Warren Moran is my hero… a voice of reason

Meet a new book that dispels nonsensical notions about wine tasting of soil and about the reality of terroir and turangawaewae – that sense of place we can sometimes taste…

New Zealand Wine, The Land, the vines, the people by Warren Moran, published by Auckland University Press, 384 pages, RRP $69.99


Every once in a  blue moon, a voice of surprisingly sane reason pops up in print. This is it. Author Warren Moran is a geographer and professor at the University of Auckland, who has written widely on wine – and read extremely widely too, as his new book reveals from its first chapter to its last discerning drop of wisdom. He dispels many suggestions that terms such as old world and new world can possibly still be valid because he shows a wide range of examples where these ideas are turned on their heads, particularly within the New Zealand wine scene.

This is important, given that wine is now the sixth biggest export earner for this country.

First and foremost for any published book, this is a great read. It is well written, straightforward and draws on fascinating writers, research and statistics that provide rich context to the New Zealand wine scene today.

It is also an authoritative book because, from the start, Moran dives into deep waters. He tackles the controversial and, he suggests, increasingly outmoded, notion that the French word ‘terroir’ has one clear meaning. He quotes a wide range of authors, old and new, to highlight what he describes as ‘the advertising hype’, which adopts the narrow meaning of ‘terroir’ as soil.

Terroir advertising hype

“In recent years we have been bombarded with so much about the soils and geology of Burgundy in particular that we are in danger of believing that the region makes great wine because the soils are ideally suited to Pinot Noir and Chardonnay,” he writes, adding from authors Roger Dion and Rolade Gadille’s book, Grands traits d’une geography viticolb de la France (1943) that “It suits us to see the qualities of our wine regions, the effect of a natural privilege, of a particular grace accorded to the land of France, as if there were greater honour for our country to receive from the heavens than from the struggles of people this renowned wine industry in which our ancestors found a collective pride even before the feeling of a French nation stirred in them.”

He suggests that terroir has at least six facets that interact and overlap from the physical territorial meaning of the word to growing grapes to the legal and promotional human aspects. He explains each, then leaves readers to make up their own minds.

New Zealand wine explosion

Not only does this book touch on controversial sacred cows, it contains a staggering amount of humbling facts and the figures that Moran has dug up. Like this one: in 1960, only 388 hectares of grapes were planted in New Zealand, 85% of which were in West Auckland and Hawke’s Bay and mostly in hybrid grape varieties. Their strong disease resistance made hybrid grapes the order of the day, including the once well known Albany Surprise, which began to be replaced with Vitis vinifera grapes, such as Muller Thurgau, in the 1970s.

For those who can read between the lines, his research offers outstanding suggestions on why a lot of New Zealand wine often tasted overtly green in flavour, due to being planted widely and extensively along the Hawke’s Bay’s coastline, but rarely ever inland where the weather is more settled, drier and less windy.

Further into the book, his strong theme continues with both the geographical and political history of the Gimblett Gravels and those who were instrumental in marketing – and capitalising on – this 800 hectares of stony soils.

No doubt, it helps that Moran has been watching, reading about, researching and writing on New Zealand wine since his 1959 MA thesis, but his measured global view and courage are incredibly refreshing. Talk about a breath of fresh air. His book is a great read and beautifully presented tome on the history of New Zealand, but for those who want food for thought with their nightly glass of vino, here it is at last – a book that tackles terroir with measured analysis and a lack of fear.

Or should that be turangawaewae?

NZ wine gets Geographic Indications (finally)

In the immortal words of New Zealand’s most famous model, Rachel Hunter, and a certain TV advertisement: ‘It won’t happen overnight, but it will happen’.

The ‘it’ in question is  news today that the Geographical Indications (Wine and Spirits) Registration Amendment Bill was passed in parliament last night.

What does this mean?

Is it good, bad or neutral for New Zealand wine?

New Zealand Winegrowers head honcho, Philip Gregan, says it will be a significant advance for this country’s wine industry because it will provide a level of protection for our wines’ place of origin. In other words, the Geographical Indications Registration Amendment Bill (GI RAB) will protect the authenticity of New Zealand wines, where they come from and how they are labelled.

This could make it rather tricky to fudge the names on front labels of wines. Not that there is mislabelling, but legally protected place names will provide more precision, which can only be a positive for an industry so fixated on promoting place when it comes to wine identity. And understandably so. Climate alone plays an enormous influence on the character and the taste of the fruit growing in any environment, to say nothing of latitude, altitude, soil types, soil drainage ability, slopes, irrigation (or not), how vines are trellised (or not) and how they are pruned, along with a raft of other factors which vary depending on where the place in question is.

The introduction to New Zealand of a legally binding Geographic Indications Act means that winemakers now have the opportunity to draw wine drinkers’ attention to very specific places by using their (geographically indicated and legally defined area) names, informing people of the story behind those places, their names and the wines that come from them.

The new law also opens the door to strongly promote the authenticity of specific regions, sub-regions and places to the international wine market. And this brings New Zealand into line with almost all other wine producing countries in the world today. I can’t think of another country with no established Geographical Indications law.

Gregan says the new Act will provide a platform for New Zealand wine producers to promote their wines and regions in international markets with an emphasis on place – that little word which means so much when it comes to wine.

In Europe, the concept of place is everything for the highest priced wines in the world and encapsulates everything from climate, altitude and harvest dates to the factors mentioned above, along with a plethora of other rules, which vary from one region to the next.

Do we want such staunch dictates on the labelling and laws of New Zealand wine? Let the debate begin.

New Zealand wine exports are valued at $1.6 billion for the year to the end of October 2016. The industry is working towards a goal of $2 billion of exports in 2020.


Wines of the week: Top drops for $20

What’s your wine budget looking like this week?
If it’s anything like mine, a new range of $17 to $20 wines from Mud House in Marlborough may appeal – all five wines are widely available in New Zealand supermarkets and at Glengarry’s stores.

The launch this week of the new Mud House Sub Region Series wines is also timely for another reason – the affordable prices fit right into the new Top drops for $20 section on this website, which will appeal to those who periodically write in to lament the loss of  “Joelle Thomson’s Under $15  Wine Guide (yes, it was later called Joelle Thomson’s Under $20 Wine Guide), which was published every year in New Zealand from 1999 to 2007.

Books can provide great memories but, with publishing in a state of highly contentious change right now, the most logical place to write about all the great wine bargains that winemakers send me happens to be right here – online.

So, the new Mud House Sub Region wines are made with grapes grown in five different areas, hence, the brand name. They are Rapaura Sauvignon Blanc, Grovetown Pinot Gris, The Narrows Pinot Noir, Burleigh Rose (made from Pinot Noir) and Omaka Chardonnay.

The Mud House Sub Region wines

2016 Mud House Sub Region Sauvignon Blanc  $16 to $20

Take a bunch of Sauvignon Blanc grapes from Rapaura in Marlborough, ferment them into a dry wine in a stainless steel tank at cool temperatures to preserve their fruity aromas of lime, green apple and passionfruit, and here you have it – a wine that’s like a white dove because it’s so clean and pure, says its maker, Cleighten Cornelius.

2016 Mud House Sub Region Burleigh Rose  $16 to $20

“It’s now respectable for blokes to drink pink wine too,” says Jack Glover, of Mud House wines, when launching this pale pink, light bodied, dry wine, which is made 100% from Pinot Noir grapes that were grown specifically for a rose rather than a red. The result is a wine with refreshing high acidity that’s nicely balanced by red fruit flavours, without notes of sweetness. It’s a tasty light bodied pink wine, which makes it a crisp, refreshing lead-in to a fuller bodied wine.

Speaking of which…

2015 Mud House Sub Region Omaka Chardonnay $16 to $20

Silt, gravel and clay soils were home to the grapes used to make this   crisp Chardonnay, which puts its freshest, most citrusy foot forward in a  Chablis-like style (think: high acid, super refreshing, light to medium bodied and you’re spot on).

2016 Mud House Sub Region Grovetown Pinot Gris $16 to $20

Grovetown is the closest area to the coast in this new range of wines, so the Pinot Gris grapes in this wine have a zingy touch of acidity, thanks to the slightly cooler site that they were grown on. The wine was fermented at slightly warmer temperatures than the other whites in the range to encourage savoury flavours to develop. It was also regularly lees stirred to develop flavour (the lees are the left over yeast cells, after fermentation).

2015 Mud House Sub Region The Narrows Pinot Noir  $16 to $20

This Pinot Noir comes from grapes grown on a vineyard in the narrowing upper Wairau Valley on a north facing slope, sheltered by large, established pine trees. It’s pale ruby in colour, smooth and tastes of red and dried fruit; raspberries, cherries and cranberries all provide the signature flavours in this lovely fresh young South Island Pinot. (Just 20% new oak was used in the winemaking here, so fruit comes first while savoury, cedar notes are in the background.)

Winemaker Cleighten Cornelius on these wines…

“They are made from grapes grown on vineyards that we have liked for some time and we wanted to divert these grapes into specific wine styles that play to their biggest strengths. The Pinot Noir grapes for the pink wine have higher acidity than many other Pinot grapes we have access to, so it made sense to turn them to good use in a wine style that needs that acidity for freshness while the Pinot Gris comes from a mixture of heavy clay and dark soils, which provides the grapes with more intense flavours and enabled us to make a spicy wine. Each wine is made solely from grapes grown in that sub region of Marlborough, which also gives them a real story of origin.”

Speaking of origins… The New Zealand Geographic Indications Act is expected to be passed by Parliament and able to be used within the next six months, says New Zealand Winegrowers CEO Philip Gregan.