Waitaki Waves Goodbye To Key Producer
Thursday 18 April
The Waitaki Valley aims to make its name as New Zealand’s 11th wine producing region.
Wine growers have been attracted here by its cool climate and outcrops of limestone.
At this early stage in its development, the region has already managed to impress with elegant, finely structured aromatic whites and pinot noir. And, it seems an ideal location to make traditional method sparkling wines in the future.
The Pasquale family was one of the first to take the plunge. Leaving northern Italy for New Zealand in 1997, academic Antonio Pasquale saw the potential of the Waitaki, and its offshoot - the almost unpronounceable Hakataramea Valley. “The cool climactic edge here, along with the limestone soils, is ideal for wines of crispness, concentration and lasting minerality,” predicted Pasquale. “Great wines can be made here.”
But it hasn’t been plain sailing. The climate is marginal, making grape growing a risky pursuit. Spring frosts are common; cool weather and winds can ruin flowering, slashing potential yields. In 2007, some producers didn’t set a berry while Central Otago, just 180km away had a small but high quality crop. In addition, Waitaki’s harvest period is the latest in the country: most regions have finished picking by the end of April but it can be as late as mid-May here. While that’s a big risk for growers, it also means that the wines can have incredible aromatics, firm acidity and moderate alcohol levels.
American-owned Craggy Range released some impressive crisp whites in 2008 and 2009 but soon called it a day in the Valley. It simply didn’t make economic sense to produce wine in the region.
And that’s one of the major reasons why one of the region’s pioneers, Antonio Pasquale, has also decided to throw in the towel after 14 years.
Pasquale has planted over 100,000 vines in the Valley and, in 2009, built and equipped the area’s first and only winery.
The winery’s aromatic whites were particularly exciting and its Marcel Deiss-esque blend of Riesling, Pinot Gris and Gewurztraminer - Alma Mater - stood out as interesting and unique.
However, it’s not just the challenging climatic conditions that make life difficult for local wine producers to make money.
Kurow Winery’s general manager Renzo Miño says its location (in the village of Kurow a.k.a. Nowheresville) was also a factor. “Small wineries rely on having a good proportion of direct sales, and our location really is the middle of nowhere with limited passing traffic, despite the development of an attractive cellar door and café. The cost of growing and hand-harvesting our low-yielding vines is reflected in the high quality and cost of the wine in bottle. Our pinot noir vines, for example, have only 20 percent of the yield found in Marlborough, and hand-harvesting is dramatically more expensive than using machines. The third factor is the risk, mostly from weather, that can wipe out a harvest every four or five years.”
What happens to the region’s only winery is undecided. It may see the region revert from wine production back to a purely grape-growing area with its wines made elsewhere, admits Pasquale. Alternatively, local growers may take ownership of the winery themselves.
It’s a sad reality that this potentially exciting region may not get to fully realize its potential. Let’s hope those remaining - Ostler, Valli, Forrest and friends stick it out.
Not so wild about Everwild
Wednesday 26 October
New product launches aren’t cheap by any stretch of the imagination, and, sometimes you wonder what the company bosses were thinking…
Treasury Wine Estates, Foster’s wine arm, has launched a new product specifically for women. Now, correct me if I’m wrong, but it’s already hard enough selling wine at the moment without cutting out half of the market before you start.
The press release to accompany the launch does it no favours. Most press releases are fluffy but this really is candy floss, so I’ve given you an excerpt…
“Distinctively feminine with a crisp, fresh and fruity flavour, Everwild is a new premium sparkling wine created especially for women to share when they feel like embracing a sense of freedom from the pressures of everyday life. (A $20 wine really does all that?!)
“...Inspired by the natural beauty of New Zealand’s rugged wild shores and untamed coastlines, Senior winemaker, Sasha Grayson, says her quest was to create a wine that captured a true New Zealand ‘sense of freedom’ but with a strong sense of femininity, at the same time.” (Pass me the sick bucket)
“Everwild is aimed at women to remind them that it is okay to take time out of our daily hectic schedule, relax and enjoy life’s pleasures, like our amazing beaches and coastline, which are never really that far away.”
“It is different to other traditional sparkling wines in taste and feel and we believe women will recognise this instantly. It really is the perfect wine to share with friends as there’s a variant to suit all taste buds”.
And so to the wines.
For $19.99 they look pretty classy but it’s what inside the bottle that counts, and will no doubt appeal to the customer.
The sparkling Sauvingon Blanc tastes, well, like a frothy Savvy. It shows the classic passionfruit, gooseberry and green capsicum but is simple and short. Don’t rush to the shops. In fact, don’t rush to the shops for any sparkling Savvy.
The Brut NV, is once again simple and short with ripe peach fruits, and a very gently fizz. There are no technical notes in the press pack so I can’t tell you the RS but it’s certainly off-dry.
And then there’s the Cuvee Riche NV. This has a little more concentration of fruit with a slightly creamy texture. It tastes like peaches and lemon sherbet and has short length.
Apparently these wines will “appeal directly to women”, but not this one. Everwild perhaps hopes there are plenty of women in NZ who will guzzle it, “embracing a sense of freedom” in the midst of a drunken haze.
Prosecco, but not as we know it
Monday 29 August
To be or not to be Prosecco? That is my question
In July 2009, the EU ruled that producers making Prosecco outside of the DOC and new DOCG area in the Veneto region would be forced to use the new grape name Glera on their labels instead of Prosecco.
So, on my return to New Zealand from Blighty, I was a little puzzled to be presented with a bottle of Toi Toi ‘New Zealand Prosecco’. What the….?
It’s not made from the grape formally known as Prosecco (‘Glera’) but a blend of Riesling, Muller-Thurgau and Pinot Gris. The sparkle is not created by the tank method, used in the Prosecco region but carbonated. So, I am curious as to why the front label clearly states Prosecco on the front. The accompanying press release claims it is “produced to broadly reflect the origins and style of the Italian wine”. Well, it’s 11.5% alcohol, which is about right, medium-dry with apple and pear characters but I’m not sure the Venetians will be overly impressed by the quality of the contents.
John Barker, general counsel for New Zealand Winegrowers shed some light on the matter. If this wine is only sold in New Zealand, there should be no problem, as there is no agreement with the EU on this law.
Barker says, “It’s a bit of a funny position the Italians have taken. There’s no geographical area called Prosecco if you look on a map – the GI is an artefact of EU law. There’s no grape variety called Prosecco either because the grape is Glera.
“It’s absolute nonsense,” he adds.
So, the only domestic stumbling block comes from if the label is considered to be misleading – and that’s a personal matter. Personally, I think it’s misleading but you can make your own mind up.
Champagne: in the pink
Sunday 10 April
Didier Mariotti of Mumm explains rosé
Didier Mariotti wanted to be a brewer but ended up as chief winemaker at Mumm Champagne. I guess they’re not too dissimiliar: yeast, sugar and bubbles. But the Corsican-born Mariotti was perhaps always destined for wine. His grandmother’s brother was Burgundy winemaker Charles Rousseau of the great Domaine Rousseau and his cousin is Eric Rousseau, current winemaker at Domaine Rousseau with whom he swaps Champagne in exchange for Grand Cru Burgundy. We all need cousins like that.
Didier was on holiday in New Zealand but gave up one of his precious days to launch the 1999 Cuvee Lalou, Mumm’s prestige cuvee, in Auckland. The poor guy had to sit next to me badgering him with technical questions with just eight weeks to go until the Master of Wine exam. He said he was going to go for a nana nap after the lunch – I must have worn him out.
While the organisers of the tasting had decided to centre the tasting around how the wine changed in structure between two different serving temperatures, I was keen to know more about rosé Champagne.
Rosé Champagne is the only European wine permitted to blend red wine with white wine to make a pink. Everyone else has to use the saignee a.k.a bleeding off method.
Most houses add a proportion of red wine to their ‘normal’ NV brut cuvee to make rosé. The more red wine you use, the greater the colour, structure and red fruit character. Bollinger uses just 5-6% red wine in its rosé and it is pale – a tinted white as opposed to a red fruited rosé. Mumm has 12% red wine in its rosé and, one-quarter of Piper Heidsieck’s Rosé Sauvage is actually red wine making a deeply coloured, powerful and aromatic pink.
So, why don’t more people use the saignée method in Champagne? Mariotti explained: “It is difficult to control the colour with saignée. It’s ok for making small volumes of wine but with larger volumes you need to maintain the consistency of the colour through the blending of the red into weight.”
Sauvignon producer joins Specialists
Friday 6 August
Cast your minds back to the start of the year. Yes, I know it’s difficult and some of us can’t remember what happened yesterday but you may recall a premium winemaking group lauching: The Specialist Winegrowers of New Zealand.
Sauvignon Blanc accounts for 80% of the wine that leaves Kiwi ports yet the Specialists didn’t have a Savvy in their portfolio, claiming there were few producers who specialised solely in the variety.
It’s also a price-sensitive variety, as Chris Canning of The Hay Paddock, told me in an article for decanter.com ‘Sauvignon Blanc is such a cut-throat market.’
‘There was a little prejudice toward the variety. We want to decouple ourselves from the New Zealand wine brand image that is slanted toward Sauvignon Blanc,’ he said back in January.
However, the group’s tune has changed - they have just announced Marlborough’s Fairbourne Estate will be the sixth member of the Specialists, dedicated to Sauvignon Blanc.
According to the press release, Fairbourne has been on the Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc scene since the early 1990’s. Embarrassingly, I have never visited them, tried their wines and heard very little about them, so I can’t tell you whether they are any good! I will endeavour to change that.
Fairbourne joins Waiheke-based The Hay Paddock and Destiny Bay; fizz producers No.1 Family Estate; Gewurztraminer specialists Vinoptima and, Wooing Tree from Central Otago.