The winner of the inaugural NZ Riesling Challenge has been announced with top honours going to Matt Donaldson from the Pegasus Bay winery.

The NZ Riesling Challenge competition, launched by award-winning Mud House wines, saw 12 winemakers selected to handcraft a Riesling using fruit picked from the same vineyard at the same time in 2010.
 
The wines were then judged by the participating winemakers alongside Chairman of Judges, Bob Campbell, with the winner announced at the Blondie and Pretenders concert at the Mud House winery in Waipara today.
 
To complete the challenge, each winemaker received four tonnes of grapes hand-picked in April from the Mud House vineyard. Contestants then crushed, pressed and fermented the grapes through their chosen method, in stainless steel or oak, to produce the best Riesling wine, dry or sweet.
 
Winning winemaker Matt Donaldson says he thoroughly enjoyed the experience and the opportunity to test their winemaking skills as part of the challenge. 
 
“The Riesling challenge is an interesting concept that will be great for promoting the variety…it was a pleasure and a privilege to be involved” he says.
 
“The fruit was in perfect condition but picked a little earlier than we do for our Pegasus Bay Riesling, so we thought we would have a little experimental fun and froze the bunches before gently pressing.  This raised the degree Brix from 22 to 25.  Fermentation was clean and cool and stopped according to taste to give a luscious classic style,” says Donaldson.
 
All the wines have now been bottled, with one bottle of each of the 12 Rieslings going to create a mixed case of wine, The Riesling Challenge Dozen, which is available for purchase in New Zealand.
 
Each bottle also features a Riesling Taste Profile on the label, a scale created by the International Riesling Foundation, to help consumers predict the taste in a particular bottle from Dry to Sweet.
 
Neil Charles-Jones, shareholder and director of the Mud House Wine Group, says the NZ Riesling Challenge is a novel way to spread the Riesling story and highlight the versatility of the Riesling grape.
 
“We’re thrilled to have launched the inaugural year of the NZ Riesling Challenge and it has produced a fantastic selection of standout wines from top winemakers,” says Charles-Jones.
 
“The NZ Riesling Challenge is all about promoting Riesling as a variety, while also promoting the Waipara region and all it has to offer.”
 
Second place went to Matt Dicey, Mt Difficulty and third to winemaker Mike Brown from Golden Hills Estates.
 
Only 2000 cases will be available for public purchase through participating wineries, the Mud House Wine Group and a dedicated NZ Riesling Challenge website.
 
For more information visit www.rieslingchallenge.co.nz  
 
About the Mud House Wine Group:
Established in 1996, the Mud House Wine group owns the Mud House and Waipara Hills brands. Mud House branded wines are distributed through Vintners in New Zealand and are also available in Australia, US, Canada, UK, EU and Asia. Mud House has a strong wine range, with the Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc being the champion. The Central Otago Pinot Noir is also making a name for itself as a great tasting, excellent value wine.
 
About Neil Charles-Jones – Shareholder and Director, Mud House Wine Group:
A qualified architect, English-born Neil made a life-changing move from the urban jungle of London to the peaceful plains of Marlborough in 1992. Initially working as an architect, it wasn’t long before the burgeoning local wine industry caught Neil’s attention.
 
Neil was jointly involved in establishing the Marlborough Bottling Company and developing wineries for a number of leading Marlborough wine companies.  Later his view of the wine industry expanded to include vineyards in Marlborough, Waipara and Central Otago. His practical knowledge of New Zealand’s wine industry is invaluable to Mud House.  Often found in the far reaching corners of the globe, Neil spends much of his spare time travelling the world, searching for that perfect bottle.
 
About the Winemakers:
 
Matt Donaldson
Matthew Donaldson  and Lynnette Hudson, a husband and wife team, head the wine making at the Donaldson Family’s Pegasus Bay Winery in the Waipara Valley. Their approach to wine making has been shaped by the many vintages they have worked in wineries around the world with a particular focus on Pinot Noir and Riesling producing regions. These experiences have helped shape Matthew’s belief and understanding that the vineyard is where all good wine is made and is of the utmost importance if the wines are to be a true expression of time and place.
 
Matt Dicey
Matt has a lifelong association with the wine industry, and is a fourth generation vigneron. This association was formalised through gaining a Masters Degree in Oenology and Viticulture. He has been involved in winemaking for the past 14 years, four of which were spent gaining experience overseas. He returned to Bannockburn in 1998 to try his hand at the ultimate winemaking challenge – making the best wines possible in a region with infinite potential. Matt has made Mt Difficulty Wines since 1999.
 
Simon McGeorge
Having spent time in Marlborough, Hawkes Bay, Barossa, Sonoma, Napa and the Loire Simon has seen a range of styles and winemaking techniques. Having been at Waipara Hills for the last 3 years he has had the perfect opportunity to make the rich, opulent wines that he loves and has reveled in the range of aromatics that can be made in North Canterbury. When it comes to making wines with such rich, abundant aromatics, Simon says he feels the best thing he can do to make the best wine is to bring the fruit flavours out front and not to over complicate the issue
 
Ant McKenzie
Ant Mackenzie was born in the grape growing region of Gisborne, New Zealand.  His formative years were spent further south in Hawke’s Bay where his father had an involvement with the pioneer winemakers of his local area.  His formal education includes studies in biochemistry, economics and ultimately a specialization in enology. The cool climate wines of Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Pinot Gris and Gewurztraminer have proven to be Ant’s particular strength.  His focus on these varietals was awakened soon after taking a job as winemaker at arguably New Zealand’s best Riesling producer, Framingham Wine Company.

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