The BONELINE: Winemaking with dinosaurs

05 Dec 2019

The Boneline has won the Champion Other Red Styles trophy for their Amphitheatre Cabernet Franc, Waipara 2018 in the 2019 NZ Wine of the Year awards. They planted their vineyard 30 years ago this month, with the winning wine being made from those first vines.

“Found deep in a natural amphitheatre scoured out by the river, our old Franc vines focus the last of the fading sun’s energy into their soft blue bunches. This is the time where patience is in short supply as thoughts of post-harvest holidays weigh heavily on the mind — however, patience is exactly what’s required waiting for optimum ripeness to harvest fruit perfectly poised on the edge.”

Lindsey Hill and Paul Tutton standing in a vineyard
Lindsay Hill and Paul Tutton

The Boneline is situated inland and upstream along the south bank of the Waipara River in North Canterbury, well west of the Teviotdale hills, which provide shelter from cool easterly winds but open to warming north-west winds.

It is owned and planted by the Tutton Sienko and Hill family partnership – Paul Tutton, Olga Sienko-Tutton, Vic Tutton and Lindsay Hill, who runs the vineyards.

They named the brand Boneline after the nearby exposed K-T Boundary line; a geological feature of strata dating back as far as 65 million years. Fossils from this time period have been discovered along the Waipara River, where once giant marine creatures, then more recently Moa thrived then died. 

“There are around 12 kilograms of Phosphorous in an adult moa’s bones – so these creatures that lived large in our valley, still give to our soils and vines.”

The inspiration from this unique ground has carried further into the brand. Lindsay and Vic’s son Jack Hill explains, “I loved dinosaurs a lot when I was growing up and I still do. This is what sparked our idea for the Boneline.”

Jack and Lindsey Hill looking for fossils.
Jack and Lindsay looking for fossils

Each of the Boneline’s labels depicts a fossil found within the Waipara River system close to the vineyards, from Leigh Love’s collection, or those he has gifted to Canterbury Museum.

“Leigh Love is our local expert on fossils and formations of the Waipara River – Leigh has incredible knowledge & appreciation of what lies hidden within the strata and gravels, which he shares with others readily.”

During his time studying the area, Leigh has made several important academic discoveries including one of the oldest flying seabirds, Australornis Lovei [named after him] from about 58 million years ago, the giant penguin 1.6m Crossvallia waiparensis, and the so-called bony toothed seabird.

The family bought the land in 1989 and started planting in 1990. The blocks in the vineyard differ in height and aspect, being shaped within various river terraces,  some partially encompassed by steep deep cliffs.

“There are five different soils types across the property which overall consists of Glasnevin gravels, and plantings were matched for each variety.”

Lindsey, Jack and Vic Hill in a vineyard
Lindsay, Jack and Vic

The old riverscape and undulating land have formed natural amphitheatres over time, allowing a relatively wide range of varieties to grow for the North Canterbury climate.

“My uncle was very passionate about growing Bordeaux blends, despite the fact that they were unproven in the region at the time. But that sort of blind faith led us to have really interesting vines now, 30 years on, with lots of old deep roots.”

Cabernet Franc was one of those varietals, and the wine takes its name from the sunken sandy loam heat trap of a natural amphitheatre, where it grows and successfully ripens.

Winemaker Paul Goodege draws out the depths from their site and gives thoughtful care and attention to each parcel.

“Fruit is handpicked clonally and treated individually in the winery — this allows each parcel to reach its own potential and provides multiple blending options.”

Paul Goodage from The Boneline drinking a glass of red wine.
Paul Goodege and the winning wine

“We love growing grapes & making wine — although every year has the same rhythms of work, each season brings out something new & intriguing from the depths of this site, from the vines to the winery. If we can pass this through to your glass, then we are happy.”


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