Joelle Thomson Writer

Author, journalist, speaker

Author: Joelle Thomson (page 3 of 121)

Wines of the week… Ode to wine in film fest tonight

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


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.

International Pinot Noir Day looms… NZ’s impressive growth

It is International Pinot Noir Day on 18 August, which is good reason to take a quick look at how fast Pinot has grown in New Zealand.


There are 5653 hectares of Pinot Noir in New Zealand’s national vineyard area, which represents 72% of all red wine grapes planted in this country. It’s massive growth in a short time – more than tenfold, in three decades, to be precise.

Back in 1987, there were 524 hectares of Pinot Noir in New Zealand and Central Otago was still a glint in the eye of a few ambitiously determined wine lovers.

Not that Central is the be all and end all of New Zealand Pinot Noir.

Its vineyards are 80% devoted to this red grape; a percentage that shows no sign of changing in the foreseeable future, but other South Island regions are also producing high quality Pinot Noir – North Canterbury, Marlborough, Nelson and the Waitaki Valley. And Wellington’s nearest wine country, the Wairarapa, is home to a small trickle of high quality Pinot Noir too – in Martinborough, Gladstone and the northern Wairarapa around Masterton, which is where Pinot Noir in this country all began in 1883 with early plantings at Lansdowne by William Beetham and his French wife, Marie Zelie Hermance Frere Beetham. Their early love of wine and planting of Pinot Noir inspired a new lease of life for a Lansdowne Pinot Noir and there is now a small scale production of this outstanding wine produced each year by Derek Hagar and his family, who planted their first grapes in 2002. Find out more about Lansdowne Estate Pinot Noir here.


Wines of the week… the uncertainty of life and wine

Wine is a sort of paradox in our society, says Baroness Philippine de Rothschild, in the opening lines of the new film, A Seat at the Table, which launches this week in Auckland at the 2019 NZ International Film Festival.

“It teaches us patience in a world that goes faster and faster and in which the immediate and the urgent are law. It teaches us conviviality in a world of violence and brutality and last, but not least, in a world which knows everything, where everything is known, everything computerised, it teaches us about uncertainty.

It reminds us that life is always an uncertainty.

A question without answer.

Wine is the only product in today’s world with this wonderful uncertainty…”

  • A Seat at the Table was co directed and produced by David Nash and Simon Mark-Brown, New Zealanders who wanted to tell the stores of New Zealand’s fast rise to prominence in the world of wine.  I have reviewed it for The Spinoff website and am looking forward to seeing it on the big screen when it arrives in Wellington in early August as part of this year’s NZ International Film Festival.

In the meantime, here are three top wines of the week, each of which deserves a glass at the table.

Bargain buy

2016 Saint Clair Cabernet Merlot Malbec $24.99

This is the best value Gimblett Gravels red out of the top 12 of the 2016 vintage.

It is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon at 66.7%, Merlot at 20% and Malbec at 13.3%, each of which was fermented separately following four days pre-ferment maceration to extract colour from the grape skins. The wines were each innoculated with winemaking yeasts and hand plunged up to four times daily (depending on the variety).

The three varieties were then blended and aged in 33% new French oak and some older French oak for 11 months. The outcome is a full bodied, fresh and accessibly fruit driven red at an impressively modest price for the high quality and great drinkability. This drinks well now and can definitely age for up to 10 years.


Treat of the week

2016 Misha’s Vineyard Lyric Riesling $28

The world’s southernmost wine region does Riesling spectacularly well and in a range of styles, as this rarely seen, small production dry 2016 Misha’s Vineyard Lyric Riesling shows.

The production of this wine is small and in 2016 there were 208 cases (12 packs per case, we’re talking) made. The residual sugar  is 4.5 grams per litre, which puts it firmly in the dry category, no matter which country’s dry scale a winemaker is aspiring to. It was made with 100% estate grown fruit from a single vineyard in Bendigo at 228 to 315 metres altitude – dry, windy and warm with cool nights to preserve Riesling’s refreshing acidity. The grapes were cropped on average six tonnes to the hectare and clones used were GM239 (48% of the wine), GM110 (36%) and GM198-19 (16%). It contains 13.5% ABV and pH 2.83.

Winemaker Olly Masters suggests it can age for up to and possibly beyond six years. With three years of age already, I would suggest that it seems to have at least another extremely tasty five years ahead, if not even longer.

A great white wine from the deep south.


Reaching for the stars

2017 Mt Beautiful Pinot Noir $31.99

Pinot Noir and North Canterbury are a match made you know where. Winemaker Sam Weaver has great grapes to work with, thanks to the region’s consistent weather; namely, its long growing season. Canterbury’s long hot summers turn into long dry autumns with cool nights, which allow Pinot to retain its refreshing zingy acidity and gradually develop a flavoursome red and dark fruit spectrum. Mt Beautiful was founded by David Teece, who also produces Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Pinot Gris.

A very good Pinot  Noir from one of this country’s most high quality wine regions – and one of its most underrated ones.

* The 2013 Mt Beautiful 10 Barrels Pinot Noir is the rare and rarely made top red from this North Canterbury winery. It’s a super powerful wine made in small quantities and, as its name implies, from a selection of the best wines as tasted in barrel. Quantities are limited. Only made in certain years.

More details at

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