Monthly Archives: January 2014
My last Hawke’s Bay meet-up was hosted in a hip little pseudo-Mexican restaurant called Mamagita in Haverlock with Miles Dineen and assistant winemaker George Leete of Crossroads Wines. I appreciated the gear shift from a winery visit to a casual cantina, allowing me to feel like a normal human just hanging with a couple of winemaker buddies, casually tasting 20 serious wines with platters of guac and tacos. Nearly tempted to guzzle a margarita, I, rather, kept my eye on the prize — the flagship wine “Talisman” that we would be tasting at the end (called, un-poetically, RGF in America due to somebody’s lame claim to the name). Talisman is a secret proprietary blend of five or so grapes, one of which is not a Bordeaux grape nor one grown by anyone else in the region. Threatening to sneak through the vineyards at night plucking leaf samples for lab analysis, I had good fun trying to trip Miles up in revealing the formula; alas, he kept it tight.
About Miles, he has been the winemaker at Crossroads since 2004. Born and bred in Hawke’s Bay, Miles’ first vintage was in 1996 as a cellar hand in New Zealand and then over in the US before completing a post-graduate diploma in viticulture and oenology at Lincoln University, Christchurch, in 2003. Miles chats about Mother Nature as a winemaker’s biggest challenge, compares Hawkes Bay to Sonoma, and wishes he could be traveling in the U.S.A.
I should also add a thank you to Miles (hopefully you read this one day) for transporting me to the Art Deco town of Napier to shoot photos. I would not have otherwise had a chance to see it, and am grateful for your hospitality in taking me. Thank you!
A little info from the Crossroads website:
Crossroads was started in 1987 with the aim to produce the best possible wine from an exceptional place in an exceptional country – Hawke’s Bay in New Zealand. To achieve this, it became clear we had to have total control of our winegrowing and winemaking from start to finish. To that end, Crossroads purposely sourced and developed more vineyards. Today, all our Hawke’s Bay wines come from our own vineyards.
Signature Wines and Prices:
- Talisman $48
- Winemakers Collection $38
- Milestone Series $26/20
What philosophy guides your viticulture and/or enology? Simplicity, respecting the earth and its fruit, making delicious wine that is a pleasure to drink.
What is your biggest challenge as a winemaker (e.g., volatility of Mother Nature, expense to income ratio, having to actually market your wine)? The weather is still the greatest human challenge.
What are the benefits and drawbacks of grape growing and winemaking in your region? Hawkes Bay is an awesome grape growing region for a whole range of varieties and wine styles due to our diverse soils and temperate climate. We are a long way from many major markets and trade blocs, but if anything, this makes us stronger as there is no room for complacency or bad wine.
What excites you most about New Zealand wines right now? New Zealand is one of the most dynamic wine producers in the world with ongoing rapid evolution; standards are high and the wines just keep getting better.
How do you think Americans perceive NZ wines? New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc is now well respected and widely distributed and is going well in the states. There is less familiarity with our other varieties, but Americans are generally open to trying new things and the future looks very exciting for our wines stateside.
What is your favorite non-kiwi wine region? Sonoma, California–it has many similarities to Hawkes Bay on a slightly warmer base. Least? They all have their appeal.
Which wine or grape (in the world) is the least understood or respected? Muller Thurgau, the light, fruity, low-alcohol white wine that has been with us all along.
What do you drink at home when relaxing? Preferably a different wine every time. I stay with a style or region to get a good feel for what is going on; I am just coming out of a Cotes du Rhone vs California phase .
How do you spend your free time (if you have any)? Hiking, hunting, and hanging out with my family.
If you could be traveling somewhere else right now, where would you be? U.S.A.
Continuing my journey through Hawke’s Bay, Tim Turvey of Clearview Estate Winery picked me up in his truck and we set off for a coastal vineyard and photography tour, replete with striking views of the shimmering aqua-blue bay. Clearview, and many of its vines, sit near the shore in a southerly location known as Te Awanga (pronounced like Tijuana, but no tacos or tequila in sight).
Turvey purchased the property that would become the winery in 1986, and bottled his first vintage in 1989. We had a brilliant afternoon in the dazzling sun (which seared my nose—the UV light dangers of NZ are no joke) largely because Tim struck me immediately upon sight, then further after a few loose, speedy turns up, over and around curbs in the car, as my father’s kiwi winemaker doppelganger. From the bleached hair and suntan, to the eyeglass frames, driving antics, and cool-dude attitude, I couldn’t believe my good luck to spend a few hours with Jim! I hoped Tim wouldn’t be upset by the comparison, but figured I probably looked nuts for continuously cracking up inexplicably at his responses to my questions, so I confessed. He laughed, and replied “well, funny you say that, my daughter looks just like you” and he whipped out his iphone and pulled up her photo. His daughter is Katie Turvey, up-and-coming winemaker for Kilikanoon Wines in Clare Valley, Australia. Just like dad, I’ve got an antipodean winemaker doppelganger too.
Signature Wines and Prices:
- Reserve Chardonnay $36 NZD,
- Old Olive Block (a Cabernets dominant Bordeaux blend) $36 NZD
What philosophy guides your viticulture and winemaking?
Let the attributes of the vineyard shine through. When the vintage is good we don’t need to do a lot of winemaking.
What is your biggest challenge as a winemaker (e.g., volatility of Mother Nature, expense to income ratio, having to actually market your wine)? Weather, being a maritime climate we have some challenges.
What are the benefits and drawbacks of grapegrowing and winemaking in your region? Cool climate viticulture on the edge.
What excites you most about New Zealand wines right now? The vines attaining 30 years of age and starting to see complexity as a result.
How do you think Americans (or the outside world) perceive NZ wines?
They love the freshness that our maritime South Pacific climate produces. We have wines with great, fresh acidity and vibrant flavours — a reflection of our clean climate.
Which wine or grape (in the world) is the least understood or respected? Merlot and Malbec are very undervalued as they are consistent producers, especially here in Hawke’s Bay.
What do you drink at home when relaxing? Chardonnay in all its forms from sparkling to dry
How do you spend your free time (if you have any)? I don’t have a lot, but when I do, I spend it with friends and family, and normally with good food and wine.
If you could be traveling somewhere else right now, where would you be? Cahors or St. Emillion
Give one surprising fact about yourself. I’m self-taught: nurseryman, viticulturalist, winemaker, tiler, builder, furniture maker, financier, marketer, and educator.
I spent the afternoon yesterday in Hawke’s Bay, tasting wine with Grant Edwards, Chief Winemaker at Sileni Estates. Prior to my arrival, Grant emailed back and forth with me about his time at the winery, his winemaking philosophy, and Semillon, the misunderstood grape.
A little info on the winery, from their website:
Sileni Estates is named after the Sileni who featured in Roman mythology alongside Bacchus, the god of wine. They celebrated good wine, good food and good company.
Sileni boasts a state of the art winery designed to crush over 1500 tonnes of grapes. Our Winemaking Team have honed their winemaking skills in wineries around the world and we strive to maintain high standards in environmentally sustainable viticultural and winemaking practices. Sileni Estates produce hand crafted wines that reflect the unique characteristics of the vineyards.
Signature Wines and Prices:
- Cellar Selection Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc – RRP (NZ) $17
- The Lodge Hawkes Bay Chardonnay – RRP (NZ) $30
- The Triangle Hawkes Bay Merlot – RRP (NZ) $32
What philosophy guides your viticulture and/or enology? We want to make wines that are accessible and food-friendly.
What is your biggest challenge as a winemaker (e.g., volatility of Mother Nature, expense to income ratio, having to actually market your wine)? Getting consumer share of mind.
What are the benefits and drawbacks of grapegrowing and winemaking in your region? Benefits include high growing degree days, or GDD (esp. for reds), large areas of gravel based soils, well-established horticultural infrastructure, and a major port. Drawbacks include distance to main domestic consumption centres, weather volatility at harvest, and a small local population.
What excites you most about New Zealand wines right now? The fact that we are still one of the few growth categories in many world markets – much of the world still doesn’t know about us.
How do you think Americans (or the outside world in general) perceive NZ wines? I imagine there’s probably very little information available for them to base an opinion on. If anything, they might be surprised that we make wine, that we make good wine, that we make anything other than Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc.
What is your favorite non-kiwi wine region? Least? Tuscany. Champagne.
Which wine or grape (in the world) is the least understood or respected? Semillon. Makes great dry table wine if treated with
What do you drink at home when relaxing? Sileni Semillon, Italian reds, GSM, and Merlot.
How do you spend your free time (if you have any)? Orienteering, reading, and gardening.
If you could be traveling somewhere else right now, where would you be? China.
Give one surprising fact about yourself. Raised two children and still have some hair…
Te Mata Estate in Hawkes Bay, New Zealand, was founded in 1896. The property was acquired by John and Wendy Buck in 1978, and is currently run by Nicholas Buck, the Estate Director, who has been with the winery, as he puts it, for “life”. Fortunately, I met Nick in person today, since his answers to my Q&A (below) in advance of my trip, were terse and cheeky. Turns out, he’s a super affable guy surrounded by a lovely team of folks that treat each other like family. Winemaker Peter Cowley has been crafting their iconic Bordeaux blend Coleraine for the nearly 30 years of its production, and this afternoon, the fantastic Mr. Larry Morgan drove me around vineyard sites, and introduced me to the hardworking Czechs (not chicks, as I later found out) who help net the vines to prevent birds from nibbling grapes as they ripen.
A few words from the winery’s site:
Te Mata Estate was established in 1896, specialising in high-quality wines of classical style. All steps in the production of our wines are undertaken by us, from grape growing and pruning through to winemaking and bottling. Today, Te Mata Estate is recognized as one of New Zealand’s most iconic and prestigious wine producers, making nearly 40,000 cases a year of premium wine and exporting to over 40 countries.
Regarding the physical winery, horse stables, constructed in the 1870s, were converted into a winery by the Chambers family in the 1890s, and are today the centre of Te Mata Estate’s winemaking. The winery has since been updated in design, with the aim to create a modern wine-making complex that reflected the character of the landscape. Specializing in in-fill architecture and innovative modernist design, Athfield Architects created a series of buildings to reflect the art deco heritage of Hawke’s Bay and the art nouveau heritage of the original Chambers homestead.
Signature Wines and Prices:
- Coleraine NZ$90
- Awatea Cabernet/Merlot NZ$40
- Bullnose Syrah NZ$50
- Elston Chardonnay NZ$40
- Cape Crest Sauvignon Blanc NZ$30
- Zara Viognier NZ$30
What philosophy guides your viticulture and/or enology? Maximising the potential of Te Mata Estate.
What is your biggest challenge as a winemaker (e.g., volatility of Mother Nature, expense to income ratio, having to actually market your wine)? Disrupting the wine world status quo.
What are the benefits and drawbacks of grapegrowing/winemaking in your region? Hawke’s bay’s ability to produce world leading wines across an array of wine styles.
What excites you most about New Zealand wines right now? The growing international recognition of the absolute quality of Hawke’s Bay’s best wines.
How do you think Americans perceive NZ wines? Source of widely available, inexpensive, reliable, good qpr, light-bodied, straight-forward, aromatic, fruity, white wines.
What is your favorite non-kiwi wine region? Least? Favorite = Sonoma; Least = Napa.
Which wine or grape (in the world) is the least understood or respected? Cabernet Sauvignon.
What do you drink at home when relaxing? Wine.
How do you spend your free time (if you have any)? Family.
If you could be traveling somewhere else right now, where would you be? Mars.
Give one surprising fact about yourself. Alternative career ambition was an astronaut.
Man O’War Vineyards was my last stop yesterday on Waiheke Island before heading off to the mainland wine regions and Hawke’s Bay. Duncan McTavish, Winemaker for the last five years, and Matt Allen, Vineyard Manager, showed me around the tasting room and property, the grapevines for which were first planted in the late 1990s. We tasted through their line-up, including the wild ferment Valhalla Chardonnay and two vintages of the dense, smoky Dreadnought Syrah, one of their signature wines that’s also available in the States (and by the glass at The Musket Room in NYC). Duncan took time to answer a few questions about the winery’s viticulture philosophy and the pros and cons to winemaking on Waiheke.
- Dreadnought Syrah NZD$55
- Valhalla Chardonnay NZD$34
What philosophy guides your viticulture? We have 76 vineyards spread over 175 acres so a lot of small parcels of fruit arrive at the winery. We want to understand each vineyard so the approach is to let each parcel speak for itself by doing as little as possible in the winery.
What is your biggest challenge as a winemaker e.g., volatility of Mother Nature, expense to income ratio, having to actually market your wine? All of the above!
What are the benefits and drawbacks of grapegrowing/winemaking in your region? The benefits are that 90% of our property is bordered by the ocean giving us a unique maritime climate coupled with volcanic soils and a varied topography allowing us to produce a diverse range of wines from a single estate. The drawbacks are that it is a challenging landscape and very labour intensive.
What excites you most about New Zealand wines right now? The people–there are some interesting characters in NZ making interesting wines.
How do you think Americans (or the outside world generally) perceive NZ wines? I would hope they are regarded as premium wines.
What is your favorite non-kiwi wine region? Favourite would be a tie between the Mosel and Burgundy (like, probably, 90% of kiwi winemakers). I’d love to travel to Portugal, but as I haven’t been there yet, I can’t call it my favourite. Least? I don’t have one.
Which wine or grape is the least understood or respected? Pinot Gris.
What do you drink at home when relaxing? Depends on the season but white Burgundy and Northern Rhone.
How do you spend your free time (if you have any)? Fishing and 2 young kids.
If you could be traveling somewhere else right now, where would you be? I’ve just come back from a two week around-the-world sales trip so I would travel down the road to my local beach; that or be transported to the Maldives.
Give one surprising fact about yourself. I’d be surprised if I could answer that…
Sean Spratt (an American by birth) is a very busy, multiple-hat wearing General Manager, Co-Owner (with his parents Mike and Anne) and Winemaker at Destiny Bay on Waiheke Island–aka Wine Island–New Zealand. My first stop on a 3-week journey across the country, Spratt took time to answer a long-distance interview before my arrival on January 26th (which is now today). We touched on topics such as the cost of doing business as a winery on a very expensive, little island; his predilection for scuba diving; and the “Sideways” effect on Merlot.
Destiny Bay Vineyards is located in a small, north facing valley on Waiheke Island, New Zealand. Established in 2000, Destiny Bay grows Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot from top-grade clones selected from premium wine districts around the world.
Destiny Bay’s Signature Wines and Prices (Prices are in USD and include taxes and shipping to customer door within 48 Continental US States. Must order in multiples of 8, 12 or 15 bottles):
- Magna Praemia RRP $330 / $180 Patron Club
- Mystae RRP $150 / $85 Patron Club
- Destinae RRP $100 / $60 Patron Club
What philosophy guides your viticulture and enology practices? We produce New Zealand’s highest rated and most expensive wine. We have an obligation to our patrons to uphold this tradition based on quality and artistic expression of our site through the wines. All decisions from grape to bottling are guided by this philosophy. That being said, our belief is that great wines are made in the vineyard not in the winery. Furthermore, we feel that expression of the fruit and vineyard is critical and that is why we do a level of grading and sorting that is unparalleled in New Zealand.
What is your biggest challenge as a winemaker (e.g., volatility of Mother Nature, expense to income ratio, having to actually market your wine)? Adapting to changing conditions without lowering any standard. It means our vintage volume swings wildly from year to year, wreaking havoc on capacity, oak barrel ordering, supplies and the psyche of our whole team.
What are the benefits and drawbacks of grapegrowing and winemaking on Waiheke? Waiheke’s unique weather and soils allow us to grow grapes of uncommon character – especially the Bordeaux varieties at our site. The drawback is that it is ridiculously expensive to do this.
What excites you most about New Zealand wines right now? Hopefully we are about to shift our global narrative to remind the world that nobody makes fine wine with the same commitment to protecting the planet as New Zealand does.
How do you think Americans perceive NZ wines? As an American by birth I have a pretty good idea. By and large most who know us recognize us for being a value priced, good quality, Sauvignon Blanc. In very small circles, Destiny Bay has cultivated a distinctly different perception.
What is your favorite non-kiwi wine region? Your least? Santa Cruz Mountains and Howell Mountain. Least is Romania, although even they are improving (slowly).
Which wine or grape (in the world) is the least understood or respected? That is tough. I am going to say Merlot because of the effect the movie “Sideways” had on popular culture. I’m amazed at how often people still talk about that scene from the movie. Otherwise, probably Riesling. Riesling is the grape that winemakers and wine-writers love and always seem flummoxed over why it isn’t more popular in the marketplace.
What do you drink at home when relaxing? A wide range of red and white wines from all over the world. I love the obscure varieties that aren’t common place (Marsanne, Roussanne, Picpoul de Pinet, Nebbiolo, etc…) Of course, I drink our wines, but as a winemaker, I am constantly looking to taste and explore wines from everywhere.
How do you spend your free time (if you have any)? I had a little bit of a chuckle when I read this question. You realize you are asking this question of a winemaker who is also an owner in what has to be one of the most vertically integrated global wineries that produces less than 2500 cases per year, right? Joking aside, with what little free time I have, I run/swim/cycle to stay healthy in body and mind since winemaking at the level which we operate requires a lot of concentration. Recreationally, I have a monthly wine club with friends, and when I travel, I try to hit wine regions I haven’t been to before, but also try to make sure I get a stopover in a tropical location where there is great scuba diving.
If you could be traveling somewhere else right now, where would you be? I would love to visit Portugal and explore their wine regions. Also, I have yet to make it to the Margaret River in West Australia. Otherwise, I try to make a trip to California each year to see family and friends.
Give one surprising fact about yourself. I used to be a stage actor and I am also a PADI Dive Instructor.
Less than a two-hour drive from Paris (or 45 minutes via TGV train) lies the near-mythical French region of Champagne, a (champagne) bucket-list destination for wine lovers who consider it the pinnacle of sparkling wine production. The region’s grand capital Reims offers more to do than dabble in bubbles—visit the monumental cathedral, hike the scenic trails up Montagne de Reims, or rent a bike to cruise around town. However, champagne, as in drinking it, is still, predictably, the primary attraction.
While highlights can be crammed into a pleasant (but long) day trip from Paris, you’ll miss out on the charm of the surrounding villages where legions of small grape-growers, whose manicured vineyards blanket the countryside, produce their own bottles rarely found in stores or restaurants outside France. Plus, champagne sold in Champagne is refreshingly affordable—bring an empty suitcase to haul your liquid treasures home.
Arrive in Reims in the morning, and get started with a tour of the historic, underground chalk caves (followed by a glass of bubbles, naturally) at a couple of the venerable, big-name champagne houses clustered in the southern part of town: Pommery, Taittinger, Veuve Cliquot, or Ruinart.
For lunch, seek out local favorite eateries like Le Bocal, a cute, 12-seat seafood purveyor-cum-restaurant; Hall Place, a wine bar with adjoining retail shop in the back; or the refurbished Brasserie L’Affaire, offering a reasonably priced and tasty prix-fixe steak frites lunch.
For true sybarites, the obvious end to an afternoon of champagne tasting in Reims would be to dine at the hands of a Michelin-starred chef, and then retire exhausted to a lavishly appointed room. Fortunately, Reims is blessed with two properties providing both: Le Parc restaurant at the Château Les Crayères and A. Lallement at Hotel L’Assiette Champenoise.
Pick up a rental car and a map, or better yet, hire a driver (expensive, but worth it if you have the funds) to visit the smaller grower/producers dotting the landscape surrounding Reims. Budget an hour for the drive to Épernay on a route skirting the picturesque Montagne de Reims. The nearby Grand cru vineyards produce some of the world’s most expensive Pinot Noir grapes—stop off for tastings at village producers along the way, where, although appointments are generally recommended, many serendipitous experiences stem from simply knocking on doors. Proprietors will generally not charge for a tasting, but appreciate the purchase of a bottle.
For a guaranteed stop on your itinerary without the restraint of an appointment, Henri Giraud, in Ay, allows walk-ins (but does charge for tastings). The tasting room is modern, more art gallery than wine shop, and staffed by a knowledgeable, English-speaking host.
After a day of touring, you can either return to Reims, or stay the night in the little village of Avize to wake up amidst the Chardonnay vines of the Côte des Blancs. Try Les Avisés Hotel and Restaurant, a cozy, tastefully designed property run by Anselme Selosse of Champagne Jacques Selosse fame. Unfortunately, guests have no special guarantee of opportunity to buy his coveted wines. In Épernay proper, there are only a handful of smaller guesthouses; nearby, the beloved, if fading, La Briqueterie, has characterful common rooms and expansive grounds.
If open to yet another day of tasting (of course you are—you’re in Champagne!), visit one of the major houses based in Épernay such as Moët et Chandon, Dom Perignon, Mercier, or Nicolas Feuillatte.
Alternatively, continue the road trip further south for a short village-by-village trek through the fabled Côte des Blancs region, realm of Chardonnay, Blanc de Blanc (Chardonnay-based Champagne), and the prestigious vineyards of Cramant, Avize, Oger, and Le Mesnil-sur-Oger.
Heading back through Épernay by late afternoon, don’t miss a stop at one of the world’s greatest Champagne stores, 520, along Avenue Paul Chandon. With your newly savvy palate, stock up on hard-to-find and small-production bottles of the utmost quality, at better-than-cellar-door prices.
Conclude your bubble-soaked weekend with a visit to the Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Reims. Equal in size and majesty to the Notre-Dame in Paris, the cathedral has witnessed key moments in history since the 13th century, including over thirty coronations, shellfire during the First World War, and the German surrender in World War II. Depart the cathedral to take a leisurely walk north towards the train station if catching one back to Paris, while considering how visiting Champagne was a key moment in your history.