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.
Thousands of “forgotten corners” in Marlborough vineyards could be planted with native species, enriching the region’s biodiversity. That might require a change in mindset for growers who like their rows straight and their fence lines sprayed, says Marlborough District Council environmental scientist Matt Oliver.
But it would help mitigate the monoculture of Marlborough, he adds. “We have imposed our will on nature across the Wairau and Awatere Plains. The very least you can do is give up a bit of control in these little pockets of land.”
He describes forgotten corners as “the annoying space that every vineyard manager has in their vineyard, whether it’s a funny shaped piece that is not big enough for vines or a few sheep or a drain that you have to spray twice a year”.
Planting those areas in native grasses, flax and kowhai would cost a few hundred dollars. They will require a bit of weeding initially but this could be done in the time operators would have otherwise have spent backing the tractor in to spray, he says. “In a few years’ time, you might have tui in the kowhai and giant kokopu in the drain. You’ll find you’ve saved a bit of money and done something good. It might even make a good photo for your marketing.” Wine Marlborough advocacy manager Vance Kerslake says the organisation fully supports industry front-footing biodiversity projects.
“We sponsor the Cawthron Marlborough Environment Awards and love to see and promote the work being done by growers and wine companies to mitigate monoculture,” he says. “Industry members are increasingly seeing how important that is for the environment, primarily, but also how it adds richness to the story of individual companies, as well as the reputation of brand Marlborough.” MDC biodiversity coordinator Mike Aviss, who runs the Significant Natural Areas project, as well as Tui to Town, says the plains have lost 99 per cent of their natural cover since Europeans settled here. “All the drainable wetlands have virtually been drained, along with the kahikatea and swamp forest. This was once a huge wetland system.”
With every change in land use there’s loss of native land cover, he says. That is certainly true of vineyard conversions, which typically run in straight lines, putting creeks and trees at risk. “It really depends on how focused the developer is on wanting to get the most out of the land,” says Mike. “Whether they are driven by converting every inch to grapes, or see themselves as part of the landscape, and can see the value in keeping areas of natural habitat.”
Some companies already have biodiversity targets that include small pockets of new plantings or large expanses of restored natives, including Pernod Ricard’s Kaituna wetland, Wither Hills‘ nationally significant Rarangi wetland, and Spy Valley‘s Hillocks Rd restoration. “There are some pretty neat forgotten corners out there,” says Matt. “But there are so many more to develop.” The Forgotten Corners is not a council policy, but Council can assist with funding through the Tui to Town project and other funding to assist landowners. In the meantime, Matt and Mike hope vineyard owners will spring the $2.50 for a native grass or $3.50 for a kowhai and do their bit for biodiversity.
International demand for New Zealand wine shows no sign of slowing, with total export value reaching a record $1.83 billion according to the 2019 Annual Report of New Zealand Winegrowers.
Export value has risen by 6% in June year-end 2019, and at a retail level, this translates to over $7 billion dollars of New Zealand wine sold around the world annually. The UK and USA led the growth, with the USA continuing to be New Zealand wine’s largest market with over $550 million in exports.
The premium reputation of New Zealand wine has translated to real value in its major markets where the country remains either the highest or second-highest priced wine category in the USA, UK, Canada, and China. “This year’s export results again reflect the New Zealand wine industry’s strengths, and reinforce our international reputation for premium, diverse and sustainable wines.” said John Clarke, Chair of New Zealand Winegrowers.
The report highlights the completion of the 2018 PwC Strategic Review, the first within the industry since 2011, which provided a wealth of usable insights into the state of the New Zealand wine sector, challenges and opportunities. “The Strategic Review report noted the continued steady growth of the industry, and identified a range of challenges and risks that need to be addressed to maintain that trajectory and ensure all members have the opportunity to benefit” said Mr Clarke.
Mr Clarke noted the Strategic Review underscored how important all aspects of sustainability were in order to maintain the New Zealand wine industry’s social license to operate. “As an industry, we need to ensure our key focus is on enhancing sustainability initiatives. Sustainability is a cornerstone of the reputation of New Zealand wine, and is vital to the ongoing success of our industry.”
Highlights over the last year include the completion of the first phase of the Bragato Research Institute’s climate change programme, the commencement of a new research winery facility, and the International Sauvignon Blanc Celebration, which saw over 100 international wine producers, experts and key influencers visit Marlborough to experience New Zealand’s diverse Sauvignon Blanc offerings.
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.
Yet another excellent tasting with Marc Udy from Villa Maria, ably assisted by Kirsty Warbrick, presenting a range of great wines including some from their Platinum Range. Marc is one of the winemakers from Marlborough. He was a good speaker and the consensus is that the winery has been really easy to deal with.
To reiterate the tasting included the Cellar Selection Rose 2018; Reserve Wairua Sauvignon 2018; Single Vineyard Seddon Pinot Gris 2018; Reserve Marlborough Chardonnay 2016; Platinum Selection Pinot Noir 2018; Cellar Selection Grenache 2017, rounded off with the Cellar Selection Late Harvest Riesling 2015. An enjoyable night.
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.
The New Zealand wine industry is busy planning for the upcoming vintage after taking into account the impact of the recent Kaikoura earthquake. “We have completed our survey of the impact of the earthquake on our members, ” said Philip Gregan, CEO of New Zealand Winegrowers. “It is clear there was some wine loss as a result of the earthquake, but it amounts to only a little over 2% of Marlborough’s total production. While this is frustrating, this is not a major concern as vintage 2016 was a near record one. This means there is plenty of wine available to continue our market growth.”
As expected the major impact on wineries has been to storage tanks. “Many wineries, both small and large have escaped with no damage at all, but in others, damage to tanks has occurred. Our initial estimate is that 80% of tank capacity in Marlborough is undamaged, but around 20% has been impaired to some extent. These numbers may change as the process of damage assessment continues. ”The priority for wineries with damaged tanks is to repair or replace the tanks they need to have in working condition for vintage 2017.”
“The process of tank repair is already underway but it is going to be a big task which will continue for many months. We have been liaising with affected wineries, engineers, tank manufacturers, the government and the Marlborough District Council to ensure there are no unnecessary impediments to that process proceeding as quickly and safely as possible.”
“Marlborough produces well over 200 million litres of wine each year with over 80% of this destined for export markets. Despite the obvious damage to transport links, we are not aware of any particular issues affecting the movement of wine out of the region at the moment.
We are working with various transport operators, ports and the government to identify and address any issues should they occur.”
Wild South has released new vintages of its Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc – two quintessential Marlborough wines to get the taste buds tingling for summer.
Winemaker Kel Dixon says the key to Wild South Pinot Noir 2014 was careful vineyard management, particularly at harvest time. “We picked many of our blocks earlier than normal to capitalise on the warm, dry spring and summer, secure fruit with a balance of great flavours and good acids, and make sure we had all our grapes safely tucked up in the winery when the late autumn rains came.” As a result, Wild South had excellent fruit which was fermented and aged in separate batches prior to blending and bottling. The result is a wine with vibrant fruit flavours and layers of subtle complexity.
The 2015 Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc is Wild South’s first release from the vintage that many wine makers have been predicting will produce some of the best Sauvignon seen for years. Dixon says it was definitely a classic cool climate growing season. “The feature of the vintage was the second half of summer with record temperatures and superb ripening conditions. The Sauvignon Blanc we picked was the very best expression of this varietal and the resulting wine displays exceptional intensity.”
Dixon says both wines are very approachable now and ideal drinking over the summer ahead.
Wild South Marlborough Pinot Noir 2014 – Attractive deep garnet red colour leads to a lifted aroma of strawberry and vanilla with subtle dried herb complexity. The palate is sweet fruited with wild berries and vanilla, complemented by subtle oak spices and a savoury complexity. Food match: The perfect picnic lunch wine – pack some crusty bread, your favourite cured meats, cheeses and accompaniments.
Wild South Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2015 – Fresh and lively aromas of snow peas, florals, nettles and lemon juice and zest. The palate is Sauvignon Blanc frisky with powerful length and a lovely mineral finish. Food match: Freshly barbequed or pan seared scallops. Both wines have a recommended retail price of $17.99 and are available at supermarkets throughout New Zealand.
Fictional chardonnay swillers, Bridget Jones, and Kath and Kim have a lot to answer for when it comes to one of the world’s noblest grapes, and why, for the past 10 years or so, many of us have stopped drinking it. Not only has it become uncool to drink chardonnay but the product itself has suffered due to the deluge of cheaply produced, homogenised and heavily oak-chipped versions of this most versatile Vinifera. The 1980s and 90s were awash with over-the-top, tropically scented, fat, blousy and nearly chewable renderings of the grape that Australian winemakers went on to conquer the world with.
Back in its hometown of Chablis, France, chardonnay has been revered for more than 500 years. Depending on where and how it’s grown, the grape’s versatility is unquestionable. Great examples can swing from lean, steeled, cold stream refreshment, to sweet late harvest wines of heady line and length, stopping at all stations, good, bad, and ugly, as it goes. Nowadays, a zippy glass of sauvignon blanc from New Zealand, is more popular with your average drinker than a glass of heavy, creamy, chardonnay. In fact, sav blanc accounts for 72% of the total wine produced by New Zealanders, with Aussies being the largest export market.
You could argue that if scenes from Kath and Kim were being written today, these reflective characters would, more than likely, be pouring themselves a glass of Sauvy Bee, instead of “Kar-don-ay”. But chardonnay is timeless, and its ability to match effortlessly with food means phrases like, “ABC; Anything But Chardonnay”, is something you will rarely ever hear spoken, by those in the know.
I love New Zealand chardonnay. In the warmer, sunnier climes of the north, in places such as Gisborne, Hawke’s Bay, and Nelson (top of the South Island), chardonnay is scented with fresh tropical fruits and rounded textures, similar to the rolling hills that bound along the horizon. The further south you go, the cooler it gets, and chardonnay grown in the Marlborough, Waipara, and Central Otago regions, here, express their revitalising, snow peaked landscapes, as New Zealand’s alpine country pushes further up, into the sky.
After a recent visit, here are my top picks of New Zealand chardonnay.
James and Annie Millton have been biodynamic before it was cool. Second tier, but by no means second rate, the Shotberry chardonnay is like a safe option gateway drug into the wonderful world of northern New Zealand chardy. A blend from two distinct estate owned sites, Riverpoint and Opou, this wine is like drinking Gisborne in a glass. Ripe yellow fruits and florals, cooled by ocean spray, ripple above a barely noticeable raft of oak, which seems only there for textual protection, rather than full-blown armament.
2013, Bilancia Chardonnay, Bilancia, Hawke’s Bay, 13%, $29
Winegrowers, Lorraine Leheny and Warren Gibson are all about balance. There are six letters in both of their last names, they are both Libran, and their wines taste as if Lady Justice had made them herself, hence the name; ‘”bi’lancia” (be-larn-cha), meaning balance, harmony and equilibrium in Italian. If their La Collina syrah is the rapture, then this chardonnay is like some kind of intense party beforehand. The smell of gunsmoke and soft white flowers mingle with the air inside the glass, carrying with it pear skin, white stone fruit and salted honey aromas, while flavours of crisp green apple, buttery shortbread, like baked apple pie with slices of white peach glazed on top, provide the formula for flavour in this divine example of chardonnay from Hawke’s Bay.
Andrew Greenhough is a man with a masters in art history, who gave up his ambitions of being an art gallery curator – a career which would have seen him showcasing other people’s artistic creations – and instead moved to Nelson with his wife Jenny, where they purchased a vineyard, in a place called Hope. There they set out to grow and create their very own works of art. This wine showcases the real strength of this region’s potential for making great chardy, à la the revered clays hills of the Moutere. Breathe deep, the golden sunlit liquid that possesses fleshy aromas of yellow nectarine, salted buttered popcorn, and green pineapple core. Luscious, not lean, curvaceous, never flabby. This wine is not distributed in Australia, and I have no idea why, but if you are travelling in the region it’s worth stocking up on.
2014, Chardonnay, Te Whare Ra (TWR), Marlborough, Certified Organic, 13.2%, $38
Anna and Jason Flowerday take winegrowing very seriously. After all, their livelihood depends on it. That’s why all their wines have a certain laser-guided precision about them, which is not to say that they lack soul, but rather, drinking a TWR white wine is like listening to a high-fidelity live performance of Daft Punk, circa 2007.
Last year was an outstanding year for the Flowerday’s, and it shows in this vitally brilliant single estate wine. Imagine, butter melting on hot river stones while cool glacial waters that smell like white linen flowers, citrus, crunchy nectarine and other stone fruits rush over them at pace, cleansing and cooling the stones, and leaving behind fine mineral traces of residual adrenaline and joy … well, that would be an understatement.
2014, Home Chardonnay, Black Estate, Waipara , 12.5%, $45
Located in North Canterbury, on New Zealand’s South Island, Waipara valley is home to a number of premium winegrowing estates, including Black Estate, where they grow chardonnay from 21-year-old vines that were last irrigated in 1998. Winegrower, Nick Brown’s meticulous attention to detail has resulted in a wine that is all torque, which is backed up with precise lines and sleek curves. In another life, Nick may have been an Italian carmaker.
Full secondary ferment provides a textual grip that seems to have done nothing to squash the racy acids this wine drives along on. Gunsmoked cheddar, lemon spritz and coconut shavings provide the perfect hook to open wide and drink deep all the angular richness of mango skins, lace, and green pineapple core that’s held inside the glass.
The Central Otago landscape was carved from hyperbole. The mountains, the ranges, the rivers and lakes, the snow, the dirt, and the green, then gold, then red leafed vines. From sunrise to sunset, Central Otago is proof that God is a wine drinker.
Felton Road might just be the most unimaginative name for a wine label, and yet they make some of the most captivating wines in the country. The Block 3 chardonnay is deeply golden in colour and smells like frozen tropical fruits; crisp melon, fleshy pineapple, mango skins – then, soft lime, nuts and spiced honey. Upon each element sits tiny frozen flakes of ice, providing razored tension. Like sails unfurling in the wind, this wine is supple, nimble, and graceful as it goes in a round, around your mouth, down past your heart to, at last, rest in your belly and shine sunlight on your soul.
(With Villa Maria coming next month this item might be timely)
It was a successful evening for Villa Maria at last week’s New Zealand Winegrowers Romeo Bragato Wine Awards held in Marlborough, winning six gold medals with Villa Maria’s Hawkes Bay Assistant Vineyard Manager Paul Robinson collecting the trophy for New Zealand’s Young Viticulturist of the Year. One of five finalists, Paul was thrilled with his award, “This is my fourth attempt at the title and it feels great to be the winner.”
Placing strong emphasis on viticulture, this is the second time Villa Maria has had a winner take the title. Paul made special thanks to Villa Maria for the opportunities that have been presented during his seven years with the company.
The Young Viticulturist of the Year competition was founded in 2006 and attracts a high calibre of entrants from throughout the country and is recognised within the wine industry as the leading accomplishment for young viticulturists to aspire to and achieve, celebrating the young talent in each wine region.
The contestants showcased their practical skills throughout the competition with the final challenge, a topical speech. Fronting a crowd of 400, Paul confidently spoke about water management in Hawkes Bay’s famous Gimblett Gravels Wine Growing District, and he goes onto compete in the Young Horticulturist of the Year competition in November.
Emma Taylor, National Coordinator for the Young Viticulturist Competition said, “This year’s event was particularly tough with a very high standard of competitors.”
The annual Bragato Wine Awards celebrate the effort and passion from viticulturists and vineyard management throughout New Zealand. The six gold medals Villa Maria collected are the result of a true culmination between viticulture and winemaking to consistently produce quality wines.
GOLD MEDALS AWARDED
Villa Maria Single Vineyard Chardonnay Keltern 2013
Villa Maria Single Vineyard Chardonnay Taylors Pass 2013
Villa Maria Reserve Marlborough Noble Riesling 2012
Villa Maria Reserve Marlborough Noble Semillon 2011
Villa Maria Single Vineyard Seddon Pinot Noir 2012
Villa Maria Reserve Hawkes Bay Gimblett Gravels Syrah 2012