Joelle Thomson Writer

Author, journalist, speaker

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A sip of indulgence or an instant regret? Find out this month…

Why do some wines taste like rotten eggs, and others like passionfruit?

It’s a tricky question at the best of times and one that chemical scientist Rebecca Deed aims to answer at a one off free event called Raising the Bar in Auckland on Tuesday 27 August on K Road at 6.30pm.

Deed will talk about wine aromas at Carmen Jones on K Road. She is one of 20 academics selected to give free public talks at 10 Auckland central bars for one night only as part of the University of Auckland’s Raising the Bar event on Tuesday 27 August.

Deed studies sulfur compounds that make up taste characteristics of wine varietal and says sulfur compounds can completely change the flavour of a wine.

“Even a nanogram amount, the equivalent to one drop in a swimming pool, can alter a wine’s aroma and taste.”

Her talk will explore the wine making process and explain how sulfur compounds, which make up around 10 percent of wine aroma compounds, can be the difference between a sip of indulgence or an instant regret.

She is a member of the School of Chemical and Biological Sciences and a lecturer in wine science at the University of Auckland.

Her talk is titled From rotten eggs to passionfruit – the pungent world of wine sulfer compounds.

Entry is free.

Central Otago leads organic wine certification

Nearly 25% of Central Otago’s vineyard land is now producing certified organic grapes, according to a new survey, results of which were released last week by the Central Otago Winegrowers Association (COWA). The aim of the survey was to assess the level of certified organic and biodynamic vineyard production in Central Otago. Results revealed that 17% (320 hectares) of vineyard land in Central is now fully certified in organic and biodynamic production, with another 6% (115 hectares) in the official three year organic conversion process. This means that 23% of Central’s vineyard land is now being farmed under certified organic and biodynamic practices.

The region has had a long term focus on organics, says Aotearoa New Zealand Fine Wine Estates Estate Manager and COWA Chairperson Nick Paulin.

Organics has been a long term focus for Central Otago winemakers who agreed to move towards a collective approach to adopting organic practices in 2007. Funding received from Organics Aotearoa New Zealand (OANZ) helped the region’s winemakers to implement a pilot programme  to support winemakers to transition towards organic practices.

Organic Winegrowers New Zealand (OWNZ) has also helped to achieve this high proportion of certified organic wine through projects such as the Organic Focus Vineyard project and other  workshops.  

  • Land must be managed to a certified organic standard for three years before full organic status is granted by an organic certifying body.

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.

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