Planting the first vines in 1979 Hunter's were one of the pioneers of Marlborough wine. They helped establish Sauvignon Blanc in the UK market, changing the face of the New Zealand wine industry forever. Today they are still a family business and whilst the export focus is definitely based around Sauvignon Blanc, other varieties and styles also make their mark.
First established in 1897 Church Road is one of New Zealand's oldest wineries. The original owner returned to Luxembourg in 1920, leaving the winery in the hands of a 19 year old Tom MacDonald, who later purchased the winery and famously produced the country's first commercial Cabernet Sauvignon in 1949. Through the 1960s and early seventies these wines became bench marks. The 1980s saw the winery shut down, but Montana re-established the winery and 1993 saw the first release of Church Road label wines. Now owned by Pernod Ricard, Church Road is an entirely stand alone operation that is left to focus on producing quality Hawkes Bay wine. With the emergence of the McDonald, Grand Reserve and TOM labels the winery has achieved much notable success.
Mt Difficulty emerged from the partnership of five Bannockburn vineyards planted in the early 1990's. Today it is now operated as a company with six vineyards totaling around 40 hectares on the slopes of Bannockburn. Those original vineyards are now some of the oldest in the Bannockburn sub-region of Central Otago with its unique micro-climate and soils. The single vineyard wines are only produced in the best vintages and the best sites. Tonight winemaker Matt Dicey took us through a comparative tasting of three 2009 and three 2013 vintages - Long Gully, Target Gully and Pipeclay Terrace. Interesting to taste and compare how the wines are aging and the similarities and differences between the sites. We also tasted the relatively rare Inspiration Olympic Assemblage Pinot Noir. The single vineyard wines are benchmark wines for Central Otago and obviously very cellar worthy.
Pegasus Bay doesn't need any introduction, its place as Canterbury's leading winery is well established. A lot of the success of the Waipara region can be attributed to the pioneering success of Pegasus Bay. After 25+ years the Donaldson family's Pegasus Bay wines are still recognised as leaders in their styles. The theme of the tasting could have well been, as Mat's T shirt described, "Well Hung", referencing how Pegasus Bay like to have their fruit well ripened picking late in the season. This is a style Mat enjoys with not only the sweeter wines but also the drier wines such as the Bel Canto Riesling and Sauvignon Semillon and the grapes are always amongst the very last to be harvest in the Waipara Valley. With a number of wines that we tasted from the 2014 vintage where there was rain late in the ripening season. The faith that Mat and the team had that things would 'come right' and they would be rewarded with lovely botrytis fruit paid off. The 2014 wines - Rieslings, and even the dry Sauvignon Semillon are very good indeed. Tonight Mat showed us a mix of current, and future releases including the special aged cellar release 2006 Riesling. As always with Pegasus Bay expectations of high quality wines was met.
Huia was established in 1996 by Mike and Claire Allan on their Rapaura Road vineyard in Marlborough. After working at various Marlborough wineries - Claire at Corbans, Lawson's Dry Hills and Taittinger and Mike at Cloudy Bay and Veuve Clicquot Mike and Claire set about clearing and planting what is now the home vineyard. Three vineyards now provide the fruit for the Estate wines - The Shipley block in Rapuara road; the Winsome block East of Blenheim in the Southern Valleys as well as the Home Block. All are organically and bio-dynamically farmed. Huia is very much family owned with the emphasis on wine quality and sustainability. Most of the wine (around 90%) is exported, hence Huia wines are relatively unknown here in New Zealand. They don't enter wine shows here and their profile is relatively quiet. They are quite the "Hidden Gem" of Marlborough. All the wines have a very 'grown-up' textural element and the word 'harmonious' easily comes to mind. They are quite the "Hidden Gem" of Marlborough.
Lawson's Dry Hills was established in 1992 by Ross and Barbara Lawson after being growers since 1981. Their first wine was Gewurztraminer produced from their Alabama Road property after being told that the winery they usually supplied no longer wanted Gewurztraminer. Since then Lawsons has developed into one of Marlborough's best. In 2001 Lawsons took the lead in the screwcap initiative and in 2002 they were the first in New Zealand to completely change to screw caps. They are a member of the the "Family of Twelve' wineries that includes the likes of Kumeu River, Neudorf, Ata Rangi, Felton Road, Villa Maria, Pegasus Bay. Tonight winemaker Marcus Wright showed us through the range looking at the wines in pairs of mainly Reserve and Pioneer Wines, showing and contrasting these.
Champagne Taittinger are one of the few Grande Marque Houses that are still family owned and run. Presiding over this fabulous estate is Pierre-Emanuel Taittinger who is assisted by his children Clovis and Vitalie. With over 650 hectares of their own vineyards, Taittinger control much of their own production, with much of the vineyard being of Grand Cru classification. Tonight we tasted through the range of Taittinger Champagnes accompanied by excellent food from Lizzie's Cuisine Catering. Bliss....
The Earthquakes put paid to Jules Taylor making it down here personally for the tasting, but assisted by some of Jules’ video clips and local rep Don McLorinan adding his knowledge, we still did justice to showing off Jules’ very good wines, albeit without the flair and panache that we know Jules would have brought.
Villa Maria is New Zealand’s largest family owned winery and the continued commitment to producing not only great value wines, but also exceptional, ground breaking wines has to be admired. As part of the move to sustainability they have made a commitment to being fully organic by 2020.
This tasting was based around my experiences at Pinot 2017, a three-day event which was held in Wellington a couple of weeks ago. First held in 2001, this 4-yearly event aims to showcase New Zealand Pinot Noir to the world. Described as “the best Pinot Noir event on the planet”, it brings together media, trade and wine lovers from all over the world. This year the event was themed around Turangawaewae’, or ‘a sense of place’ which can be related to the commonly used term of ‘terroir’. New Zealand Pinot Noir is now making its own mark on the world as a distinct style that can only come from New Zealand, much in the same way as Sauvignon Blanc has already done. Notions that NZ Pinot Noir should reference Burgundy are being left behind.
Again a packed house attended the annual Te Mata Showcase tasting at the George Hotel. It was great to have the 'retired' John Buck return to present the wines, accompanied by his teenaged Grand-daughter Zara - preparing the next generation? The format was slightly different this time around, featuring the estate reds as part of the formal tasting. Of course the anticipated highlight is always the Coleraine and this year is the 35th vintage release, so to celebrate this was served at the end along with a special "Coleraine" chocolate mud cake.
The Thomas family purchased the Omihi hillside site in 2000 and set about establishing and planting the various small blocks on these slopes in 2004. The combination of viticulturalist Nick Gill and wine-maker Dom Maxwell has been a fortuitous and happy one, with Greystone being recognised as one of the new stars on the NZ wine scene. The Decanter Trophy for the 2013 Brothers Reserve Pinot Noir really put them on the world stage.
The wine business in the USA is huge and with total annual consumption of around 3,500,000 litres per year it is the world's largest market and the 4th largest producer (behind France, Italy and Spain). 90% of wine produced in the USA comes from California. 30% of wine consumed is imported and it is New Zealand's single biggest wine export market taking around 21% of our annual production of 300 million litres. New Zealand is now number 3 by value (9.4% share) of all wine imported into USA - Italy 33.5%, France 23% with Australia slipping to number 4 at 8.8%. In 2010 New Zealand wasn't even in the top 6.
Two Paddocks general manager, Jacqui Murphy hosted tonight's tasting featuring a sneak preview of the 2015 single vineyard wines. For the first time, three single vineyard wines have been released and they really are exceptional wines. To me they all have an X-factor - they are very comforting and comfortable to drink. We will be getting a small allocation of these wines which will be released at the beginning of May.
A gap in our wine-maker hosted tasting gave us a chance to taste some excellent Chardonnays. From around New Zealand - South to North with the inclusion of our top selling Californian, Bogle, and one served blind from the South of Burgundy. Starting with our two top selling $20.00 Chardonnays, the rest of the selection was taken to represent top labels from each region - all have been rated 5 stars by various wine writers and we finished with what can be regarded as one of the best, Sacred Hill Riflemans. The line-up didn't disappoint. We are blessed with a richness of choice with NZ Chardonnay and our top Chardonnays can foot it with the best from around the world.
Steve Bennett has been importing wines from around the world, and particularly Europe for a number of years. Many of the wines have become established names (think El Burro, Rojo, Arriba..) However, utilising his Master of Wine contacts he continues to add many new, different and exciting wines to his portfolio. Tonight afforded Steve the opportunity to show some of his favourites. An eclectic mix but all very good, presented in Steve's humorous inimitable manner. This was an excellent tasting with all the wines tasting very well. Of note was Steve's own Kairos Sauvignon Blanc 2009 which he served blind. Amazingly fresh but with some aged textural nuances that led most tasters to think it must be European.
Larry McKenna is widely recognised as the winemaker who introduced New Zealand to quality Pinot Noir - he is often referred to as the "God Father" or "Prince" of Pinot Noir in New Zealand for his history of the variety here. Originally from Australia Larry started in NZ in the early 1980s with John Hancock at Delegats in Auckland. In 1986 he shifted to the new area of Martinborough as the inaugural winemaker for Martinborough Vineyards. In 1998 he established Escarpment. He was inducted into the New Zealand Wine Hall of Fame in 2014.
Established by Grant and Helen Burge in 1988, Grant Burge wines have become one of the icon wineries of the Barossa, utilizing the family’s long history of grape growing in the region. Craig Stansborough has been winemaker at Grant Burge for the past 25 years and it was obvious from the tasting that he has a great passion for Grant Burge Wines and the Barossa. Recently ownership of the winery passed to Accolade wines (who also have New Zealand connections with Mud House and Waipara Hills), but Craig explained that from a wine making perspective, nothing has really changed. Craig’s winemaking philosophy is to produce wines with finesse and balance. He is not a fan of the ‘bigger is more’. Across the range the wines display not only great fruit, but layers of finessed wine-making.
This tasting celebrated Greywacke’s seven vintages of their “wild’ Sauvignon Blanc. Established by Kevin and Kimberley Judd in 2009, after Kevin’s 25 vintages as head wine-maker and General Manager at Cloudy Bay. During his time at Cloudy Bay, Kevin not only crafted the world’s most recognizable Sauvignon Blanc (and label), but he continued tweaking and refining the style. After recruiting his mate James Healy to Cloudy Bay, James introduced wild yeast ferments, firstly with Chardonnay then with Kevin developing Cloudy Bay’s alternative style Sauvignon, Te Koko. When Kevin established his own label, he remained working alongside the old Cloudy Bay team – James Healy and Ivan Sutherland (vineyard owner and viticulturalist) who had themselves established their own label Dog Point. Kevin makes his wines at the Dog Point winery, but his wines are of quite a different style to both Dog Point and Cloudy Bay.
Although Grenache is likely the most widely planted variety in the world, it certainly isn’t on everyone’s lips in New Zealand. Probably because one, very little is produced here and secondly because it is often hidden in blends such as Cotes du Rhone, Rioja, etc. The variety probably originated in Spain around Catalonia where it is known as Garnacha and spread from there through the Aragon kingdom to other Mediterranean areas such as Southern France and Sardinia. It became an early import into Australia where it flourished in the warm climate and was an important component of the fortified wines and they now have some of the oldest vines in the world. It also was a major component in Californian ‘jug wine’ of mid last century. It is a thin skinned, late ripening variety that needs a long, dry ripening season. Along with the Grenache Noir, there is also the white variety, Grenache Blanc.
Steve Voysey first started making wine in Marlborough with Montana in 1987 when, as he recalls, they crushed just 87 tons of Sauvignon Blanc. Three years later he was offered the job as Montana’s chief winemaker in Gisborne. Expecting to stay just 3 years, Steve is still there and still making wine at the winery – now operated by Indevin – under contract. He is justly proud of his achievements at Montana, creating wines such as the Montana “O” Chardonnay and “P” Gewurztraminer. Establishing his own vineyard in the early 1990s and supplying the fruit to Montana, Steve started trialling varieties that what he describes as “unlocking the region’s potential, creating wines of quality from a some say brave and eclectic selection of new and classic varieties.” The Voyseys were able to realise this vision with their own label in 2007. Tonight Steve presented wines from across the spectrum making for a varied and very interesting tasting line-up.
The story of Peter Lehmann wines has been well told, almost legendary; how Peter Lehmann back in 1979, then winemaker at Saltrams, stepped in to turn grapes that the owners of Saltrams didn’t want to purchase from their growers into wine and then sell on, ensuring some kind of income for the growers and saving their livelihoods. From that, Lehmann wines was formed in 1982 and although ownership changes have occurred it has now settled within the Casella group (famous for the Yellowtail brand) and it is operated as an entirely stand-alone operation and still purchasing fruit from over 140 growers in the Barossa- many of those are original growers … memories are long in the Barossa.
Wine Importer and raconteur Michael Jemison paired up an interesting and eclectic range of wines to present for this tasting. It was certainly a treat to taste these, especially the older German Rieslings. The crowd favourite was headed by the stunning Moss Wood Chardonnay - A wine where you really do get what you pay for. The 1992 Auslese was a very special wine but as the vote for favourite wines showed, there was something pleasing for everyone across the wines.