About Fancrest

Talk to anyone who grows Pinot Noir and you'll get agreement on one thing: Pinot Noir is a tough grape to grow but far from tough itself! Thin-skinned, temperamental, and an early budder and ripener. You can't take your eyes off it for a moment. If frosts don't get it (fortunately our site is reasonably frost free), disease will. It's fussy about where it grows, delivering sublimely beautiful wines from only a handful of places in the world. Even in these unique places, only with care and patience will it express itself to the full.Very few Pinot Noir clones, on their own, are able to deliver an age-worthy, silky smooth, balanced Pinot Noir that dances across the palate. The secret to creating a wine with poise and elegance, lies in blending wine from different clones.

In 2003 we began developing the vineyard with a selection of premium Pinot Noir clones. More about these later. Having mapped the soils across the fan, we knew where each soil sub-type began and ended. Our aim was to spread the best available clones across both main soil types on the Estate to exploit their full potential: to let the vineyard soils speak through them. Not quite a mixed planting, but close.

We followed up in 2004 and in 2008 with plantings that took us up onto the thin limestone at the crest of the fan.

Among our selection criteria were clones with moderate vigour, small bunches with small berries to concentrate flavour, and a typical Burgundian aroma and acid profile. We are not obsessed with colour and believe strongly that an increase in colour does not necessarily correlate well with an increase in wine quality. We also looked for clones able to ripen well with moderate alcohol levels. There is no such thing as the perfect clone, but some come close.

Interplanted between the Pinot Noir vines is a random planting of Berrysmith Pinot Gris accounting for around 1% of the total number of vines.

Dijon Clones (B series)

Also sometimes called "Bernard" Clones, their origin is primarily from Chateau Morey St Denis in Burgundy. They are part of a wide range of French government selections.

Pinot Noir B113

Has the reputation of being either as dog or a star. A very small planting up in the limestone where we think it has the best potential to be a star. Clear and strong colour; fine floral bouquet typical of Pinot Noir; balanced; moderate tannins. Moderate yielding but sometimes suffers from irregular production. A balanced but light wine according to French data.

Pinot Noir B114

Delivers strong colour with a purplish hue; rich aroma of black cherry and spice; good skin structure and tannins, lowish pH. Below average yields, medium fertility, may set irregularly; above average sugar/alcohol potential; tight bunches.

Pinot Noir B115

Capable of producing strong colour with a purplish hue. Moderate yielding, moderately vigorous, with regular fruit set. Good quality wines with a superior bouquet described mostly as raspberry or small red berry fruit; rich and fuller bodied than most according to French data; well structured; tannic; long on the palate; ageworthy. Above average sugar/potential alcohol but with good acidity.

Pinot Noir B667

Beautiful, strong colour; restrained, elegant and quality bouquet of black cherries, spice and bark ; sweet tannins, structured to cellar; rich, long. Moderate yielding; medium fertility; small bunches with earlier maturity than some clones. Tends to produce high sugar/alcohol.

Pinot Noir B777

Strong and intense colours; strong aromas of juicy black fruit; good balance - round, good quality tannins. Moderate cropper; produces very good quality, complete and very typical wines with good keeping qualities according to French data. Slightly bigger bunches than average with some variation in berry size. Good producer, maturing earlier than most. Potential for high sugar/alcohol production.

California Clones

Also called "Pommard" in New Zealand

UCD5 & UCD6

UCD5 has performed well in New Zealand and is the mainstay of a number of top flight producers. Good producer, and setter, with potentially high yields which can be managed with careful fruit thinning if required. An early ripener with medium to large, tight bunches that require good Botrytis control. Both UCD5 and UCD6 produce lush, perfumed wines with UCD6 producing somewhat richer wines.

ABEL Selection

Also called the "Gumboot Clone" the original cutting are rumoured to be from DRC and are believed to have been imported in the 70s by a travelling rugby player, hidden in a gumboot. Saved from destruction by Malcolm Abel, a customs officer and Pinot enthusiast who paid for it to be put through quarantine at Te Kauwhata. Vines were first planted out in Abel's vineyard in Kumeu (now long gone), but a young winemaker working with him, Clive Paton, took cuttings back with him to Ata Rangi in Martinborough. Abel is both fertile and productive, so yields must be carefully managed. The naturally vigourous nature of this clone suits our hard soils and it's tendency to mature later helps spread out the harvest. Bunches are reasonably large and heavy. Abel is believed by many winemakers to be the most "complete" Pinot Noir clone.

We truly believe the secret behind the taste of wine, lies in the soil. It's hard to name a truly great Pinot Noir that doesn't come off limestone. Old soil maps helped us focus our hunt for the perfect limestone terroir. True Limestone derived soils in the Waipara Valley are considerably less common than one might think. This made our discovery of this site particularly exciting.

The slip that created our fan has mostly covered over the more common Awapuni soils (although they show up in patches on the western slopes and down in the paddock adjacent to SH1). Awapuni soils are easily recognizable as a very dark grey-brown silt loam; over increasingly massive and clayey olive-grey-orange silt-clay-loam that become rock hard when dry.

The rest of our fan's soils are derived from two types of limestone.

  • Amuri/Amberley Limestone (the older of the two): a hard white fine-grained limestone (comprising calcareous mudstone and glaucontic siltstone) deposited in deep water starting around around 65.5million years ago.
  • Weka Pass Stone/Omihi Limestone (younger): a hard, cream-coloured, massive, sandy limestone, with finely disseminated glauconite, laid down in shallower waters when the ocean receded starting around 34 million years ago.

The term glauconite refers to the blue-green sheen on these limestones. In North Canterbury, our glauconite is a friable greenish mineral containing the elements potassium and iron. The presence of glauconite tells us that these were certainly marine rather than freshwater deposits because the deposition of glauconite is influenced by the decaying process of organic matter degraded by bacteria in marine animal shells.

Potassium in these limestone clays has major implications for winemaking: it can influence the pH of the grapes, and makes determining the optimal time for harvest critical.

Looking along the Limestone ridge that runs parallel to and above the Golden Mile vineyards, it's possible to distinguish the segments of the hillside that have more limestone from those that have more glauconitic sandstone due to faulting. Our close neighbours on either side are under mainly glauconitic sandstone sections, while Fancrest Estate is formed mainly from a limestone section. Not far away, the glauconitic limestone reappears, and here, at the now abandoned Omihi Limeworks, it was quarried for some of the purest agricultural lime the South Island has ever produced. The works closed when the sandstone content of the lime made it uneconomical to quarry any longer.

Weathering and erosion of these two limestone types is what has built our vineyard soils, and is responsible for the dramatic changes in soil types across very small distances along this range of hills. It also explains the differences in the character of the Pinot Noirs from the different vineyards along the range.

The reason we were so excited about discovering this site, is that Rendzic soils are unmistakable: Rendzina is a dark, grayish-brown, humus-rich, intrazonal soil. Nothing else looks quite like it. On the crest of the fan above this and on the eastern foot of the fan, where the limestone is closer to the surface, the soils are almost black (the word melanic is used to decribe these Rendzinas).

Of all the soils, Rendzina is one of the most closely associated with the mother rock, and an excellent example of initial stages of soil development. It is usually formed by weathering of soft carbonate rocks like dolomite, limestone, marl, and chalk (mudstone). The name Rendzina derives from the Polish word "rzędzić", which means "to chat": Rendzina contains rocks which click and screech on the plough i.e., "talk" to the ploughman. The term now is used for a class of shallow soils over chalk, limestone, or extremely calcareous unconsolidated material in which the topsoil is calcareous. This makes for a very distinctive and interesting soil.

Both Weka Pass Stone/Omihi Limestone and Amuri/Amberley Limestone weather to create Rendzic Soils. Like all real Rendzinas, some of our soils directly over limestone have only an A horizon around 15-30cm deep directly over a marly limestone or mudstone C Horizon. Here the topsoil is thin: Base Saturation (BS) is 100% of which Calcium (Ca) 78%: Magnesium (Mg) 9.5%: Potassium (K)12%. Immediately beneath this, in the marl or mudstone, where the vines roots explore, the pH rises dramatically from around 6.6 to 8.1. It's Cation Exchange (CEC) is around 44.5 me/100g. Base Saturation of 100% in the ratio Ca 96%BS:Mg 3.3%BS:K 0.6%BS. This makes this soil perfect for growing Burgundian varieties.

These soils produce beautifully structured pinot with floral aromatics and a mineral seam that runs through the palate. The vines struggle to pull the minerals they need from these soil and we often have to foliar feed them with a cocktail of the minerals they are deficient in, mainly Iron and magnesium.

Moving just off the limestone marls and mudstones usually results in a gradual drop in alkalinity in the topsoil. In places however there is actually an increase in pH. These are the yellow-pale-orange areas on the vineyard map. pH 6.6-8.5; BS 95-100% of which around 70-90% is Calcium. These very dark grey-brown clay loam soils give our wines beautiful palate weight and lush aromatics. Viticulture on these particular soils is somewhat easier because there is less rocky material in the soil, but the young vines really struggle with the soil alkalinity.

The remainder of our soils are lighter and sandier and appear to be a mix of Glauconitic Limestone, Sandstone and the original Awapuni Soil. Generally they have a a lower pH than the Rendzic soils. Base Saturation 73-88% of which Calcium is 48-49%. Pinot Noir off these blocks are fine and aromatic and usually have bigger tannins.

If you want to know more about why limestone is so exciting here is a very good article: Calcium in Viticulture ICalcium in Viticulture II

We were a relative latecomers to the NZ wine industry. Never having done anything by halves until that point, Di first completed a certificate course in Winemaking and Viticulture in Hawkes Bay, and a vintages in Auckland and Waipara. That was to decide if a complete career change for Di was not a ridiculous proposition. Di went on to complete a Batchelor of Applied Science (Wine) from Charles Sturt University in Wagga Wagga, NSW and began to turn what had been a fun but expensive hobby, into a very much more expensive profession.

We love being very hands-on: and have both been involved in everything from driving posts and running wires and planting vines, through budburst to pruning. It's never dull: Not one vintage has been the same. After over a decade of learning from our mistakes and successes, we feel we're beginning to get a read on the subtleties and challenges of our site. We've also managed to resist bringing in grapes from other sources, even in lighter vintages. Keeping our teroir unadulterated is very important to us, but this has come at a cost.

Every year Di spends most of her time in the vineyard looking after our soils and also finetuning the canopy and crop levels, aiming each year to produce a more uniformly ripe and concentrated Pinot crop. Soil is, for us, the foundation stone of terroir. Soils nuked by inorganic pesticides fungicides and herbicides are technically dead, and inhibit vines from accessing the natural soil nutrients. It is therefore impossible for them to express terroir over and above varietal typicite. Our overarching goal is to restore tired old sheep pasture to living forest floor dominated by natural beneficial soil funghi and bacteria. To achieve this we took the unusual step of never disturbing the soil after planting. We explored Biodynamics for our first 6 years before rejecting it in favour of a more scientifically sound, biologically based system. Following no-till strategy to restoring soils has made more work for us, but we believe this is why our wines are already beginning to reveal their unique and authentic expression of terroir. 

While the taste of terroir (or gout de terroir) is hard to define, Fancrest is remarkably consistent in producing very earthy savoury Pinot Noir with a seam of minerality running through it. In better years, our Pinot Noir expresses floral notes that remind us of good Volnay. The tannins can be chewey in their youth but inevitably they soften to reveal a more feminine elegant side. Colour is seldom an issue. The idea of  more natural winemaking has always been attractive, without taking it to ridiculous extremes.  Organic winegrowing, hand harvesting, indigenous ferments, basket pressing, high quality oak (most of it 5 year air dried from 14th century sustainably managed forests in Burgundy called Dom Laurent Magic Casks), and since 2010 bottling without fining or filtration has become our way of not imposing our stamp as winemaker over the Terroir. Over time we have tired of the strong oakiness imparted by new oak and have actively worked to minimise this distraction. 

We hope you will love our wines as much as we do.

Di Holding

Fancrest Estate is set on the brow (or crest) and slopes, and the vineyard fans out down the slopes of the fan, hence the name. The views from the top are stunning!

Draped over the seaward slopes of the Waipara Valley in North Canterbury, New Zealand, our vineyard estate is protected from the cold easterlies winds that punish Christchurch, less than an hour's drive to the south. Our north facing fan harnesses the warmth of the sun. Free draining limestone clays over fragmented marls effectively limit vigour, and keep the canopy open and airy. In spring frosty air drains down into the valley, protecting our vines from cold damage. High levels of active lime across parts of this slope are ideal for growing Pinot Noir with classic structure and age-ability.

A finicky and fastidious varietal, Pinot Noir is sensitive to small changes in the both the season, the terroir and in how it is managed. To bring out its very best expresssion, we decided to focus exclusively on Pinot Noir, and in 2003 planted a selection of the very best low yielding high quality Pinot Noir clones.

Coveted for many years by winemakers across the country, Fancrest Estate has become one of the jewels in the crown of Waipara. It's located within a strip of roughly three kilometers of limestone hillside, referred to by some as 'The Golden Mile', perhaps with a not so subtle reference to Burgundy's "Golden Slopes".

Winemaker Diane Holding and husband Ian are convinced this narrow strip of land, which is already generating excitement among pinotphiles and earning their respect, will one day be producing among the best Pinot Noir in the world.

Winegrowing on the hills is hard work demanding a singular focus and commitment from those who work the land. Di Holding is not just committed to this exciting venture. She also works the vineyard, and makes the wine herself. With 5.4Ha of close planted (5000/Ha) vines, Di is most often to be found in the vineyard.

Despite being a qualified winemaker Di's main focus is on growing great Pinot. A committed terroiriste, Di has pushed the envelope in terms of allowing her vines to explore these magical soils. She has abandoned conventional vineyard practices, which often destroy soil flora and fauna with poisons and cultivation. She has adopted a complete no-till strategy and the vines love it.

Fancrest Estate was among the very first vineyards in Waipara to be certified fully organic (Biogro #5124), and the first to certify its wine as 100% organic.

Their risk in putting all their eggs in one basket is paying off. Every vintage demonstrates how the vines are beginning to push deeper through the limestone.  The wines even taste minerally. To preserve these qualities in the finished wine Di uses mechanisation judicously, and employs age old techniques wherever possible. The vast majority of the work is done by hand or in some cases feet!

Di's practices may vary from season to season, but no shortcuts are taken in the pursuit of excellence. The wines are usually bottled without fining or filtering.

Di has surrounded herself with a very small but dedicated team, mainly family, although for bigger tasks she loves to work with dedicated students of wine.

This logo was developed by Chuck House, world famous wine label designer from the Icon Group in Santa Rosa, California. Co-author of ICON: Art of the Wine Label, Chuck has designed for such names as Antinori,  Stags Leap, and Mondavi. 

His tallent is in no small part due to his capacity for listening to the stories of wine, and his remarkable ability to turn these stories into instantly recognisable images. Noone captures his philosophy better than Chuck himself:

"A successful wine package is a sculpture of the moment, an authentic expression of time and place. At its best, it transcends the past and the present with a vision of the future that is uniquely its own."

In our logo, Chuck uses the intertwined initials to hark back to the classic period, when the original European varietals, including Pinot Noir were being developed. He provides a link to the history of Pinot Noir: an homage rather than an attempt to make this an Old World pinot.

The interlocking F and E symbolize the organic synergy of wine and the land from which it comes.

The curves of the F and E have a look of a classic billowing sail, evoking the wind and sea that symbolize NZ in the popular imagination, and Ian and Di's love of sailing. Clean and fresh like the wine itself.

There's also a sensual quality in the way the two letters insinuate themselves together, like Pinot Noir itself.