Joelle Thomson

Writer, author, journalist

Month: November 2016 (page 1 of 4)

A wine Frank can be proud of

Who says Sauvignon Blanc can’t age and improve with time?

This old bottle has sat in the sun, travelled to three new properties and been a paperweight on my desk for the past five years, but I could stand it no longer – I had to open this wine as part of another tasting to verify (or not) just how well Sauvignon Blanc can, if the stars are aligned, actually improve with age… So, here’s my tasting note.

2008 Montana Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, 13.5% ABV

No price because this wine is unavailable for purchase.

This would make Frank Yukich proud. The founder of Montana Wines once said that now New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc is a household name, the next big challenge would be to make one that could age. Here it is. His very own wine brand at six (nearly seven) years old, tasting as fresh as a… frangipani and every bit as floral and intense in aroma as one, thanks not least to its screwcap (one of the best ways to age any wine consistently).

Still pale lemon in colour, it has high but balanced acidity adding a core of freshness to this wine’s rich flavours of lime zest,mangoes and pineapple. It’s a treat to try this wine at this age and stage of its life. Bravo. Bravo. Bravo.

Cloudy Bay Vineyards is at a turning point…

In the middle of the earthquakes, the tornado and the torrential storms that hit New Zealand last week, a visiting Frenchman discussed a new lease of life for one of this country’s oldest wine brands – Cloudy Bay Vineyards in Marlborough

Meet Jean-Guillaume Prats, president and CEO for Moët Hennessy Estates & Wines. This interview took place in Auckland, New Zealand on 17 November.

Wellington city is shaking as the plane flies through grey clouds to Auckland for an early morning interview with Jean-Guillaume Prats, president and chief exec’ for Moët Hennessy Estates & Wines. He’s here for a busy time, not for a long time, and his trip coincides with that of his newest staff member – Yang Shen.

You could say that Prats and Yang are anything but typical in their management roles.

Prats is a father of five and a keen tennis player who describes himself as very hands-off when it comes to managing wineries all over the globe. Meanwhile,  Yang Shen spends his spare time singing, playing basketball and studying wine in France. At least, that’s how he got into the wine industry.

Yang was born in China, studied wine in France and this month took up residence in Marlborough to take on the role of general manager at Cloudy Bay Vineyards. Despite his new home, his new job will be all about growing the sales of wine in China. It will be done here on the ground in New Zealand so that he is in direct touch with where that growth happens – starting from the ground up, in other words.

The announcement of his new role was made on 17 November in a softly-softly fashion when Prats met with less than a handful of writers to explain the new appointment – so that the Cloudy Bay wine brand can grow strongly in China.

Exactly how this happens is is in Yang Shen’s hands, says Prats. He manages the Moët Hennessy wineries outside of France, which is a long roll call of big names, such as Domain Chandon wineries (California, Brazil, Argentina, China, Australia and India); Cloudy Bay in Marlborough and Terrazas de los Andes in Argentina, among many others. He is not a winemaker, but Prats reveals in conversation that he’s all over winemaking methods, markets and how to make them grow. Not that he will dictate that to Yang Shen.

“Being French we are very good at giving lessons to the world and showing that we know everything when it comes to wine but that is not how we operate as a company. The winemaking and viticultural team at Cloudy Bay is currently very strong and they don’t need a leader to guide their style so it has been interesting and even strange, in a way, to appoint a new general manager when the team there are so outstanding at winemaking and in the vineyards.”

So, why appoint a new general manager?

Prats pragmatically points out that the company’s biggest focus going forward is breaking into the Chinese market and that Yang will play the biggest role in spear heading this vast new wine drinking market.

How will Cloudy Bay break into the Chinese market?

“I don’t think we can run after too many fishes. We have to stick to a few fundamentals, one being that Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc will remain a relatively limited edition wine. It’s our flagship and we are committed to keeping its high quality image,” says Prats.

Will you grow Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc production?

“Unfortunately, no. We are not able to expand within Marlborough. Today Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc is on allocation internationally and we don’t want to expand. If we go any further, we will change the style and that is something we don’t want to do.”

Which wines will grow then for the Chinese market?

Sauvignon blanc allocation may be able to be shifted from some markets to others but this is unlikely to meet the demand for high volumes that the Chinese market may require.

Pinot Noir and sparkling wine are made in volumes that will remain limited, but there is more room to manouvre, especially in terms of Central Otago  Pinot Noir and also with Pinot Noir from Marlborough.

“I truly believe that both Central Otago and Marlborough Pinot can help us to open up larger volumes of high quality wine for China,” says Prats.

When it comes to exporting New Zealand wine to China, Prats suggests the market will explode, but in limited volumes. Pinot Noir is a more expensive grape to grow (and more expensive wine to make) than Sauvignon Blanc. As is high quality sparkling wine made in the traditional method (also known, in the past, as ‘methode champenois’ – a term now outlawed in Europe, due to its close resemblance to the name Champagne). Enter Pelorus, which is Cloudy Bay’s traditional method sparkling wine. These days it is an NV (non vintage – as are most champagnes) but in the past it has been made as both an NV and a vintage sparkling wine. This may be the case again. Prats suggests a wide range of styles and possibilities for Pelorus.

“But this will be Yang’s job to decide. Not mine. I am not here to dictate what he does. He’s got a great team who know what they’re doing and we want them to have the freedom to work with what they think is going to be the best way forward to continue raising the quality of Pelorus.”

Pinot Noir will come first, however, because Cloudy Bay now has significant vineyards of its own in Central Otago at both Northburn Station and at the Calvert Vineyard. The latter is managed by Felton Road and Prats describes it as “one of the best vineyards in New Zealand, in terms of how it’s managed and the grape that come from there.

He is at pains to point out continuously during this interview that “The Pinots from Marlborough and Central Otago are equivalent to some of the great Pinots of the world and this makes Pinot Noir is the ideal starting point for major growth from New Zealand because the Chinese market is more into red wine.”

Another ideal starting point is the addition to the team of a general manager who understands the Chinese culture. The winemaking capacity at Cloudy Bay is currently being increased, which also bodes well for the significant future growth of the brand in the world’s biggest – and newest – wine drinking market.

Watch this space.

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.


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