History in the bubbles: 105 and still loving her bubbly| Joelle Thomson – 16/12/19
(This item is something of a prelude to our proposed June tasting. It relates to Dawn Ibbotson who is the matriarch of the Ibbotson family who operates Saint Clair)
This month marks the 105th birthday of the woman who inspired one of New Zealand’s best bubblies made using the French traditional method, the same way that champagne is created.
The woman and the wine are called Dawn. The first vintage of Dawn was made from the 2012 vintage to mark its namesake’s 100th birthday in December 2014. Now, Dawn Ibbotson has turned 105 and her family says she enjoys a daily glass of the bubbly they made in her honour.
It’s a top bubbly in taste too, as our instore experts pick it as one of their favourites, year-round.
The wine is made from hand-harvested, whole bunch pressed grapes, which were fermented in a combination of stainless steel (the Chardonnay) and seasoned French oak barriques (the Pinot Noir). The two still wine components were then blended and bottle-fermented for three months to allow the carbon dioxide from the second fermentation to dissolve into the wine, creating its fine bubbles. It was then left on tirage (lees) for thirty-nine months until disgorgement.
Story of the name Saint Clair…bubb
The Ibbotson family who founded Saint Clair Winery named it after the original landowners of their Marlborough vineyards, the Sinclair family. Saint Clair is also the name of a suburb in Dunedin, hometown to the Ibbotson’s and to Dawn.
Dawn is made from…
Vines are grown on stone and sandy alluvial soils on Rapaura Road, Marlborough; overlooked by Saint Clair Vineyard Kitchen. It contains 6 grams of residual sugar per litre; off-dry, but only just, in other words. This wine tastes dry from the first sip to the last, lingering sparkling drop.
Well, December already team. It has been a strange year with a few downs to go along with the ups for some of us on a personal level.
That is not to say that it has been a bad year for our Cellar Club, quite the contrary in fact. Let’s review our year. By a long-established tradition, we began with our summer BBQ at the end of January. The usual excellent occasion and we continue to appreciate that Derek makes his premises available. February saw us heading to Askerne Estate in Hawkes Bay. The Hawkes Bay wineries never let you down. March was with the very well established Villa Maria presenting. While the winery originated in Auckland, the company has expanded over the years and produces wines from most of the major regions in New Zealand.
April saw something of a coup for the club with Joelle Thomson presenting. Joelle is a well-recognised personality in the New Zealand wine world as an author, wine writer and tutor. Another great tasting. May is the inevitable AGM then in June Simon Bell from Colab Wine Merchants took us on a tour of Europe. Simon brought along some large wine glasses and some time was spent on discussing the virtues and differences that wine glasses can make to your wine experience. On to July for the mid-year dinner at the Trade Kitchen.
Off to Nelson for the August tasting with Waimea Estate. Over the years Waimea has gathered 150+ Gold Medals and 26 Trophies across nine different wine styles. Nelson producers are right up there as a wine region. Cenna Lloyd for Negociants presented in September. She presented wines from two wineries, Misha’s Vineyard and Two Paddocks, both from Central Otago. Much enjoyed by those who attended and really great orders from a smaller group attending.
In October we celebrated the Rugby World Cup with a selection of wines from countries competing in the Cup. Keith Tibble was the presenter. November saw the very early return of Cenna Lloyd for the South American wine and food match evening outlined below. Cenna had been to South American after presenting in September and was keen to share her experience.
It only remains to anticipate yet another December Dinner. We have been to Cashmere Lounge before and we are sure you will not be disappointed.
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.
Our April tasting was a great success and certainly slightly different from other tastings, given the perspective of our presenter and her knowledge of wines in the current market.
Having someone of Joelle’s experience was certainly a coup for the club and we would like to acknowledge Regional Wines contribution in making this event happen.
The committee will be approaching Regional to see if we can re-establish some permanent benefits for club members and we will advise further if and when this is finalised.
As for the wines themselves, I have already said earlier that I really enjoyed the Montepulciano. But given the number and cross-section of orders that Joelle took away with her, it’s clear that all the wines were greatly appreciated.
Thank you, Joelle, for a very interesting tasting. Hopefully, we can arrange another tasting sometime in the future.
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.
Joelle hardly needs an introduction. She is well known through her significant contribution to wine literature in New Zealand. She has featured in many news and other publications as well as being a regular contributor on Radio NZ. Among her other activities, she is the Wine Programme Director and teaches wine courses at Regional Wines & Spirits in Wellington. She also does courses at the New Zealand School of Food & Wine in Auckland.
The theme for the evening will be “Top Drops under $25” Having such a well-established expert introducing good wines in the more affordable range will be welcomed by members. More next month, in the meantime, put in your diary.
A couple of your committee members have done some great work in sorting out tastings over the next two months. You will note that things have now been settled and we can look forward to two great evenings. Special thanks to Wayne and Murray for their efforts in putting these together. Just remains for us to enjoy them. Check out the events page.
Little bit late
This newsletter is a little bit later in the month than we would like but we wanted to have as much information available as possible. My personal regret is that I will miss Joelle as we will be embarking on a 31-night cruise. Sometimes you just have to make sacrifices. I often say that a tasting is not to be missed but, to be fair, that applies to all of them.