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Villa Maria’s Keltern Chardonnay – a new yet well-established icon

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With the 2021 vintage, the Keltern Chardonnay moves from Villa Maria’s Single Vineyard collection to the Icon range, affirming its consistent and recognised excellence. It joins the Attorney Pinot Noir (Marlborough) and Ngakirikiri Cabernet Sauvignon (Gimblett Gravels, Hawke’s Bay) as one of Villa Maria’s flagship wines – prime expressions of their respective varieties and terroirs, as well as testaments to the knowledge earned by the Villa Maria team through decades of experience working these sites.

A classical exception

Located east of the Maraekakaho region in Hawkes Bay, the Keltern vineyard sits on an ancient riverbed directly in the path of cool air currents flowing down from a mountain range that flanks it to the west. The maritime influence is buffered by the Ngaruroro River, making this a distinct, inland site, with silt loams layered over red metals and large gravel stones that promote draining. Richer soils and cooler temperatures justified the plot’s suitability for Chardonnay, unlike Hawke’s Bay’s nearby and better-known Gimblett Gravels sub-region, famous for its red wines.

‘The Villa Maria team has a long history with the Keltern  Vineyard,’ says Patrick Materman, Head of Winegrowing at Villa Maria. ‘It was planted in 1999 and it has since established itself as one of New Zealand’s premier sites for Chardonnay with the wines gaining an incredible track record of awards and accolades.’

Style and expressiveness

Crafting the Keltern Chardonnay, as the other Icon wines, is an effort to build a unique, recognisable style while allowing terroir and vintage to express themselves. ‘By virtue of its location, the Keltern Vineyard is a reliable site, but will see some vintage variation. There is an absolute commitment to keep quality and style consistency, but there is certainly scope at this level for the wine to speak of the season,’ explains Materman. Guided by the specificity of each harvest and by the highest quality requirements, the number of cases produced is dependent on how well a given vintage can perform. ‘If a season doesn’t deliver, there is no compulsion to release wine at all.’

About the 2021 vintage, Materman says ‘it was an absolutely outstanding season where we experienced naturally low yields, dry conditions with no disease pressure, and just above average temperatures. Though an early season, we could achieve optimal ripeness and picking decisions were based entirely on flavour development and sugar and acid balance, rather than driven by weather events.’ The healthy fruit, bursting with deep transparent flavours, retained an ideal level of acidity thanks to cool temperatures, therefore providing pure varietal expressiveness. Hand-harvested from a 10-year old plot within the larger Keltern vineyard, the fruit arrived in pristine conditions to the cellar, enabling minimal winemaking intervention and ultimately allowing Keltern’s unique characteristics to shine.

It is, therefore, a vintage that reaffirms Keltern’s worthy place among Villa Maria’s Icons. The transparency of the fruit yielded by the harvest served, once again, as a vehicle to convey the talent of Villa Maria’s winemaking team and to define a style of powerful yet approachable elegance.

Keltern Chardonnay, latest release

Tasted and scored by the Decanter team

Keltern, Chardonnay, Hawke’s Bay 2021
With its reductive restraint and allure, this wine needs time in the glass to blossom. Once it does, it rewards with lovely notes of apple orchard, lemon zest, asian pear and flint. Lovely tension between that reductive verve and nutty aspects of toasted almonds and fresh walnuts. Great precision, texture and mineral transparency. Alcohol well integrated, calibrated by the acid drive. 14.5% abv

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