Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Cloudy Bay

Everyone knows it and it has been the icon wine of NZ, that label!  Everybody wanted it and I think maybe still does but it is expensive. Is it still good value?  

I have woken up to scenery of that label everyday for the last two weeks and I work opposite their vineyards and winery.  

The Richmond Range

 So when in NZ I think it’s appropriate to revisit Cloudy BaySauvignon Blanc with the added thrill of drinking it whilst looking out towards those very famous hills!

I can truly say that the 2012 wine is very, very good and an extremely pleasant experience indeed.  Treat yourself and try one.

The one, the only Cloudy Bay

I’m still busy with harvest and with the winery now in its 4th week of running at 24/7 time away from the winery has been limited. On the home straight now though!

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Marlborough - the 2013 Vintage

The team at Matua are young and dynamic winemakers and I am made to feel very welcome as I meet them all over a tasting of early-picked 2013 whites. It is a very small world: chief winemaker Chris Darling and I actually worked together on the cellar floor at Hardy’s in Perth Australia some 13 years ago and now here we are together again for the vintage. However, we’re now running the harvest from the control tower: the tasting room!

If that wasn’t coincident enough, I was told we were expecting the Babich winemaking consultant any minute. And who should walk in but James Graham the Kiwi winemaker. I know James ever so well from his yearly winemaker harvest role in France at Domaine Cousergues in Beziers: the vineyard home of my white Vent de Folie Vermentino!

James is the consultant winemaker for Babich and used to work at this very winery before current owners Matua purchased the property. Babich still have a crush contract here until their new winery is built so we’ll be making the Babich wines for James too!

James and I have walked many times up and down the rows of vines in the French Midi, my territory, so it was fantastic to do the same in his back yard!  We went out to have a look  at the Babich Cowslip Vineyard that’s situated over on the base slopes of the Wither Hills. The Sauvignon Blanc here is UNBELIEVABLE. The actual grape picked from the vine is explosive tasting just like New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc wine does in the bottle! I must have eaten about a 100 berries each time thinking “wow it can’t be true, I’ll try another, it’s true, amazing!” If you want to get an idea of this flavour sensation get hold of some of our Shingle Peak NZ Sav B; it’s made here by Matua.

I am on the day shift which is roughly 12 hours, but the winery runs 24/7. Matua is a big winery and crushes around 25,000 tonnes of grapes and I’ll be looking after some 3,500 ton of Pinot Noir so it means careful planning and constant monitoring.  My cellar team is led by Italian Lorenzo: a cheeky chappy, energetic and winery-wise cellar supervisor. He not only fills me in on all the wine movements and grapes that have arrived but the cellar gossip too!

It’s New Zealand and they’re obsessed with saying “gotta haav yaaa hii veez awn mate”. Roughly translated that means “for safety, high visibility clothing must be worn at all times”! So I was issued with my ‘hii veez’ clothing pretty sharpish.

The rest of the team are Chileans; Rodrigo, Marcello and Eduardo who speak little English. Luckily my winery Spanish I learnt working for a year in Chile has come in very handy indeed!

The red winery has open-top fermenters so we can observe the cap (floating skins) to check visually and give a sniff to check all is ok. There’s plenty of room to work and I’m looking forward to getting stuck into harvest and filling these vats!

Tonight the first Pinot Noir is being picked and so yet another madness of harvest begins!

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

New Zealand: The South Island and Marlborough

Auckland was in glorious sunshine as I entered the alarmingly tiny 15-seat plane for my trip down the South Island town of Blenheim and to my harvest post for the next 5 weeks.

It was a glorious flight down the North Island over the stunning countryside including Mount Tarinaki. We crossed the Cook Strait and flew over the Marlborough Sounds, before descending into the Wairau River Valley and the town of Blenheim. 

Well, it was glorious until we came into land. It was blowing a gale and I was sitting one seat behind the pilot with a perfect view straight out the cockpit window. There was no runway in sight until about five seconds before we touched down … or should I say thumped and bounced down!

The airport is tiny and it’s a ‘get your own bag from the hold’ kind of deal here. I couldn’t help notice about 30 very old war planes parked up next to the runway; Blenheim’s Dads Army perhaps? I later learnt that the film director Peter Jackson has a collection of Great War aircraft and has helped to set up the Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre. Every Easter there is a big air display of these magnificent flying machines.  Sounds great, however I was later to find out my little cottage, home for the next five weeks, is basically at the end of the runway of a normally very quiet airport!

The scenery is just stunning. The horseshoe-shaped mountains of the Wither Hills to the south and the Richmond Range to the North wrap around the green vineyard valley, through which the Waipara River runs eastwards to the infamous Cloudy Bay and the South Pacific Ocean.  From the valley floor, vineyards form the endless southerly and westerly view until the hills rise to the peaks of the Kaikoora Ranges and the Southern Alps

Marlborough can lay claim to starting the modern New Zealand wine industry in the late 1970s, producing mainly Sauvignon Blanc which proved that New Zealand could actually produce quality table wine.  The Marlborough wine region now represents 62% of total vineyard area in the country with the leading varietals being Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.  The Marlborough region is unique and the contrast between hot sunny days and cool nights extend the ripening period of their vines  that produce the well know fruit characters in the Sauvignon Blanc or as they shorten in Kiwi language to “Saaaaaaaaaaaaaaaav”.  The Antipodeans always shorten things but I did argue that although they have shortened it only three letters, when pronounced it is in fact longer than saying Sauvignon Blanc!

Blenheim is the capital and a small but busy working town and not really set up to attract the tourists in a great numbers.  Blenheim is actually named after the 1704 Battle of Blenheim, where troops led by John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough defeated a combined French and Bavarian force.

However, all the talk in Marlborough is wine; especially so this year as it is promising to be potentially the greatest harvest ever seen and picking will start tomorrow! Normally you arrive too late, or end up sitting around for three weeks waiting, but this time I got spot on.
I am working at Matua, situated right next door to Cloudy Bay Winery and actually the first people to plant Sauvignon Blanc in the region. The winery is very innovative and I will be joining the young winemaking team of Chris, Geg, Duncan and Spring, where I will be responsible for the Pinot Noir winemaking.

 It’s a fairly big set up and we expect to crush 25000ton of fruit; 3500 tons of that will be Pinot Noir.  The winery is big and well-organised to take this volume, but harvest time is never simple and the problem this year is that everything will be picked at the same time and in a very short period (in most cases whites generally come first followed by the reds). So the next four weeks are sure to fun and games! Bonne vendanges!

Monday, 8 April 2013

New Zealand: day two

Waiheke Island Day Two

The view from the bedroom effortlessly pulls you out of bed and I was soon in the car heading towards Cable Bay Vineyards. Neill Culley the owner/head winemaker had to nip off to Queenstown in the South Island to check his Pinot Noir vineyard so I missed him this time round. They are also trucking up Sauvignon Blanc grape juice from Marlborough up just like us at Le Chai!

His winemaker Chloe gave me a good look round the winery and vineyards and I tasted the range in the beautiful tasting room. I loved the direct press delicate but flavoursome 2012 Malbec/Merlot rose and the 2010 spicy Syrah. I had come to the Island at the right time and my friend, flying winemaker and master of wine Sam Harrop, a Kiwi himself, was here too, making his and others’ wines. We hooked up together at midday and went about building an appetite by tasting some seriously good wines! 

Our first stop was the beautiful little Chardonnay vineyard owned by his Aunt and Uncle in Oeneroa. Sam has made this harvest an experimental one in order to understand the vineyard, picking small pockets of the vineyard at different stages and fermenting them apart in one barrel batches. This was heaven for me and I was the first person outside of the island to taste them!

The wines are still fermenting but they are already showing stunning fruit character and the different styles will be tough to choose between when they are all finished.  I liked the first pick in one-year-old barrel, a unique rose petal aroma that I have never ever smelt from a Chardonnay. But after only a couple of days on the Island, it’s not the first time I have noticed this rose petal; it seems to be the trademark Chardonnay aroma? 

We moved on to taste the wines at Kennedy Point. American owner Susan McCarthy, who has lived on the island for many years, talked us through her wines. They are making some lovely stuff: I really liked the 2011 Syrah; apparently lots of rain that harvest but they have certainly done good here. I love this spicy pure fruit style.  

From Kennedy Point we headed back inland and east to one of the oldest wineries on the island; Te Motu. The winery and vineyards had been owned by winemaker John Dunleavy for 20-odd years before selling the property to the Chinese only to buy it back 3 years later! What a story but what place, what wines!! Onetangi Valley is side shoot valley and it is warm and Bordeaux varietals of Cabernet and Merlot thrive. John was on the sorting table quietly getting on with job in hand. A quiet, humble man but a truly great winemaker. 

I was very fortunate to taste firstly the 2005 and 2006 Dunleavy Cabernet/Merlot, great finesse and very Bordeaux with an interesting 12.5% vol only. Next was a 2004 and 2005 estate wine Te Motu; again low alcohol but made to age, and John’s training at Chateau Margaux soon becomes evident in the wines.

For a very late lunch we ate at the Stonybridge winery restaurant just next door. Superb food; I had some grilled snapper, salad and a glass of their Chardonnay.

After a long and brilliant day I headed back to Little Oneroa Beach for a sunset swim and the little organic pizza van right on the beach made for a perfect supper! 

I am sad to leave this place and if you get the chance to buy wines from here you must do!

Friday, 5 April 2013

New Zealand

 Waiheke Island: day one

After a 14-hour flight from Mumbai India via Singapore, I finally arrived at Auckland airport, New Zealand, just after midnight. I made straight for the hotel to get some sleep and beat the jet lag.

I ventured out into Auckland around 9am feeling fully refreshed and I couldn’t believe how quiet, unpopulated and clean it was. I think New Zealand is the exact opposite of India!

I was lucky enough to be here whilst the England cricketers were taking on the Black Caps at Eden Park, so I took the uncongested and very safe train out to the stadium to watch. It’s a wonderful stadium and the glorious weather was perfect to wind down after the madness and hectic week in India!

Although the food in India was superb, a seafood dinner of local scallops and beautiful fillet of local hapuku (a firm white fish) was a welcome change. A glass of 2010 Dog Point Pinot Noir was a perfect complement.

The following morning I headed early to Queens Wharf to take the ferry out across the beautiful Waitemata Harbour. We stopped at Devenport, then passed Rangitoto Island on the left and Mutukores (Browns Island) on the right, before reaching the final destination of Matiatia Wharf on Waiheke Island after a ride of about 45 minutes.

Waiheke has a big buzz in the wine world right now due to its unique climate and I was here to find out just what it’s all about.  As soon as you step foot on the 93sq km island the pace of life slows down; being an islander myself I slipped easily into their way of life!

I hired a car and set off towards my first visit in the far north-east corner of the island; Man O’ War Vineyards. No map needed: there's only one road that soon turned from tarmac to dirt. This estate is a huge 4000 acres; mostly sheep farming, but they have carefully selected the best sites for their vineyards.  I soon began to learn that it is not so much the soil type – which is a fairly uniform clay base across the island – but the site and aspect of the vineyard that is important. The winery is off the beaten track and although they have a beautiful cellar door, they don't do tours. However Denise, who looks after things there, kindly took me for a bumpy tour around some of the estate to look at the vineyards. Everywhere you look there are secluded bays of deserted golden beaches.

Waiheke, like many other regions in NZ, is in a drought period and the harvest is panning out to one of the greatest ever seen. Lack of water also means no wild fruits so birds have been flocking to the vineyards for their lunch, meaning sturdy nets have had to be put up over all the vineyard blocks.

The whites were picked a couple weeks ago, but the reds are still out there getting that final crucial ripening. The Malbec tasted wonderful in the vineyard and I am sure will make an amazing wine.

Denise took me back to the beachside cellar door to taste the range looking out onto the Man O’ War Bay, so named by Captain James cook in 1769 during his first voyage around New Zealand.  When Cook stopped and anchored here, he spotted the tall Kauiri trees noting in his journals they’d make ideal masts for the Royal Navy warships. The names of the wine continue in this seafaring theme and I really liked the mineral 2010 Dreadnought Syrah and the 2010 Iron Clad Cabernet Franc/Merlot.

My accommodation was at Watermark Studios ran by English lady Jo who sensibly moved out here some years ago before property prices went through the roof. Her three studios are stunning and I recommend a stay here!  From the garden you look out onto Little Oneroa beach and into the Hauraki Gulf with the Coromandel Penisula in the distance: truly stunning setting.

They have got the food here so right: bar food, takeaway or a full sit-down meal can be had in the little town, all made with top-quality ingredients. I made the most of my view by getting fish and chips: no ordinary fish and chips mind you! On the counter there are fillets of various fish. You make your choice which they lightly batter and cook for you. I chose local-speciality snapper and the little bottle shop selling “the biggest range of Waiheke wines in the world” topped it off. I watched the sunset with a Man O’ War Chardonnay!

More island exploration tomorrow.