Full circle for winemaker

4:00AM Monday Apr 13, 2009
John Hawkesby

The last time I saw Hawkes Bay viticulturalist Gus Lawson, our delightful Sunday night dinner at his family vineyard Te Awa was brutally interrupted by a frost-alert phone call.

Within a short time, the night sky looked like a re-run of Apocalypse Now, with every available helicopter from as far north as Taupo beating a downward draught on the vines in a desperate attempt to nullify the critically low night temperatures that usher in grape-destroying frosts. A lot has happened since that evening eight years ago.

The Lawson family sold Te Awa to American Julian Robertson, who also has the highly acclaimed Dry River from Martinborough in his stable. Lawson decided his wine-producing chapter had closed and became involved in a new technology-based enterprise. But once bitten by the wine industry, it's hard to drift off into the sunset and he and wife Melanie had fortuitously hung on to a small, terraced, hillside block overlooking the Gimblett Gravels area.

The harsh, sun-drenched environment is perfect to ensure the vines struggle, resulting in low yields of intensely flavoured grapes. It wasn't long before Lawson was back in the business. He has just released his new label, Cypress, with a portfolio of four wines. A syrah and merlot cover the reds and the whites are represented by a chardonnay and pinot gris. Why Cypress?

Nothing clever or sinister, the name is evocative of the cypress-studded hillside vineyard. The wines are all very good and I was particularly impressed, given their obvious quality, at how reasonably they were priced.

"A lot of wine out there," says Lawson. "It's been made to drink, we want to move it, not store it." Shouldn't be too difficult.


2007 Cypress Merlot
Rich, deep colour with raspberry and black-currant flavours. Slightly minty aromas with a splash of chocolate. Great value.
Price: $20

2008 Cypress Pinot Gris
One of the best. Nectarine, guava, pear and peach with a hint of oily minerality and glycerine. Good weight, tending dry.
Price: $25

NZ Herald Living magazine - April 13th, 2009