Joelle Thomson

Writer, author, journalist

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Friday drinks with Ben Dugdale, Martinborough winemaker

Ben Dugdale has made wine in Martinborough for the past two decades and believes that no region in New Zealand is better than any other when it comes to Pinot Noir - the flagship wine style of this small wine area. "Each region produces superlative Pinot Noir in a global context," says the Carterton resident. 

He has made wine at Dry River and for many others, including a long standing collaboration with Porters Pinot in Martinborough, which he describes as a true garagiste-style vineyard and winery.

His Pinot Brothers Circle B Pinot Noirs are a trio of wines from different environments and regions, each focussing on producing a wine that typifies the region, vineyard, clone and season that it comes from.

“I wanted to explore the very nature of New Zealand Pinot Noir. What is of great interest to me are the characters, flavours, and textures of New Zealand Pinot from differing regions because Pinot Noir is incredibly honest in telling the imbiber where it is from and how it has been treated. It is one of those varieties that rewards care and attention from the grower and winemaker. Those who love Pinot, celebrate its wild and sometimes feral nature, and know to give it time and space to mature and develop."

For these wines he opts for a minimal intervention policy in the winery in order to maximise the character and idiosyncrasies of grape and place.  

The wines have different coloured labels, which he chose to evoke his own idea of each region. The B  Bendigo is blue for blue hued Lake Dunstan, Waitaki is a green gold for the colour of the late summer hills, Martinborough is blood red from cuts and bruises over harvest. This triptych demonstrates regional differences.”

My reviews of the Ben Dugdale's Circle B wines are on a separate blog on this site and below is his story for Friday drinks this week.

What do you consider your greatest achievement?

That would be convincing my wife Tracey to marry me and have three children.

What is your favourite thing about wine? 

Its endless variety of flavours, textures, and characters. So much to explore. 

Do you have a most treasured wine? 

That’s yet to come. My daughter is studying Viticulture and Oenology at the Eastern Institute of Technology under the wise and brilliant Elise Montgomery and I greatly look forward to the wines she will make.

When and where are you at your happiest?

The kitchen in my house, prior to any meal, closely followed by the departure lounge in an airport with Trace. 

What do you most dislike in wine? 

A distinct lack of enthusiasm (in the wine) and volatile acidity being explained to me as edgy, natural, and organic.  

What is your greatest fear? 

Losing the ability to smell and taste. A bout of covid was quite sobering. Two days of furiously and fruitlessly smelling coffee. The sun shone a little brighter after that. 

What is your greatest extravagance?

I do have a lovely leather messenger bag I got in London that cost more than I anticipated and that I use every day. It has a worn patina and is home to a large collection of pens, which I horde. 

What is your greatest regret? 

I try not have any, but when I do sometimes go out of my way to have another go at something I failed at earlier in my life. I joined Toastmasters in my 40s to overcome a school time memory. 

What talent would you most like to have? 

Yoga. As one ages, flexibility decreases. My attempts thus far have added to the answer I gave above. 

What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery? 

The wine aisle in a supermarket. Made up brands, deep cut discounts on old friends, $6.99 dump stacks. 

Which words or phrases do you most overuse? 

What could go wrong?

What is your favourite meal? 

Any meal, anywhere on the planet cooked by a chef or cook that introduces me to a new flavour or technique

If you were to die and come back as a person or thing what would it be?

One of them would be a bird in Burgundy, so for a brief period I could feast on the flavours of the famous. Until a vineyard manager blasted shot through my forehead, naturally. Then a dog in a house with plenty of couches and a fireplace.