How did New Zealand wine become so successful so fast?

It’s a question many in the wine industry ask and most wine drinkers don’t, for good reason – they like the wines this country does best, namely, fruity, approachable, dry-ish whites made mostly from Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris and Chardonnay.

French grapes, French winemaking methods and French regions (Burgundy, above) fuel the imaginations of New Zealand winemakers

France is the inspiration behind most New Zealand wine. French grapes, French wine styles and French winemaking methods dominate the thinking of Kiwi winemakers, which came through loud and clear in David Nash and Simon Mark-Brown’s new film,  A Seat at the Table, which premieres in Wellington tonight as part of this year’s NZ International Film Festival.

Read my review here on The Spinoff website: A Seat at the Table review by Joelle Thomson on thespinoff.co.nz

 

A Seat at the Table

France’s famous white burgundies and high quality New Zealand Chardonnays were the key wine focus in this film, which was refreshing, given that Sauvignon Blanc dominates New Zealand’s wine production, in terms of volume. Sauvignon now occupies about 80% of Marlborough’s vineyard area and over 85% of New Zealand’s wine exports. It dominates supermarket wine sales in this country and commands a pretty high price in supermarkets in most export markets.

Marlborough is New Zealand’s biggest wine region with 27,000 of this country’s 37,000 hectares, approximately speaking that is, so it’s a lot of eggs in one basket. While most of those ‘eggs’, so to speak, taste reliably fruity, fresh and bright, it’s always refreshing to get a different take on things, as last week with Jack Weaver, son of Sam and Mandy Weaver, an ex-pat British couple who, ironically, have only one degree’s separation from the theme of the film, A Seat at the Table. Sam Weaver used to work at Farr Vintners in the UK, the same company whose chairman, Stephen Browett, plays such an integral role in the new film.

Like most New Zealand winemakers, Weaver’s focus is on French winemaking but he aims for far more French-like flavours in his finished product. His wines tend to taste a little less fruity, tend to cost a little more and tend to last a little longer. Here are three of them, which wowed my tastebuds over the past seven days.

The proof is in the bottles. Try them.

 

Bargain buy

2018 Churton Estate Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc $27

Sauvignon Blanc dominates at Churton Estate in Marlborough, both in the vineyard (where it makes up 9 of the company’s 22 hectares) and in the amount of wine made.

This one is a blend of grapes grown on seven different vineyards, all estate-owned (no fruit is bought in by the Weavers, who are entirely reliant on their own, organically certified grapes). It’s a very French white; dry with beautifully floral aromas and body to burn. About 15% of the wine was fermented in oak, 5% with wild yeasts while the remainder was innoculated (winemaking yeasts added). It is a deliciously different take on Sauvignon Blanc and is now sealed with a screwcap – a first for Churton.

Treat of the week

2017 Churton Estate Best End Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc $45

“It’s purely a site thing,” says winemaker Sam Weaver, who sources grapes from only one vineyard to make this outstanding Sauvignon Blanc. The vineyard in question is a higher altitude block of land that is cropped at 4-5 tonnes to the hectare (instead of 8, as for the wine above). It’s on the knoll of a hill so the vines struggle and produce small berries which, combined with a lower yield, gives a lot more intensity. 

It’s 100% barrel fermented in 25% new oak. The wine matures for 18 months in barrel with no battonage (stirring the lees for flavour). It has refreshing high acidity, a fleshy body and a long finish.

Only made in 2013, 2015, 2017 and there will also be a 2018. 

 

Reaching for the stars

2016 Churton Marlborough Pinot Noir $39

Just 500 cases of 2016 Churton Marlborough Pinot Noir were made, about 95% of which is destined for export. It contains 13% ABV, a relatively modest and nicely balanced alcohol content, which allows the fruit flavours to strut their most elegant stuff in this refreshing, bone dry style with its very lifted perfumed red fruit aromas. There is no whole bunch fermentation and the wine is beautifully silky and long on flavour. 

PS: I am a guest judge at this year’s Marlborough Wine Show in September. Watch this space.