The Dawn of a new bubbly

The story of Dawn

It’s the dawn of a new era, only the Dawn in question is about to turn 104 and the wine made in her honour is now on its third vintage.

The first Dawn was 2012 – the year that its namesake, Dawn Ibbotson, turned 100

The third and latest vintage of the wine called Dawn was launched last night at Logan Brown restaurant in Cuba Street, Wellington, at a dinner hosted by a forward thinking group called Methode Marlborough. Members of Methode Marlborough make sparkling wine in the traditional method – using the same methods and traditional grapes as champagne, namely,  Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier.

The newest member is Saint Clair Wines, founded by Neal Ibbotson, whose mother, Dawn, was born in Gore in December 1914, just after World War I began. She lives in Dunedin.

  • The first vintage of Dawn was first made in 2012. The new 2014 vintage is out now.


Three minutes with Saint Clair winemaker Stewart Maclennan 

Winemaker Stewart Maclennan

How did Dawn bubbly begin?

SM: One day in 2011, Neal burst into the winemaking office and excitedly proclaimed, “We’re gonna make a bubbly.”

The team was stoked and Neal explained the first bubbly was to celebrate his mother’s 100th birthday.

I started thinking about logistical matters, such as where the grapes would come from, when we would pick them, where we would store all the bottles while the wine aged on lees in the bottle and how we would manage it all.

Dawn Ibbotson pictured with her son, Neal, and a bottle of her namesake bubbly

What was the biggest challenge?

SM: The label design. Once we sorted that, my biggest challenges were  finding space in our barrel halls for fermentation and ageing and the steep learning curve of making traditional method, high quality sparkling wine.


How did you decide how long to age the wine on lees for?    

SM: Our winemaking team, Hamish, Kyle and I, felt strongly from the beginning that this wine would sit for 36 months on lees; the aging time in bottle after the secondary fermentation.


What led to this long time of aging before release?

SM: We tasted a lot of local and global wines and we agreed that 18 to 24 months wasn’t cutting it in too many cases. Too many producers were using dosage (sweetness) as a disguise for underaged wines.


Which wine or wines were your inspirations?

SM: We wanted to think locally, if Marlborough has nothing else, it has the incredible natural acidity needed to produce world class traditional method bubbles.

The wines of No1, Nautilus and Cloudy Bay are a few of the leaders of this style of sparkling wine.


What were your international sparkling inspirations?

SM: We tasted the full spectrum of sparkling wines from Australia, France, Spain and others to help steer our collective stylistic direction

Ultimately though, we were at the start of the journey, all we had to do was listen properly and the grapes would tell us where they wanted to go.

Considering the abundance of primary character we get in Marlborough, it was clear from pretty early on that we would be looking at a Chardonnay dominant base wine.


Do you plan to make Dawn every year?

SM: We haven’t made Dawn every year, Dawn is very much a vintage wine made only when the correct circumstances prevail.

Marlborough’s cool nights are so important for acid retention, so this becomes a big factor when growing the best grapes for sparkling wines


What’s your happiest winemaking moment with Dawn?

SM: Letting the first bottles ferment slowly in the halls while we tasted and monitored the fermentation dynamics gave me a sense of great feeling – and relief that it was working.

Author: Joelle Thomson

I am a wine writer, author and educator... first bitten by a big buttery Chardonnay on a dark and stormy night in the 1980s and there was no turning back... Follow my tastings and join some too on this new site.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *