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Race to the top, Appellation Marlborough Wine update

Here’s a question: What New Zealand wine is most at risk of having its reputation diminished and potentially putting the country’s wine export viability at risk?

The answer, says Dr John Forrest, is: Sauvignon Blanc, which is the first New Zealand wine to benefit from the new Appellation Wine Marlborough (AMW), launched officially last week by a group of wine industry leaders, including Ivan Sutherland as chairman, John Forrest as vice chairman, John Buchanan as secretary/treasurer, along with James Healy, Fiona Turner, Clive Jones and Yang Shen.

“We were motivated to put something in place to try to put a stop to bulk exported Marlborough wine and the fact that there are no regulations around the authenticity of bulk wine when it leaves the cellar door in Marlborough,” says Forrest.

“It’s unfortunate that we’ve had to draw the line the way we have, but in order to draw the line with confidence, we’ve said it that any AMW certified wine has to be bottled in New Zealand. I’m not saying that reputable companies can’t send bulk wine to other places (Australia or the UK, for instance) for bottling successfully, but I am saying that if we have no rules or checking around how that’s happening 100% of the time with 100% integrity, we have to draw the line about being bottled at source.”

In this and other respects, AMW follows in the footsteps of European appellation systems, which legally define the geographic boundaries of regions in which grapes are grown, many of the methods by which they are trellised and grown, and aspects of wine production, including (often, though not always) where wines are bottled.

AMW is initially restricted to Sauvignon Blanc but other varietals and blends will follow. Since the launch of AMW last week when 36 of the region’s 139 producers had joined, an additional 10 wineries have expressed strong interest.

“I would say this number will grow,” says Forrest, who likens the launch of AMW to the launch of the screwcaps in New Zealand, which began as an idea with four wineries back in 2000 before it launched in 2001 with 27 wineries in full support.

“Let’s say a scandal hits us tomorrow tarring the reputation of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc this way or that, at least a significant number of producers can say ‘that’s why Appellation Marlborough wine exists’.”

The key is to protect the safety and authenticity of wine bearing the word Marlborough on its label.

 

Key events since the launch of AMW last week:

  • Ten additional wine producers have expressed strong interest
  • These producers include small and large companies
  • Key media around the world have written articles of support
  • Distributors of AMW member producers have shown support, saying the new logo of authenticity provides a powerful marketing tool to enable people to buy Marlborough wine with confidence.

Sons of Eden… from pipe dream to business

Like many wine brands, Sons of Eden began as a labour of love.

BL – Winemakers, Corey Ryan. Barossa Valley, South Australia
Photo: John Krüger

Two friends pooled their resources, worked after hours, kept up their day jobs and before you could say Barossa Valley Shiraz, one of them had quit their career in wine management and plunged into the deep end of the wine tank. That was Corey Ryan at the end of 2016.

This week he was in Wellington as part of a whirlwind tour to show New Zealanders the wines he makes with his mate Simon Cowham, a viticulturist. Both are progeny of families from Eden Valley, hence the name, says Ryan, when talking about how their pipe dream has become a business reality.

Sons of Eden winemaker Corey Ryan (centre) tasting in Wellington with Matt King, store manager, and Dan Dew, both of Regional Wines & Spirits.

The focus

“We aim to make wines from grapes the Barossa does well, namely Riesling and Shiraz, a little Grenache and the odd Cabernet every now and then. We’re trying to let the vineyard express its fruit flavours, so we’re going for minimal intervention and really hands off winemaking.”

The wines 

A wine friend told me I had to hunt down these wines. Luckily, I didn’t need to because they came to me and I can now see why he suggested searching for them – here are my top picks.

17.5/20

2017 Sons of Eden Freya Eden Valley Riesling $34.99

Freya is the German goddess of war so it’s an apt name for a dry Riesling like this one, which is made with everyday drinking in mind, hence it’s approachable soft thanks to the use of grapes grown on two slightly warmer vineyards, which tones down the naturally high acidity of Riesling. It’s bone dry with less than 1 gram per litre of residual sugar from the grapes adding fruity appeal but no sweetness. 

 

19/20

2017 Sons of Eden Cirrus High Eden Valley Single Vineyard Riesling $59.99

Talk about a massive next level wine. This gorgeous concentrated lime zesty, bone dry, super fresh Riesling is aged for 12 months in bottle before being available for sale; this gives the acidity a chance to  soften a little; it’s naturally high and even more so since this wine is made from High Eden, which is Australia’s only official wine sub-region and refers to all parts of Eden Valley where vines grow over 450 metres.

This is the second vintage of this wine and it will be available for sale on 1 August this year.

 

17.5/20

2016 Sons of Eden GSM Kennedy Barossa Valley $34.99

Old vineyard Mourvedre is as rare as hen’s teeth in the Barossa Valley right now so it’s no surprise that the M component is relatively low in this wine, which is made from 48% Grenache, 35% Shiraz and 15% Mourvedre but less is more when it comes to Mourvedre, says winemaker Corey Ryan, who looks to Shiraz for acidity to keep this wine fresh and long on its complex finish – think dark cocoa, earthy flavours. Tasty.

 

19/20

2016 Sons of Eden Zephyrus Shiraz $54.99

Wow. It’s not a technical wine word or anything but it’s the perfect description of this outstanding Shiraz, which is a blend of grapes from low yielding vineyards  in  Barossa and Eden valleys. It’s named after the Greek god of the west wind and tastes massively intense with dark fruit concentration, mocha, clove and liquorice flavours, thanks to ripe grapes, low yields and 15% whole bunch fermentation with wild yeasts. It was aged in 30% new French oak with the balance in older barrels for a total of 18 months on lees. A fantastic wine.

 

18.5/20

2015 Sons of Eden Remus Eden Valley Old Vine Shiraz $89.99

Another stunner with massive dark fruit concentration and and powerful tannins; Remus is made with grapes grown on three vineyards; two 60 year old and one 80 year old vineyard and all cropped at one tonne to the acre or less. The grapes were small, which accentuates the powerful tannin structure of this outstanding wine.

  • Corey Ryan is no stranger to New Zealand thanks to a long stint as chief winemaker for Villa Maria in between his Barossa wine adventures.

Appellation Marlborough Wine launches

Safeguarding the reputation of New Zealand’s biggest wine region is the aim of a new group that launched last week, calling itself  Appellation Marlborough Wine (AMW). 

The Dogmobile carrying Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc around the country

The group’s aim is to protect the authenticity of wine made in the country’s biggest wine region and one of the world’s biggest Sauvignon Blanc regions – Marlborough has 25,135 hectares of grapes which is 67.7% of this country’s total. The vast majority of grapes in Marlborough are Sauvignon Blanc, which contrasts closely with France; the world’s biggest producer of Sauvignon Blanc with approximately 26,800 hectares planted nationwide, mostly in the Loire Valley and Bordeaux.

The new Appellation Marlborough Wine group has clearly taken many of its cues from France’s appellation system, which legally defines geographic borders and other criteria of specific wine regions.

The new AMW group is an incorporated society and has already attracted 36 of the region’s 139 wine producers to adhere to its stipulations. These include using 100% locally grown grapes, which must be grown as part of a recognised sustainable viticultural (grape growing) programme.

The aim is to attract as many wine producers as possible and to safeguard Marlborough’s wine reputation, says AMW chair Ivan Sutherland, who was one of the first to plant grapes in the region’s modern wine history and is also a founder and co-owner of Dog Point Vineyards (and a co-owner of the Dogmobile, pictured above). He is one of the seven committee members of AMW and says the group wants to protect the integrity, authenticity and brand value of wines produced in Marlborough by establishing standards.

These also include growing grapes at an agreed cropping level to comply with AMW’s aims of quality. If certain wines don’t comply with desired cropping levels, they can be submitted to a tasting panel, which may permit the wines to be certified.

All Appellation Marlborough Wine must also be bottled in New Zealand.

Watch this space next week for more details and what led to the formation of AMW with the group vice chair, Dr John Forrest.

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