introduction to marlborough
We visited New Zealand’s largest and most famous wine growing region: Marlborough. At over twenty-five thousand hectares of grapes, Marlborough accounts for 70% of national production, of which Sauvignon Blanc logically dominates (85% of its production). This beautiful region has an international reputation for producing the best Sauvignon Blanc in the world! We’ve been amazed by how different Sauvignon Blanc wine tastes depending on which subregion it comes from. But of course, all the time delicious!
The Marlborough region is characterized by different terroirs, offering a diversity of wines:
Wairau Valley: this land brings intense flavours to the grapes. It’s made up of old gravely riverbed and riverbank soils. This area has the most rainfall and benefits from sea-breezes. The Sauvignon Blanc is fragrant, aromatic with notes of herbs and tropical fruits such as passion fruit, mango, pineapple, papaya.
Southern Valley: Richer, heavier soils with stones that tend to be crushed (more clay). Area generally warmer. This land provides elegance and offers a variety of flavours and complexity thus producing particularly good Pinot Noir.
Awatere Valley: Cooler, drier, windier and with lower yields, this subregion produces bright, aromatic Pinot Noir and distinctive punchy Sauvignon Blanc with nettle, tomato leaf and stony mineral characters
More generally, Marlborough is one of the world’s great wine producing regions because of its climate: lots of sun, cool night and low autumn rains! This region, and more particularly the city of Blenheim, often claims to benefit from the highest sunshine hours in New Zealand... However, during our visit, it was raining: there’s always an exception! What's more, ones of the keys to Marlborough’s success is its ancient, glacial, free-draining soil
We started with Cloudy Bay: New Zealand’s most famous winery as its wine established Marlborough and New Zealand as a top international wine region. Cloudy Bay was created in 1985 by the Australian David Hohnen and this vineyard is one of the first one created in the Marlborough region. Cloudy Bay was then bought in 1990 by Joseph Henriot, owner of Veuve-Clicquot and sold to LVMH in 2009.
The name Cloudy Bay comes from the Captain James Cook: while travelling to New Zealand in 1770 during major floods in the region, he reportedly noticed the opaque appearance of the water, due to a mass of sediment in the sea. He then named the region Cloudy Bay. Thus, the geographical location of the vineyard, between the Pacific Ocean and the Richmond Range mountains, often leads to the formation of many clouds and therefore justifies the name "Cloudy Bay" for the estate. In addition, the estate's label has also been influenced by the region's maritime history: the dolphins on the screw caps represent the Pelorus Jack, the historic white dolphin that once guided ships in the Sounds!
vineyard and grape varieties
It’s composed of more than 300 hectares, and the characteristic grape varieties of the vineyard are chardonnay, pinot noir and sauvignon blanc, the latter concentrating the majority of the varieties planted. Cloudy Bay has parcels of land scattered around Blenheim, which allows it to benefit from different types of soils and climates and thus offer a diverse range of wines. Cloudy Bay also owns parcels in the Central Otago area, further south. All varieties are harvested by hand, with the exception of Sauvignon Blanc, which is harvested by machine. Indeed, this grape variety represents 70% of the estate's production and must be harvested in a short time.
our time at cloudy bay
We had the chance to spend a day in Cloudy Bay vineyard. We were first welcomed by Nicky, who shared with us the whole history of the estate. Then she took us on a tour of the Cloudy Bay vines in an old car, a 1985 Land Rover Defender! We were able to discover all the diverse terroirs that the vineyard offers, and the visit led us to the heights of the region. The breathtaking view of the vineyards made us realize the scale of production in the New Zealand wine capital: more than 70% of the wine comes from Marlborough!
The, we met Kelly Stuart, the winemaker assistant and Colleen Walker, export markets executive, and continued our visit to the tasting room. We enjoyed a nice view of the vineyards and mountains. We were able to ask all our questions about the production of Cloudy Bay wines, and about the wine market in the Marlborough region of New Zealand. We tasted several amazing wines with them and a lovely time with these committed women!
We discovered Te Whare Ra Wines, a small organic certified vineyard and winery with also biodynamic practices.
Te Whare Ra is located in the Renwick area of Marlborough and this vineyard, established in 1979, is one of the oldest in the region. In 2003 it was bought by 2 winegrowers: Anna & Jason Flowerday. This 11 ha vineyard has 7 different grape varieties. The vineyard uses a combination of organic and biodynamic methods. All the grapes are harvested and sorted by hand, and the wines are made with a minimum of intervention. Te Whare Ra is certified "organic winery & vineyard".
our time at te whare ra
We met Anna, the owner of the estate, who showed us their small cellar where they make all their wines. We were then able to interview her and she explained more deeply the organic and biodynamic methods they use in the vineyard. This vineyard is certified organic, in both viticulture and winemaking, and also uses biodynamic methods. Anna believes organic methods is like going back to how her grandparents used to grow vines and she loves this old school way of growing grapes. When they started 15 years ago to switch to organic, they were swimming against the tide as other vineyards were just expanding: therefore, the best advice she could give to someone that wishes to start a business (and not only in the wine industry) is to have a clear vision, to know what you want and stick to it!
The golden rule of the organic winegrower is to refuse inputs, especially chemical ones. For Anna, describing organic methods is more about what “they don’t do” rather than what “they do do”. She only uses products of natural origin, limited in number and quantity, especially for copper... and then so-called "contact" products on diseases. A simple rainfall can rinse these contact products. In case of bad weather, an organic winegrower therefore takes the risk of losing part of his harvest. Concerning the addition of sulphur to the wine (allowing it to keep better), limits are imposed for the wine to be organic.
Biodynamics is a production system that aims to respect the balance between the plant, the soil and the environment, taking into account lunar and planetary rhythms, according to the principles set out by Rudolf Steiner. Before being labelled biodynamic, the wine must be certified organic, because the standards to be respected in biodynamics are stricter, particularly with regard to the use of sulphur and copper. Te Whare Ra uses biodynamic methods but is not yet certified biodynamic. Anna explained to us, for example, that she used horn dung to strengthen the underground life of the vine. This method comes from biodynamic viticulture. Horn dung is a good quality cow dung that is introduced into a cow's horn and buried during the winter period to ferment it. This preparation helps to enhance soil structure.
Anna has also decided to switch to organic and biodynamic farming in order to obtain a better definition of flavours, closest to her terroir.Thus, after having explained to us all the viticulture and winemaking methods of their vineyard, Anna proposed us a tasting session of more than 10 of their delicious organic wines!
We also visited the first vineyard planted in Marlborough, Brancott Estate, formerly known as Montana Wines, with beautiful autumn colours.
Montana Wines was created by Croatian immigrants, who planted their first vines in 1934, in Titirangi, west of Auckland. This vineyard gradually expanded (South of Auckland in the 60's, and to Gisborne and Marlborough in 1973) and exported its first wines in 1980. Montana Wines was acquired by an English company in 2001 and finally purchased by Pernod Ricard in 2005. Then, Pernod Ricard decided to rename the vineyard "Brancott Estate" in 2010. Pernod-Ricard owns several different brands in New Zealand: Church Road, Montana Wines – Brancott Estate, Deutz and Stoneleigh and we had the chance to taste delicious wines from these different brands.
our time at brancott estate
We spent a day in Brancott Estate vineyard. First of all, we were welcomed by Andy (Project Manager wine innovation New-Zealand) and Nicky (vineyard sustainability development manager), who presented us some plots of their vines and told us about the geology around their vineyard and more generally about the Marlborough region. We learned that the region is at the edge of 2 tectonic plates (Australian and Pacific) hence the activity that can often be felt. We also discovered in detail Marlborough’s three different subregions (Wairau Valley, Southern Valley, Awatere Valley) and their climate specificites : for instance, the Wairau river brought stones to the Wairau Valley, great for draining and this area also benefits from great water resources thanks to massive aquifer. What’s more, we learned about Pernod Ricard’s sustainability program to restore wetlands and bring back New Zealander original plants, birds and fish to the region. With about 10% of their vines under organic certification, it’s one of the biggest organic wine producer in New Zealand. However, people don’t seem ready yet to pay a premium for organic wine, therefore this % is quite constant over time.
Then, as we headed towards their cellar door and restaurant, we were able to discover an impressive sculpture, 8 meters high. This permanent installation was realized by a New York designer: Dror Benshetrit. This sculpture merges art and science, and reflects the art of creating wine. This masterpiece offers multiple perspectives according to the vantage points: if we look from afar, we have the impression that the sculpture rises in the same orientation as the vines, whereas more closely, the work is much more complex and reminds us of the degree of complexity and detail to create wine.
Then we had the chance to meet a living falcon. Since 2010, Brancott Estate has supported the Marlborough Falcon Trust, which intends to increase the number of New Zealand falcons (Kārearea) in the Marlborough area, as it is one of the most threatened raptors. These predators are very useful for vineyards as they deter other birds from damaging the vines.
Then we met 2 winemakers: Laura-Kate and Madeleine. They offered us a delicious wine tasting, and told us the story behind each bottle of wine. We had the chance to taste wines from the 2019 vintage, which these winemakers had just made. Laura Kate and Madeleine tasted some of the 2019 wines for the first time at the same time as us! We were able to taste a variety of wines from different regions and vineyards (Deutz, Brancott Estate and Stoneleigh).
Finally, we had lunch with Laura-Kate and Madeleine and enjoyed the breathtaking views on the vineyard and the Marlborough region.
We ended our tour with a small boutique wine brand inspired by Corsica Rosé: Two Rivers Wines! Two Rivers was created in 2004 by David Clouston. David grew up in Marlborough and spent his youth in the valleys of the Wairau and Awatere rivers. He’s also worked for a few years in Corsica and therefore dedicated one of his bottles to France: his iconic rosé made from Pinot Noir grapes, which he called “Isle of beauty”. Two Rivers takes its name from the rivers which run along the famous Wairau and Awatere wine valleys in Marlborough. In order to build a sustainable future, Two Rivers operate according to the Sustainable Wine Growing New Zealand (SWNZ) standards.
Two Rivers produces white wines (Sauvignon blanc, Chardonnay, Riesling, Pinot Gris), rosé (from Pinot noir) and red wines (Pinot noir).
During our visit, we met Sanna, a winegrower from the Two Rivers estate. The winery in which Two Rivers wines are made is called The Wine Studio and is located between the 2 main valleys of Marlborough: the Wairau and Awatere. This cellar belongs to Two Rivers but also works as a cooperative cellar. Sanna not only is a winemaker at Two Rivers vineyard but also a consultant for other vineyards that make their wines in the cellar The Wine Studio.
We therefore visited their cellar and participated in a tasting session of wines fermenting in tanks or barrels. We also had the chance to taste a wine that had fermented in an amphora! In recent years, amphorae have appeared in many cellars to make or age wines. These terracotta containers require no intervention during vinification: for example, there is no need to do the pigeage for the red wine, which is done naturally because of gravity. Thus, the main characteristic of amphora vinification is to allow (especially on red wines) an extremely natural vinification. The wine is macerated and extracted gently and for a long time, resulting in a great silky tannin. Moreover, terracotta is a very neutral material that gives no taste to wine, unlike wood for example. Some winemakers thus use it to preserve the purity of expression of the fruit.