We seek to reflect the characteristic expression of our site and soil in the wines we make, looking for consistent quality, fruit concentration and expression of terroir.
Bell Hill Vineyard was established by Marcel Giesen and Sherwyn Veldhuizen and is situated at an old lime quarry in the Weka Pass, North Canterbury. This is a unique site with limestone derived soils and north facing hillside exposures. From 1997 through to 2009 we planted two hectares at high density with Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.
Bell Hill uses the Burgundian model of vineyard architecture with a high plant density of 9,259 to12,500 vines/ha. All plantings since 2005 are at 11,363 vines/ha or 1.1m row spacing by 0.8m vine spacing. The intention of this is to reduce yield per vine and encourage deep root penetration of the soil profile, its flavour and its elements. We seek to reflect the characteristic expression of our site and soil in the wines we make, looking for consistent quality, fruit concentration and expression of terroir. The management of the vineyard is very detailed and we consider our high level of manual labour as being very influential in achieving site potential.
The Weka Pass area was previously unplanted in grapes and we were drawn to the pure chalky limestone soils and calcareous clays. The subsurface glauconitic clay (rich in iron and magnesium) is found below the layers of lime in the soil from a minimum depth of 1.5 metres. The Roadblock and Slope are rich in dense, calcareous clays bringing another influence to our wines. We have been farming organically and bio dynamically since the 2007/2008 growing season and see this as paramount to increased soil and vine health as well as fruit quality and expression. Our Bio-Gro Organic Certification came through on 1 March 2015.
Bell Hill was first surveyed in 1917 for Charles Trounce to conduct a lime quarrying operation. This continued until the late 1930’s and the current Waikari Limeworks is situated nearby.
On settling here we found remnants of the machinery used for quarrying. This gave Bell Hill an interesting historical as well as geographical aspect (the name Bell Hill comes from its bell-like shape on the southern side, once the first view for travellers coming into the Waikari Valley) and encouraged us to express a connection with location and history in considering the wine label. We decided upon “Old Weka Pass Road” (our road address) for our first releases and younger fruit and have featured the Maori drawings found on a nearby rock overhang in the Weka Pass from 500-1000 years ago. The moa fossil discovery at our vineyard in May 2001 gave us a glimpse even further back into New Zealand history. Our first “Bell Hill” wines were released from the 2003 vintage and the label features our “bellhill” logo.
Bell Hill is a long-term project driven by our desire to achieve the absolute in wine definition from this site. Vintage variation in this part of the world means you never stop evaluating what you do and for what reasons. There is no end to striving for excellence and learning from what you do.
Our wines are estate grown at Bell Hill and include Bell Hill Pinot Noir - a selective and quite structural blend currently based around the Shelf and Quarry blocks and Old Weka Pass Road Pinot Noir – the sibling to Bell Hill, mostly from younger fruit giving it accessibility earlier on. With vine maturity and positive seasonal influences, all our blocks and clones have the potential to become part of the Bell Hill blend. Each block is harvested and fermented separately (the Quarry in two parts) allowing for the wines to evolve in barrel and show us their true character before blending. In the future, when all plantings are well into production, we plan to release limited single block wines to demonstrate their individual characters - the Shelf is one block showing this potential now. The Bell Hill Chardonnay, from the Shelf, Limeworks and Roadblock, is showing great transparency in expressing soil minerality and delivering this in the glass.
From our vertical vintage tastings over the years, the wines now truly show the minerality of site, particularly from the 2008 vintage, yet the ‘lead-up’ wines have always had something to show of where they may head…the next twenty years are something to look forward to. We already know that at Bell Hill, the site is strong – not just in a soil and visual sense but also in momentum, character, change and movement – it demands absolute adaptability and we need to keep moving through and with it – it will show us in the end.
At Bell Hill we attribute the following descriptors to the influence of active lime in our soils:
In Chardonnay – minerality, stone fruit, white flower and flinty complexity, integrated lengthening acidity, tight structure, and longevity. These wines need time with air once opened.
In Pinot Noir – fruit development and character in the savoury, earthy and dried herb spectrum rather than primary fruit sweetness; supple but very supportive tannin structures; slow evolution with gaining impact - hence extra ageing in the bottle before release; persistent and structural acidity throughout the palate adding to the length, focus and overall impression of the wine.
Our wines are under screwcap closures, we encourage decanting recent vintages, including Chardonnay.
– VINEYARD CAT
October 2003 to April 16 2014, laid to rest on Good Friday April 18. Rest in Peace Tom. Tom was a second generation wild cat born at Bell Hill, his grandmother walked onto the land one day with six kittens under tow and made a home under our container, the runt usually stayed home and this was Tom’s mum, Aligote (Ali for short and synonymous with Alley cat) for her wild but very affectionate nature, we couldn’t coax her inside but Tom, from her second litter was a different matter. Always a tricky eater but happy to get close to us and into our hearts he came.
Tom went missing the evening after our last picking day of 2014 vintage. We found him on Good Friday morning just inside our boundary at the Roadblock, it appears he had been hit by a car - we believe and hope it went very quickly for him. He was our best friend and our living joy at Bell Hill. His personality, antics and understanding was out of this world and everyone who knows him also knows how much he meant to us.
Sometimes known as Sparkle Horse, Monkey, Mama Kind (that from Marcel) and just Katze, he was a great escort on vineyard tours (if he felt like it), very patient with our work in the vege garden, pruning and under the nets (where he would sit on top of the netting like a big hammock and just move down the row with you), and understanding in our times of busyness and lack of routine such as harvest and frost protecting. We deeply regret we didn’t get that time of calmness after harvest to enjoy the sun that finally came out and reconnect with each other. He would have been basking in that sunshine.
We will miss his dirty footprints, the rabbits he used to bring in to us during the night, hearing his footprints and his meow chatter when he comes in for a rest and to check if we are there, his independence when he wasn’t that interested and his loud purring and happy drooling when he was.
He is and will always be greatly missed.