. Graduating from Lincoln University with a degree in Viticulture and Oenology she began her career at Seresin Estate, which was followed by a stint at Francisan Estate in Napa Valley. After working in Australia’s Hunter Valley and Margret River, she was asked to become winemaker at Casa Vinicola Calatrasi in Sicily Italy. After working in these various areas she was drawn back home to work at Yealands. Not only is Tamra working for winery that is forging its path in sustainability but also she is one of a few women winemakers in New Zealand and perhaps one of the forerunners in the field.

On each Yealands bottle it states, “Think boldly, tread lightly”. I think this best describes the cool climate Sauvignon Blancs from this winery. They are bold yet elegant. This elegance is what makes the wines tread lightly. I sample three distinct Sauvignon Blancs. The first is the 2013 Sauvignon Blanc is a blend of all nine Yealands vineyards. From the aromas one senses a crisp, grassy wine with notes of Kiwi. The wine is fresh with nice acidity and minerality.

The 2013 Yealands Estate Single Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc, my favorite, is a more subtle wine. It is similar yet displays a sweetness on the finish. There are hints of stone fruit.

The Yealands Estate Single Block S1 2013 Sauvignon Blanc come from one block that is a warmer area of the vineyard. It is a very ripe Sauvignon Blanc that is rich compared to the other ones. The wine is even more subtle yet bigger with more citrus.

The Peter Yealands 2013 Pinot Gris is a softer wine than most of this varietal. It is almost like a light Chardonnay. The wine displays a rich quality and hints of pear with a gentleness to its acidity.

The Peter Yealands 2013 Pinot Noir gives way to subtle cherry aromas. There are hints of spices primarily Allspice. It is a bright Pinot Noir on the light to medium bodied side. The wine is aged in old French oak barrels for 6 months.

The Yealands Estate Single Vineyard 2013 Pinot Noir is a bigger more savory Pinot. The wine displays flavors of sour cherry. Combining both old and new oak the wine is aged for 11 months.

The vision of both Peter Yealands and winemaker Tamra Kelly-Washington really comes through in these cool climate wines especially in the bold elegance of the Sauvignon Blancs and the subtleties of the Pinot Gris.

Striving to achieve the best in quality yet preserve our environment through breaking edge sustainable techniques is what Yealands Family Estates wines are all about.

The wines are currently available at BevMo and Vons.

For more information:

Yealands Family Estate