Rod McDonald’s Trademark wines

It’s often said that immitation is the sincerest form of flattery but try telling that to a writer, artist or musician who has had the gut wrenching experience of seeing or hearing their own words, visual art or song mercilessly copied, without attribution. Or to a winemaker whose maverick house style has been copied, without acknowledgement.

Not that I speak from personal experience when it comes to the wine, music or art. And if the man behind the new ‘Trademark’ wines has felt copied, then he’s not saying so, but this year, Rod McDonald added another string to his  ‘Trademark’ brand.

Trademark is a bold name for a brand in any industry and this  is not lost on McDonald, who  added his own RM initials (rather than the customary ‘TM’) in small letters to the front label – “It’s intended to be fun because I could never trademark the words Chardonnay or Syrah but I would like to promote the fact that these two grapes do particularly well in Hawke’s Bay and are, I think, our region’s signature varieties.”

The first vintage of a Trademark wine was a 2011 Syrah and it was a big, bold, full bodied, high tannin red, made as an approachably smooth wine. He then skipped making a Trademark wine from 2012, which was a chilly year with a distinct lack of sun throughout the main ripening months of the New Zealand summer.

The new wine in the Trademark range is a Chardonnay. And the 2015 Rod McDonald Trademark Chardonnay is pretty awesome, even at $59, which is not a low price or even an everyday wine for most of us, but this wine delivers big time on flavour, not to mention the fact it tastes delicious. That needs qualification.

McDonald made 130 cases from grapes grown 100 metres above the Maraekakaho River on a single vineyard, divided into two separate river terraces. One half of the vineyard is significantly impacted by its slight 100 metres elevation – worth noting in Hawke’s Bay where most grapes are grown on flat or undulating land.

By way of contrast, the Chardonnay grapes grown at 100 metres elevation (and also slightly inland) experience high diurnal – day-night – temperature variation. The days are warm but the night time temperatures drop by 2-3 degrees, elongating the growing season because it takes longer for the grapes to ripen and they retain noticeably high acidity as they do so. This adds freshness and allowed McDonald to give it a strong (but not dialled up or controlled) malolactic conversion so that the grape’s natural malic acids evolved into softer, smoother lactic acids, providing creamy aromas, textures and richness in taste. All the grapes in this wine were hand harvested and 100% of the wine went through fermentation in oak barrels, 50% new and from four different barrel makers (coopers) in France. McDonald shares the love of different barrel styles around because he likes the complexity that each different barrel maker contributes to the wine. Not that the 2015 Rod McDonald Trademark Chardonnay tastes oaky, per se. Its spicy notes imply it’s spent time in wood while the taste is all  zesty lemons, crushed macadamias, almonds, walnuts and a rounded, soft full body.

The new Trademark Chardonnay  joins the new 2013 Rod McDonald Trademark Syrah at $75, a wine which will reward those with willpower to age it.

As to whether the Trademark brand has a sub text, let’s just say that McDonald isn’t saying.