Francesca Menzies celebrated her 80th birthday a wee while back. Francesca doesn’t attend Club events very often these days, (a bit difficult now that she lives in the Nelson region) but she has been a member of our club since the very early days and is one of our valued life members. She has served on our committee as well as having terms as Vice President and President of the Club. A somewhat belated congratulations Francesca.
Every once in a while the Club creates its own news, or at least things happen to members that are newsworthy. This month I have opted against searching out a New Zealand wine story in favour of a little celebration of our own. Back in May Derek Thompson (a foundation Member of our club) turned 80. He had a small celebration to mark the occasion at which the birthday cake pictured below was a feature. There are three things worthy of mention about the cake. Obviously the first is Derek’s achievement at reaching 80, the second is that the prints on the cake represent his dedicated companion, Hershey the cat, and thirdly, but by no means lastly, the cake was provided by Adeline Porter, a fellow member. I knew there was a good reason why Derek surrounds himself with women at the top table.
Tuku is the world’s first Māori Winemakers Collective, bringing together awarded Māori wine companies based on their shared values of land, family and hospitality.
The collective is made up of majority Māori-owned, NZ-owned wine companies: Kuru Kuru, Ostler, Steve Bird, te Pā and Tiki Wines, offering a wide range of premium varietals from the most famous wine-growing regions of Aotearoa.
The name Tuku comes from the Māori art of Tukutuku weavings, which are decorative wall panels. These panels were lashed or stitched together by people working in pairs from either side, passing the stalks back and forth. The members all share the same values of the land, family and hospitality and by working together, hope to strengthen indigenous winemaking as a whole. There are very few companies that work collectively in this industry that will share ideas, share market resources and share a meal together.
The Tuku collective is united by a common ethos to winemaking, business and life. At the heart are the Māori values of:
KAITIAKITANGA – guardianship of the land and people Like the majority of New Zealand winemakers, TUKU is all certified sustainable, but they take it a few steps further than that. The collective is all about family, and they want to ensure that they look after our land and people, to make sure future generations get to experience Aotearoa in the same way we have.
The collective supports several organisations dedicated to Kaitiakitanga. In the vineyards, they use various methods to enrich vineyard soils, such as compost, liquid seaweed, molasses and beneficial bacteria and fungi for ground drenching and lambs to graze in the winter. They have a strong focus on re-using and maximise recycling opportunities wherever possible. They all strive to ensure all their actions have the long-term interest of our land at heart.
WHAKAPAPA – our family, our heritage Whakapapa links people to all other living things, the earth and the sky, and traces the universe back to its origins. TUKU are all extremely proud of their heritage and where they come from and they have many generations working within the companies. They embrace the past, live in the present and look to the future.
WHĀNAUNGATANGA – a sense of family connection It is a big part of Maori culture to create a sense of belonging and to embrace people into their whānau. It is important for the collective to create meaningful relationships through shared experiences and by working together. They respect and foster relationships within their organisations, within their iwi and within the community. We may not be born of the same parents, but you are still very much part of our whānau.
MANAAKITANGA – hospitality/generosity TUKU thrives on this. Wine is a great thing to share with friends and family and that is what TUKU is all about. Enhancing that special moment, showing generosity, sharing a slice of New Zealand and embracing you into our whānau.
Māori business are unique because of our culture, our values and our approach.
TUKU believes the future for Māori businesses is bright and there are already many key Māori businesses on the world stage who contribute greatly to the New Zealand economy.
When you buy from local people and their families, you are enabling growth and success for future generations. When buying TUKU wines, you are supporting indigenous producers who are connected to the land and to their wines.
It is indeed my privilege to present to club members the Cellar Club’s annual report for the year 2018 – 2019.
I want to stress that the club is first and foremost about you. It is you as active members who make the club as vibrant as it is. Maintaining membership at a sound level is the key. Thank you for your support for events and meetings during the year and attending tonight’s AGM. Our monthly meetings continue to be well attended, in fact the average number of members attending monthly meetings relative to the club’s subscription membership has perhaps never been better. Total numbers attending tastings again exceeded 300 during this last year (at 9 meetings) but we have noted that guest numbers were a little down and this may need to be addressed if we are looking to build on our membership.
In particular the numbers attending the two club dinners in July and December 2018 were also at a high (the 2 dinners were collectively over 90) and as these dinners are highlight events for members we will continue to prioritise efforts to choose the right venue, creating a chance for you to share good wines with your table and to enjoy some of the first class cuisine that Wellington restaurants do provide.
May I add that this report, rather than being printed, is posted for your interest on the club’s website.
Keeping the membership levels up and ensuring meetings are well attended is a prime objective to ensure the club remains viable and we can sustain the costs that running the club incurs. You will see from the financial report prepared for the AGM that the club’s finances are in very good shape thanks particularly to the diligence and astute budget management of our long serving treasurer.
These club’s finances and fixed costs are manageable but do require active attention. Venue hire, licenses for the club website and the council’s liquor requirements, presenter gifts and the costs of the wines are the key points of focus. With healthy finances we are able to subsidise the annual BBQ and dinners, sustain a club cellar and provide those cellared wines at dinners and the AGM tonight. We are fortunate that occasionally the wine presenters either heavily discount the wine or are prepared to donate their wines. This can be unpredictable but where it eventuates we are grateful and it allows the benefits to flow back to members.
This is often a function of the size scale of the wineries or their subsequent response to your level of orders. It is worth noting that the presenters cover their own travel, visiting and accommodation costs and for some this is substantial. In those terms I want to thank members most sincerely for their preparedness to order on the night and many of the presenters particularly comment on both their orders and naturally express a willingness to return to the club. I know that is not always true of some other wine clubs where they have different arrangements and expectations. Our club’s operating model is not unique, but where other styles of club operations put some pressure on presenters and wineries, our model ensures good relations are maintained with wineries, our financial viability is ensured and door charges and subscriptions remain affordable.
Therefore, the level of support from members suggests the formula may be right but I want to stress that meeting your interests is paramount. We would want to hear both suggestions for meetings and ideas and options for events that are planned. Each member of the committee is only too willing to talk with you to seek and explore ideas to ensure the club remains in good heart and is delivering what members want in terms of wine education, quality wine experiences and a good social atmosphere at meetings and amongst members.
As members you have excelled with the help you provide with meeting logistics. Looking after the glassware, setting the venue hall up and helping stack tables and chairs away, assisting with pouring when requested, being inclusive at tables and helping with distribution of wine orders does ease the pressures involved in meetings and covering the necessary tasks and it is appreciated.
It is pleasing to reflect that the club continues to thrive as Wellington’s pre-eminent wine society established and operating since 1980 expanding from a local suburban focus to a membership residing from across the city, the Hutt Valley to the Kapiti Coast. Your continuing involvement has ensured this longevity into our 40th year.
The programme over the last year was varied and well received. We visited Hawkes Bay [Unison Vineyard, Clearview Estate and Askerne Wines], tasted internationally from France [Maison Vauron with cheeses], Portugal [Confidant Wines] and Australia [Yalumba with Negociants], tasted Marlborough [with Villa Maria], looked at quality wines under $25 with Joelle Thomson and dined at Saigon Van, at Juniper and the traditional January BBQ (courtesy of life member Derek Thompson).
My thanks go also to an outstandingly willing committee. This is a group that is dedicated, reliable and affable. The portfolios are well shared and the committee’s focus is sustained membership, managing costs, providing publicity and information, and promoting wine education. It is pleasing for me to note that the current committee members have all expressed a willingness to continue in their involvement.
This is a group notable for their collective efforts and backing each other up. The committee deals with a plethora of issues, with finances and organising the annual tasting programme being a focus. There certainly is an extensive timely email flow amongst the committee and we always have a quorum at monthly committee meetings. Planning and being flexible are the keys, although occasionally there is pressure on the scheduled monthly programme. Invariably we manage to come through and frequently achieve stellar presentations. Our secretarial support, the newsletter and our website as our “shop windows”, licensing and venue realities, catering and balancing our books all require dedication and effort. For this collective endeavour I am grateful to committee members.
The club is about sociability,extending wine experiences and broadening horizons. We are always looking for the means to increase our membership. It is always a pleasure when you bring along guests to meetings and functions as prospective members and we are happy to make incentives for you to do so. With guest numbers a little down of late there is a real interest to encourage your friends and acquaintances who may wish experience a tasting evening and perhaps to join the club. Specifically, how we can increase younger membership is one of the challenges going forward.
Thank you for your support and active involvement and hence I raise a glass to you one and all and trust we will continue to do so for the year ahead and to mark the club’s 40th year.
Raymond Chan, wine critic; b July 21, 1956; d February 10, 2019
Raymond Chan, who has died aged 62, was a great wine communicator and for spearheading dynamic tastings in Wellington in the early days of the modern New Zealand wine industry.
He will also be remembered by family and friends (of whom more than 300 turned up to celebrate his life at a wake in Martinborough) as a man of incredible courage and determination.
Chan died at home in Wellington last month with his partner, Sue Davies, by his side.
It had been a long journey with cancer, and he was constantly praising Davies for the incredible support she provided during that time.
He lived with cancer for 10 years. During this time, he led a new style of wine communication – paid wine reviews online. He swiftly won a strong fan base of winemakers and marketers alike who wanted and needed written independent wine reviews.
He wasn’t without his detractors, but this did not deter Chan from his meticulous detailing of viticulture and winemaking information on his website, which was an invaluable resource tool for the New Zealand wine industry.
He and his work will be sorely missed because of his great ability to communicate about wine to both newcomers and experts alike. Despite his battle with debilitating cancer, he ploughed on with daily life, cycling down the hill from his home in Hataitai to Newtown each morning, working on his website each afternoon.
His sunny disposition and love of wine came through in both the tastings programme he spearheaded in Wellington in the 1980s and 1990s, and on his website.
His desire was to democratise wine for all. He succeeded.
Wine never appeared on the family dining table when he was growing up. It became important to him when he graduated from the University of Otago in 1978 and worked at Chan’s Garden Restaurant, owned by his family in Dunedin.
Raymond was one of five children. He was the eldest of the four born in New Zealand to immigrant Chinese parents who were separated for seven years between his father’s arrival in New Zealand and the emigration of his wife and eldest daughter.
The family owned a fruit shop and later a fish and chip shop and, eventually, Chan’s Garden Restaurant in South Dunedin.
When the family opened the restaurant, they all became interested in wine.
“I was amazed by the early New Zealand wines of the day, and our whole family got keen on wine through the restaurant,” he said.
He became friends with wine reps from different companies and developed close relationships with wine industry people, such as Malcolm McIntyre and Chris Staynes, with whom he formed the Wine Federation of Otago and entered wine options, a guessing game in the wine industry.
The 1980s were pivotal years in Chan’s early career. He became a judge at the Royal Easter Wine Show in 1988 when Master of Wine Bob Campbell was expanding the judging system. Then he moved to Wellington in 1989 to work at Wilson Neill as a wine adviser for the late Jose Hernandez and, later, when Wilson Neill was taken over by Dominion Breweries (DB), he went to O’Reilly’s on Thorndon Quay, where he worked for Zuke Marinkovich from 1991 to 1994.
This role saw him establish Wellington wine tasting programmes, most influentially at Regional Wines & Spirits, working for the store’s late founder, Grant Jones, whom Chan described as a visionary.
After Chan’s death, one friend wrote on social media: “He opened my eyes to wine.”
Another said: “Without him, I can’t imagine how I would have gotten into a wine career and he was super supportive even when I knew nothing – he always had time to answer my questions, no matter how trivial I imagine they may have seemed to him.”
I can echo those comments. The first time I met him was at an upstairs tasting at Regional Wines & Spirits in 1995. I was a young wine writer with very little knowledge at the time and, realising I needed to learn, the tastings beckoned.
Chan’s passion for wine was infectious. He was warm and welcoming. He lacked pretension and exuded an openness to teach, which is sorely needed in wine circles today.
I owe him a lot. Like many Wellingtonians in the 1990s, I learnt more about wine from Chan than from anyone else in wine circles. He encouraged me as a young writer, happy to see a newcomer and help them on their path.
He was a breath of fresh air. His support for my writing career will always give him a special place in my heart. His encouragement and support for many others in the New Zealand industry means that they, too, can echo this thought.
His funeral was a small family affair in Wellington, followed by food at his favourite yum cha restaurant. The wake to celebrate his life was another matter. It was held at Ata Rangi, one of the first four wineries to establish itself in Martinborough.
The catering was by Ruth Pretty and more than 300 people turned up to pay their tributes to the man who most described as having a ground-breaking influence on their journey into winemaking, viticulture, marketing, sales and writing.
It has been my great privilege to know, admire and learn from the man who inspired one of my personal greatest wine passions – German riesling. It was a passion that he and Davies also shared.
He will be very deeply missed and very highly revered, as he deserved to be, for the role he played in championing wine and its producers at a formative time in the modern history of New Zealand wine.
Joelle Thomson 16 Mar 2019 Joelle Thomson is a writer and published author of 15 books about wine.
Industry body New Zealand Winegrowers has teamed up with podcast creator Lawrence Francis of Interpreting Wine in order to provide in-depth coverage of its annual tasting.
The podcast series will take the form of seven episodes, featuring interviews with four winemakers and three regional masterclasses.
The first episode will be unveiled today (18 February) with all seven due to be released by 24 February.
The podcasts are available free of charge on major platforms including Spotify and iTunes. They will also be made available on the New Zealand Winegrowers website at a later date.
The episode schedule is as follows: episode one, Jamie Marfell, group winemaker at Pernod Ricard; episode two, Warren Gibson, winemaker at Trinity Hill; episode three, Sam Bennett, winemaker at Te Pa Wines; episode four, Kevin Judd, winemaker and owner at Greywacke; episode five, Rebecca Gibb MW, a masterclass on Central Otago, episode six, Ronan Sayburn MS and Kevin Judd, a masterclass on Marlborough; and episode seven, Rebecca Gibb MW, a masterclass on Hawke’s Bay
Europe marketing manager at New Zealand Winegrowers, Chris Stroud, commented: “We were delighted when Lawrence approached us to cover our annual tasting on his podcast. This series allows people who were not able to attend our tasting the opportunity to hear directly from the winemakers and learn from the regional masterclasses. We hope it brings a flavour of New Zealand to them.”
Lawrence Francis, content director at Interpreting Wine added: “Podcasting is a versatile and effective tool for wine communication. I know farmers who listen to the show on their tractors and others who play it while driving or working off their wine calories in the gym. In September 2018 Ofcom found that half of UK podcast listeners are under 35 so I think it’s an excellent way to connect with young wine drinkers.”
New Zealand Winegrowers’ annual London tasting took place on 16 January this year. You can listen to the podcast series here.
I wrote this obituary this morning for Raymond Chan, who was my friend, my mentor and a man who played a pivotal role in championing wine and its producers at a formative time in the modern history of New Zealand wine. It is also published on my website at www.joellethomson.com
Courageous, determined and undeterred. Raymond Chan will leave a legacy of great courage, as well as of good humour and a passion for wine.
He passed away on Sunday 10 February after a long journey with cancer, which lasted the best part of a decade. His long term partner, Sue Davies, was an integral part of this journey, offering unwavering support, putting her own career on hold, much of the time, to ensure Raymond had what he needed.
His bravery will remain as inspiring as his cheeky good humour and his passion for wine, which perhaps shone brightest in his role at Regional Wines & Spirits in Wellington where he ran and hosted great tastings for many years.
Wine never appeared on the family dining table when Chan was growing up. It became important to him when he graduated from the University of Otago in 1978 and worked at Chan’s Garden Restaurant, owned by his family in Dunedin.
“I was amazed by the early New Zealand wines of the day and our whole family got keen on wine through the restaurant,” he once said, when asked how he got into wine.
He and his wine friends, such as Malcolm McIntyre and Chris Staynes then formed the Wine Federation of Otago and entered wine options, a guessing game in the wine industry.
The 1980s were pivotal years in Chan’s early career in wine. He became a wine judge at the Royal Easter Wine Show in 1988 when Master of Wine Bob Campbell was expanding the wine judging system. Then he moved to Wellington in 1989 to work at Wilson Neill as a wine advisor for the late, Jose Hernandez, and, later, when Wilson Neill was taken over by Dominion Breweries (DB), he went to O’Reilly’s on Thorndon Quay where he worked for Zuke Marinkovich from 1991 to 1994.
This role saw him establish Wellington wine tasting programmes, which he spearheaded most influentially at Regional Wines & Spirits, working for the store’s late founder, Grant Jones, who Raymond described as a visionary.
“He opened my eyes to wine,” said one wine friend, on social media this morning.
“Without him, I can’t imagine how I would have gotten into a wine career and he was super supportive even when I knew nothing – he always had time to answer my questions, no matter how trivial I imagine they may have seemed to him,” said another wine industry friend.
I can echo those comments.
The first time I met Raymond was at an upstairs tasting at Regional Wines & Spirits in 1995. I was a young wine writer with very little wine knowledge at the time and, realising I needed to learn, the tastings beckoned. Raymond’s passion for wine was infectious. He was warm and welcoming. He lacked pretension and exuded an openness to teach, which is sorely needed in wine circles today.
It has been my great privilege to know, admire and learn from the man who inspired one of my personal greatest wine passions – German Riesling. It was a passion that he and his partner, Sue Davies, also shared.
Raymond will be very deeply missed and very highly revered, as he deserved to be, for the role he played in championing wine and its producers at a formative time in the modern history of New Zealand wine.
The ‘who’s who’ of the wine world descended on Marlborough for a three-day International Sauvignon Blanc Celebration kicking off on Monday 28 January.
“We have over 100 international wine producers, experts and key influencers visiting, giving us an exceptional opportunity to shine the spotlight on our diverse Sauvignon Blanc offerings,” said Sauvignon 2019 Chair, Patrick Materman. The event boasted a world-class line-up of speakers who are experts in the fields of science, research, journalism and gastronomy.
Internationally acclaimed wine writer Matt Kramer returned to New Zealand to explore Sauvignon Blanc’s place in the world of wine and speak on the future of Sauvignon Blanc. Nine Masters of Wine from all over the globe were among the speakers, including Debra Meiburg, founding Director of Meiburg Wine Media, and Sarah Heller, Asia Pacific’s youngest MW at 30 years of age, from Hong Kong. From the UK came Justin Howard-Sneyd, buyer and consultant for over 20 years with some of the UK’s leading distributors, and David Allen, originally from the UK and Director of WineSearcher. Dirceu Vianna Junior was the first South American male to obtain the title of Master of Wine and joined from Brazil, and Tim Hanni hailing from the US, where he is Managing Director of eCode.me and HanniCo LLC. Completing the exemplary line up were New Zealanders Emma Jenkins, Sam Harrop and Steve Smith.
Over 350 guests were expected to attend the celebration, which took attendees on a journey exploring the complexity of Sauvignon Blanc, emerging styles, vineyard practices, winemaking influences and future trends. The International Sauvignon Blanc Celebration is built around three themes; Place, Purity and Pursuit. Day one was themed Place and drew on Tūrangawaewae, the geographical places we feel empowered and connected to. Day two, with the theme of Purity, explored topics such as climate, sustainability and flavour. Finally, Day three dealt with what we should pursue domestically and globally, outlining future challenges and opportunities for the New Zealand wine industry.
The spectacular evening entertainment was also a highlight, with the sold-out gala event ‘Blanc’, a dinner-en-blanc theme, hosting 480 guests at Brancott Vineyard on the second evening of the 2019 celebration. Celebrity chef Martin Bosley was the culinary director of the gourmet feast that was matched with older vintages from the cellars of our wineries. The International Sauvignon Blanc Celebration brought this diverse, expressive and sought-after variety to centre stage for three action-packed days in Marlborough.
Few consumer products offer as staggering a range of choice as wine. You can buy a bottle of Dark Horse Big Red Blend for $8. Or for around $500, you can get a 2012 bottle of Sloan Proprietary Red. Yet for each bottle, the same question applies: Is it any good?
The rise of the wine-rating crowd
In 2004, Eric LeVine — then a group program manager at Microsoft — launched CellarTracker, a site where amateur wine enthusiasts can rate wines. Today, CellarTracker is the web’s most popular “community” or “crowdsourced” wine review website, containing 6.3 million reviews from 113,000-plus users for more than 2.2 million different wines.
Amateur and professional wine scores correlate very tightly
How similar? We ran a statistical tool called a Spearman correlation and got a figure of 0.576. A perfect correlation is 1. An utter non-correlation is 0. A score of 0.576 may not sound impressive at first, but it can actually get worse than 0 — a negative correlation, which is what you would see if you compared, say, shortness with the likelihood of playing professional basketball.
Amateurs appear more expert than the experts
It looks very much like the enthusiasts actually do a better job of agreeing with the experts than the experts do with each other. That might sound odd, but out of thousands of wines we analyzed, only a handful contradicted this pattern. Simply put, if you want to know what the experts think, the best place to look appears to be, of all places, CellarTracker.
The better the wine, the more experts agree with the amateurs
There is also a tendency for scores to converge as wines improve in quality. This is evident in the arrow shape of the clusters in figures comparing CellarTracker with Wine Advocate and CellarTracker with International Wine Cellar. Average scores, furthermore, are high. On Wine Advocate, the average score was 89, on International Wine Cellar it was 91, and it was 17 out of 20 for Jancis Robinson. On CellarTracker, it was 89. This tells us that experts and enthusiasts alike don’t seem to be spending a great deal of time scoring mediocre wines.
The New Zealand wine industry has recognised the service and dedication of industry icons Mark Nobilo, Jane Hunter and Ivan Sutherland by inducting them as Fellows of New Zealand Winegrowers at the New Zealand Wine Awards dinner held in Wellington last month. The Fellows award recognises individuals who have made an outstanding contribution to the industry.
Mark has been a tireless advocate for grape and wine industry for over 50 years from his time as viticulturist with the family firm through to his recent years as a consultant, particularly in the Northland wine industry. In his role with Nobilo Vintners Mark spent enormous amounts of time helping the Gisborne and Hawke’s Bay growers in their endeavours to produce quality grapes. In more recent years Mark has been a consultant particularly in Northland where he has shared his knowledge, without charge, with all Northland winegrowers.
Mark served on a number of industry Committees over the years but perhaps most notably on the New Zealand Grapevine Improvement Group which played a key role in sharing knowledge about and distributing improved planting material to the industry. “Mark has always given freely of his time to assist the growth of the industry,” said John Clarke, Chair of New Zealand Winegrowers.
Jane joined the New Zealand wine industry in 1983, taking up the role of National viticulturist with Montana Wines. Jane has contributed to the wider industry in many ways and served on the Wine Institute Board and various Committees for several years. Importantly she was a foundation Director of the New Zealand Wine Guild which charted the path forward for New Zealand wine in the UK in the early 1990’s and established the model of cooperation in export which has served the industry well to this day.
Jane has received a number of awards over the years honouring her contribution to our industry including in 1993 an OBE in 2009 when she was made a Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit and in 2013 became the first woman inducted into the New Zealand Wine Hall of Fame. “Jane never intended to stay in the industry long but has since become a New Zealand wine icon. One of Jane’s greatest assets has been the time and energy she has devoted to serving the wider community,” said Mr Clarke.
Ivan Sutherland, Proprietor, Dog Point Wines
Ivan, originally from Marlborough, studied Valuation and Farm Management at Lincoln University graduating in 1972. He has been involved for nearly 40 years in the New Zealand wine industry, commencing as one of the first contract growers in Marlborough in 1979 before becoming involved in viticulture consultancy. Today he is a proprietor of well know premium winery Dog Point Wines. Ivan has served the industry in a number of capacities over many years. He was a founding member of the Marlborough Grape Growers Association and served as Chair on more than one occasion.
As a strong advocate of grower issues, Ivan has always had a keen interest in research serving as Chair of the original Marlborough Wine Research Centre Board. More latterly Ivan became a Trustee of The Marlborough Research Centre and still enjoys this involvement. As an ardent advocate for all things Marlborough, Ivan was a Board member of the first International Sauvignon Blanc Celebration held in Marlborough in 2016 playing a major role in the success of the event.
These words were uttered by the French-born English wine merchant and author André Simon in 1964 when tasting Hawke’s Bay winery Te Mata’s 1912 red blend. More than half a century after it was first made – the same year as the sinking of the Titanic – the red wine was still very much alive, so why has New Zealand not developed a reputation for making age worthy wines?
Two words: Sauvignon Blanc.
The New Zealand wine industry is dominated by a grape variety that is typically fermented and put into bottle within months – or even weeks – of being harvested. ‘Picked, pressed and pissed before Christmas’ is the life cycle of Sauvignon Blanc in some winemakers’ view. Why wait for Christmas when you can drink the wine before Easter? Moana Park winery has released a Sauvignon Blanc on April 1 and that was no April Fools. If the previous vintage has been small and stocks are running low, a few blocks might be picked early to produce a wine to bridge the gap between vintages, such as Villa Maria’s Early Release Sauvignon Blanc.
However, there are a growing number of smaller, quality focused producers that are holding back their Sauvignon Blancs before releasing, giving them time on lees and time in bottle. Having tasted some of Marlborough’s finest Sauvignon Blancs at seven or eight years old, drinkers need not be in such a hurry. Putting the brakes on wineries releasing wines doesn’t help their cash flow and with grape growers to pay and bank repayments due, accountants can overrule winemakers, putting the onus on drinkers to put the wines in their usually non-existent cellars.
It is partly a matter of wine culture: New Zealand does not have a long-standing tradition of making and drinking wine. Having rejected Prohibition in 1919, the country continued to operate under a cloud of abstemiousness, promoted by restrictive licensing laws. Until 1961, New Zealanders couldn’t enjoy a glass of wine with a meal in a restaurant. The 1960s brought licensing change with more and more restaurant licences granted, a rise in the number of wine shops while a rise in tax on beer and spirits in the 1958 ‘Black Budget’ gave wine an encouraging bump.
The 1950s witnessed the birth of aspirational winemakers and pioneers seeking to move away from fortified wine and hybrids to quality table wine made from vitis vinifera, which gained increasing momentum, culminating in legislation outlawing a sugar and water culture and a state-sponsored vine pull in the 1980s. In the 1970s, regular wine columns had appeared in several newspapers, catering for an educated population who had done their ‘OE’ (overseas experience), travelling around Europe, experiencing wine and food culture. From just 174ml of wine per capita in the early 1960s, wine consumption increased to 5.3 litres by the end of the 1970s. In 2016, the figure stood at 20.2 litres but has remained stagnant for a decade. (Come on team, get drinking, we have to lift this again – Ed)
Red wines in New Zealand, like whites, are all too often released early and consumed early, meaning there are few older vintages available to purchase and enjoy. There are relatively few wine collectors and fine dining restaurants with cellars and mature stocks of New Zealand wine and thus some wineries are starting to take responsibility for ageing their wines until they approach their drinking window. Judy Fowler, owner of Puriri Hills Vineyard in Clevedon, Auckland, which specialises in Bordeaux blends, has a Brunello di Montalcino approach to releasing her reds. “My late release policy is based on the fact that we attempt to produce Bordeaux-blended wines made in the longstanding traditions of Bordeaux. The great Bordeaux generally benefit from ageing five to 10 years or longer. Our wines are built to age well. However, we are a small, newer vineyard [established 1998] with perhaps another 300 years to earn the reputation for quality that the grands crus of Bordeaux have. As such, we do not expect our customers all to want to wait for five or more years to taste our wines at their best, so we do the ageing here at the vineyard before release.” While Fowler is not alone, most wineries don’t apply the release-when-ready-to-drink policy across the entire range, as it can leave suppliers wine-less and raise the prospect of delisting.
It is difficult to judge the ageability of New Zealand wines with so little precedent. In the past decade, young vines have matured, viticulture has evolved, winemaking has become more refined: a Pinot Noir produced 10 years ago from young vines by winemakers that were still getting to know their site will be quite different today than a current vintage opened in a decade’s time. When asked to provide drinking windows for a recent Central Otago Pinot Noir or Hawke’s Bay Cabernet Sauvignon, it is a case of pinning the tail on the donkey.
However, there’s no doubting the country’s best wines have the components to age gracefully: intensity of fruit, richness of ripe tannins, acidity (and pH), alcohol and magic all play their part in the development of a red wine. In whites, high levels of acidity and flavour precursors elongate their shelf life.
There’s also a small matter of the closure: screwcaps are omnipotent in New Zealand. Although a small but significant number of producers continue to seal their top Bordeaux blends under cork (while putting the rest of their range under screwcap), it is likely that the wines will age more slowly, because of the lower rate of oxygen ingress compared with a natural cork.
What is clear, is that far too many New Zealand wines are being consumed before they are out of nappies. It’s time to let them grow up.