There is no mistaking Joe Wang’s love of wine, New Zealand wine in particular.
Although to be fair, the Port style wine produced by Steyn Vintage Port on the outskirts of Motueka isn’t an unusual style, but it is very unusual to attempt to produce it in New Zealand to the level of authenticity as Adriaan Steyn is.
Steyn was an Executive Director and Treasurer of the Mercantile Bank in South Africa and has been the Treasurer to several note-worthy international companies. While his business roles have been foremost in his career, his original qualifications were in medical sciences from the University of Pretoria.
His long-time love of wine lead him to studying at the Cape Wine Academy and then attaining a BSc in Viticulture and Oenology at Stellenbosch University. This experience and dedication to learning has driven his commitment to making this Port wine venture as authentic as he possibly can.
When he and Sonja decided to make a lifestyle change and follow their wine dreams they looked at many wine regions around the world, extensively researching wine styles, varieties, growing conditions, climate and soils as well as the liveability of each place. It was the Nelson Tasman region they fell in love with.
Steyn selected the Nelson region specifically to make aromatic style wines needed to produce a high-quality spirit for the genuine Vintage Port style wine he wanted to produce as well as for the growing conditions he thought would suit the traditional port wine grape, Touriga Nacional.
Arriving permanently in February 2006 they bought a house on 7.5 ha of land and planted the current two ha vineyard in 2007. Varieties planted are the traditional Touriga Nacional, Chenin Blanc and Pinot Gris the latter two for distilling into brandy to fortify the Port wine.
Steyn settled on Chenin Blanc for its ripe acidity, the fact it isn’t too fruit driven and the resulting neutral flavours with a beautiful floral nose in the distillate. The Pinot Gris is distilled for the delicate apricot peach flavours it gives the end product, brandy.
The brandy is distilled in a hand-made alembic copper pot still imported from Portugal, with heating supplied by an open flame.
The distilling process results in various compounds; methanol is the heads, ethanol and flavour compounds are hearts, and the tails are the propanols with a single batch of 1000 litres taking 18 hours to go through the still with a final yield of 100 litres of ‘hearts’.
Touriga Nacional is a very vigorous variety, producing lots of side shoots and requires constant work in the vineyard to avoid vines becoming dense, however, Steyn has found the variety ripens exceptionally well on their site when managed well.
It is also critical to ferment the Touriga Nacional within a very small fermentation temperature range to achieve the desired flavour and colour extraction. If the ferment is too hot he loses many of the characters he is looking for. He also can’t use sulphur in the white wine as it reacts with the copper still during distillation so control of each ferment under inert gas is critical to the outcome of the finished product.
Once the Port wine is fortified, it is left to settle in tank for a year, then racked into seasoned barrels to mature for seven years before filtering and bottling.
Steyn loses about 25% of the wine through evaporation in the barrel but doesn’t top the barrels or sulphur the product until bottling, the volatiles in the brandy fill the air space in the barrels with the very good antioxidant and anti-mirocrobial properties of the spirit protecting the wine.
Why Port? “Making a Port style wine is technically and academically challenging for me as well as being satisfying to make. Also, Port can be a super complex wine given all of the elements incorporated in its making.”
The current release Steyn Vintage Port wine is from 2010 and relies on very pretty aromatics from spirit volatiles to enhance the beautiful ripe fruit characters while later vintages tasted from barrel have more intense fruit flavours. I am sure this is a producer to watch with interest as some of these later wines reach maturity and the market.
The current release has been awarded a five-star rating by Raymond Chan.