Katherine Jacobs is the co-owner of Big Sky Wines and the chairperson of Wairarapa Winegrowers, which has now been rebranded to the geographically descriptive name, Wellington Wine Country.
It’s a name that’s proven to be a little controversial, for some, but it makes sense when considering the logic of using the capital’s name to describe the city’s nearest wine region (just 70 minutes’ drive away), and the international confusion that reins supreme when New Zealand winemakers try to explain the difference between the Wairarapa and Waipara. Not to mention Waitaki and Waiheke. Need I elaborate further?
Like many New Zealand winemakers, Jacobs and Jeremy Corban (her partner in life and wine) own vineyards but not a winery, so their wine is made off site, as is frequently the most economic path to take when production is relatively modest. And Big Sky wines are made in small quantities.
I’ve known about them for several years only because my father and his partner own a house nearby, so I have spent massive amounts of personal time in the Wairarapa wine region with family and friends. A holiday in the region earlier this month meant I was a regular at the Martinborough Wine Centre where I ran into Katherine, who had spent every week day of December taking tastings there. One sip of her Sauvignon Blanc had me hooked on this barrel fermented, small batch wine.
Here’s my five cents’ worth.
Low crops, small quantities and old barrels are the story of Big Sky Sauvignon Blanc
2016 Big Sky Sauvignon Blanc $23 to $25
Five barrels of this Sauvignon Blanc were made from a 2 acre block of vines that were planted in 1989 (‘the year that changed the world’, according to Time magazine). This makes the vineyard the oldest one in Te Muna Road (and the vines are ungrafted, but a long way away from any neighbours, so this has not been a problem, to date.). The wine is 100% fermented in old oak barrels where it remained for six months from April to September last year. Jacobs stirred the barrels once a week to re-energise the wine, which has definitely benefited from the process because its medium bodied style marries seamlessly with the natural high but balanced acidity of Sauvignon Blanc, whose wild fennel, basil and apple aromas are dialled up loud here. When I asked why she barrel fermented the wine, Jacobs’ low key response was: “Why wouldn’t we? We have beautiful fruit because it’s a really low cropped vineyard. the fruit turns golden and it deserves to be given very delicate treatment so we hand pick it, put it into 10 kilo bins and we make the wine with really careful handling. The best expression of that fruit is actually to do not very much to it at all, so it’s just that bit of oak that opens it up a bit.”
Her inspiration came from a visit to Henri Bourgeois in Sancerre, France.
That visit has paid massive dividends. This is a top expression of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc from a small producer whose wines deserve to be better known.