50 shades of grape – Special edition: Felton Road, a ‘Fine’ from New-Zealand. 

While on holidays in New Zealand, Monsieur Baco stumbled across an unusual bottle of Fine...

During a family trip to New Zealand, Monsieur Baco made a very strange discovery… one day while sitting close to the bar (as always) at Nova Café in Dunedin, a bottle caught our attention. How was it that a bottle labelled ‘Fine’ found its way onto the shelves of a café 19,000 kilometers from France? After asking to see the bottle, we were surprised to find that it had actually been produced in New Zealand by Felton Road! The manager of the café was kind enough to let us taste the Fine and we were able to attest its quality. Back in France and after a few emails with Blair Walter, Wine Maker and General Manager of Felton Road, we have a bottle in our possession. 

We decided to write this article, which strays a little from our purpose (mapping the production of French spirits) to bring a counterpoint to the French tradition of Fine we previously covered: how, from the same source of inspiration, does one produce a wine spirit on the other side of the world

Introducing Felton Road

For many French people, Felton Road will not ring many bells. Indeed, France, as a great wine country in terms of volume and quality, offers little place on the shelves to foreign wines (especially since the prices inflated by shipping costs and the numerous intermediaries often weigh on the price-quality ratio). And yet, by browsing through some forums and specialized websites, Felton Road is one of the most reputable wineries in the Central Otago region and even in New Zealand, some even comparing it to some of the great Burgundian names (such as Roumier, Rousseau…). 

A brief history of Felton Road

Located in Bannockburn in Central Otago, Felton Road was founded in 1991 by Stewart Elms who first discovered the potential of the terroir. He planted his first vines in 1992 on the Elms vineyard which took his name (the name ‘Elm’ also gave its emblem to the brand). In 2000, the Elms vineyard was purchased by Nigel Greening and merged with his vineyards at Cornish Point. Together with Blair Walter who had been working on the estate since 1997, Nigel Greening developed the estate with the subsequent addition of the two vineyards of Calvert and MacMuir.

Blair Walter and Nigel Greening, Felton Road, biodynamic winery, Central Otago, New Zealand
Blair Walter (left) and Nigel Greening (right)

The vine management at Felton Road

The vineyards are cultivated biodynamically since 2002. Natural composts are made (from fermented yarrow in stag bladder for example) and spread over the vineyards to promote biodiversity in the soil. The lunar calendar gives the tempo in the organization of the different tasks to be done. Flowers have been planted in the middle of the vineyards and animals (goats and chickens) regulate the vegetation and create natural manure.

The vineyards 

Today, Felton Road has 34 hectares of vineyards spread over 4 vineyards. 3 grape varieties are grown: pinot noir (70%), chardonnay (20%) and riesling (10%). 140 000 bottles of wine are produced each year. The specificities of each vineyard are particularly detailed on the estate’s website. Let’s sum up the main characteristics: 

Elms (15,1 hectares)

The mother rock is composed of schist and covered with 40 cm of loess. The soils are heterogeneous and varied. Pinot Noir is mainly planted on the denser soils that give it power and complexity while Chardonnay and Riesling flourish on gravellier soils. The grapes ripen more slowly on this parcel due to its higher altitude (260-330m).

The Elms vineyard, Felton Road, biodynamic winery, Central Otago, New Zealand
The Elms vineyard – Felton Road

Cornish Point (7.6 hectares)

A former apricot orchard, the soils are sandy-silty on the surface with a clay base and are located on an ancient glacier. The plantation of the rows at 345 degrees allows to balance the sunshine and high UV at 45° South. The fruit ripens the fastest and develops less acidity. The wines from these soils have intense floral and black fruit notes. 

The Cornish Point vineyard – Felton Road

MacMuir (5.1 hectares) and Calvert (5,9 hectares)

The deep, north and northeast facing silty soils are similar in both vineyards. They give the Pinot Noir thin tannins, a certain minerality and floral and black fruit notes. The grapes ripen fairly early because of the low altitude (215-228m) and orientation. 

Overall, Blair explains that the dense soils will bring a velvety, silky texture to the tannins, which will bring sweetness to the Fine once distilled. 


Inspired by his experience at Domaine de l’Arlot in 1996, Blair Walter began distilling the pinot noir lees in 2006. Joerg, a career Boeing 747 pilot, learned fruit distillation from his father, grandfather and uncles in Germany in his youth. A distiller in his spare time, he is in charge of the distillation every year. 

Joerg operates a 150-liter copper pot still with a fractioned column still of German manufacture (Christian CARL). 

The copper pot-still, Felton Road

The aging process

The solera system

The aging of Felton Road’s Fine is done in solera. The solera is an aging system borrowed from Spanish sherry wines, which consists of stacking the barrels one on top of the other. As soon as a portion of the lower barrels is emptied, the content of the upper barrels are transferred to the lower ones and the upper ones are filled with the new-make spirit. This creates a perpetual aging process. While it is impossible to give an age to a spirit aged in solera, an average of 10 years can be given (the oldest brandy being 17 years old). 

The solera currently consists of 4 Burgundy ‘pièces’ (228 liters), 2 ‘feuillettes’ (114 liters), 2 ‘quarteaux’ (57 liters) plus a very small cask. 

Fine solera barrels, Felton Road, biodynamic winery, Central Otago, New Zealand
Fine solera barrels, Felton Road

A low-interventionist philosophy

Blair Walter advocates a low interventionist approach. He seeks to respect the raw material from the different terroirs of the estate by orienting the profile of the final eau-de-vie as little as possible. He considers that his main intervention consists in choosing the barrels that will allow him to highlight the intrinsic qualities of the distillate. 


Since the volumes distilled are very low, Felton Road’s Fine remains a curiosity, a secondary project, a bonus allowing to go to the end of what the pinot noir of Central Otago can offer. Up until now, only 50 bottles have been produced each year allowing the Solera to grow in size and age. From 2023 it is expected that 150 bottles per year will be bottled. In fact, the probability of coming across one of these bottles has been extremely slim. With only 3 bars in New Zealand possessing a bottle, it was very fortuitus that Monsieur Baco came across one. 

Blair Walter explains that this product is mainly offered to sommeliers serving Felton Road wines, which allows them to introduce their customers to a brandy produced by a winery that they have enjoyed during the meal. 

Japanese are very fond of Burgundy wines, thus Japan is a target market for Felton Road. Some bottles are also available in Sweden and the Netherlands.

Tasting note

A bottle was kindly provided by Felton Road. The quantities allowed for 2 tastings of about 30 minutes. The same tulip glass was used. A synthesis of the two tasting notes is presented here. 

Felton Road – Fine (100% Pinot Noir), 43°

Color: gold with amber highlights. 

Nose: rather fine, opens on a rather spicy register (sweet spices like cinnamon, vanilla, clove) with a touch of beeswax. The secondground is marked by a persistent floral/fresh register (honeysuckle, verbena, orange blossom) while the fruit is a held back with discreet notes of tangerine, fresh grape, tropical fruits (lychee, papaya) and a touch of red fruits (wild strawberries, black currant). The background is marked by notes of caramel, almond and toasted bread complemented by a touch of anise. The whole sits on a very well-integrated woody base.  

Palate: the attack is moderate. The volume in the mouth remains fine and the mid-palate, rather dry and woody, is marked by notes of hazelnut, toasted rye bread, cocoa, spices (caraway, nutmeg). The finish is short-medium and warm supported by notes of bitter cocoa, caraway and black pepper. 


Finesse and complexity are the words that come to mind to qualify this Fine. The woody tones are perfectly integrated on the nose and a bit more prominent on the palate. I would attribute this result to the ageing in solera which allows to homogenize the whole and to limit the extraction of wood by the small capacity barrels. I would just appreciate a slightly higher alcohol level to give more length to the finish and more contrast to the whole. 

In a nutshell 

Felton Road is one of the most renowned estates in the Central Otago region of New Zealand. The estate extends over 34 hectares grown in biodynamics and spread over 4 vineyards. The lees of pinot noir, the dominant grape of the estate (70%), are distilled using a German still. The new spirit is then aged in a solera. The result is a Fine with finesse and a well-integrated woody taste. The very small volumes produced reserve this spirit for a handful of restaurants around the world.

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