Tag Archives: malborough

Mahi Wines, Marlborough, New Zealand

BrianBicknell

The best way to wine taste when visiting Marlborough, New Zealand? Hit the Marlborough Sounds in a boat with a winemaker.

Founder and owner of Mahi Wines Brian Bicknell generously took time on a stormy Saturday morning to motor us out across the water in his 100 year-old launch to lunch at the charmingly rustic Lochmara Lodge. As if straight out of a movie set, a tender made its way from the pier to retrieve us from Bicknell’s boat and deliver us to a few plates of fish and chips, the region’s famous green lipped mussels, and a couple of glasses of crisp Mahi Chardonnay.

We took a post-lunch stroll through the densely wooded hills behind the property while Bicknell pointed out the indigenous flora and fauna the region’s locals have been working hard to restore. Fortunately, the brooding sky that had greeted us in the morning cleared into a sunny Marlborough Day. Bicknell took a spin in a hammock; I had a turn at steering the boat (foot on the wheel, head out the hatch). After docking, we stopped over at the winery to conduct a proper tasting before Bicknell dropped me off at the Marlborough Wine & Food Festival that afternoon. A rare perfect day.

Signature Wines and Prices: (in NY)

  • Mahi Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc              USD 19.99
  • Mahi Boundary Farm Sauvignon Blanc           USD 27.99
  • Mahi Twin Valleys Chardonnay                       USD 27.99
  • Mahi Marlborough Pinot Noir                          USD 29.99

What philosophy guides your viticulture and winemaking? Hopefully I can cover both areas. At Mahi, we own or lease four vineyards and also work with five growers. The vineyards we have control over are certified organic, as we see this as perhaps being the best way of expressing a particular vineyard — by not adding too much to it nor changing the character of the site. Some growers are also organic and some are ‘sustainable’, and it is a personal choice; I am not going to force our growers to grow organically. We tend to keep the canopies open and crops lower so that we get good exposure to the sun and the wind to minimise Botrytis pressure.

In the winery, we take a relatively ‘hands-off’ approach with the goal being to make wines that are textural, subtle, and complex. Most of our wines are hand-picked, whole-cluster pressed with no additions to the juice, then run straight to French without settling. We then leave the juice and after maybe eight days the natural yeast from the vineyard starts the fermentation and we often get six different strains of yeast doing the ferment, rather than one if we inoculated.

We do not use press wine, just the free-run, which gives a more elegant wine, as the pH stays lower and the palate is a little more linear, rather than getting soapy with the press wine.

I love the concept of ‘Real Wine’, wines that have not been messed around with and hopefully show their vineyards in the purest possible way. Sounds a bit hippyish but hope you know what I am getting at?!

What is your biggest challenge as a winemaker (e.g., volatility of Mother Nature, expense to income ratio, having to actually market your wine)?  I think Mother Nature can obviously throw us the biggest curve balls, but I have been fortunate not to work a really bad harvest. Apparently, 1995 was like that in Marlborough, but I was at Errázuriz in Chile at that time, and we had a great one.

In many ways, if you make the right decisions through the year, you get to experience the great diversity of the weather, and it is one of my favourite things about wine, which is that it does change every year. If you crop at an appropriate level for your vineyard, and keep the canopy open, you should always be able to harvest good fruit, whereas if you over crop the fruit, it will not ripen fully and the wines will be mean and lean, and you will probably leave them hanging too long into the season, and push them into the Botrytis period.

MahiBottles

What are the benefits and drawbacks of grape growing and winemaking in your region? Every year I want to kiss the ‘gross physical characteristics’ of Marlborough, which could get a bit tricky.

I think the benefits of making wine in Marlborough are:

  • We have the Richmond Ranges to trap most of the rain coming from the west;
  • The Inland and the Seaward Kaikoura Ranges, which force a lot of the cold, moist winds from the south out to sea, and that go across the end of our valley;
  • The bottom of the North Island protects us from cyclonic conditions that can come down from the Pacific in February or March, two very important months for us;
  • We have a low mean temperature of the warmest month, meaning the fruit retains a lot of the fruit compounds;
  • A long period over 10 degrees Celsius so that the vines work longer and ripen some of the later varieties; and
  • A good diurnal differentiation.

The drawbacks:

  • Too far from a major city to allow for good cellar-door business;
  • Too many anonymous labels made for a market that is cheapening the overall image of Sauvignon Blanc, which I think is a noble variety;
  • Too many people in the industry for the wrong reasons, though this is a worldwide phenomenon; and
  • Too many people who don’t truly love wine, though as above, this is a problem throughout.

What excites you most about New Zealand wines right now? A greater appreciation of the range of varieties that can be produced. There is more regional differentiation and also inter-regional appreciation of sites.

I really love the Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, and Pinot Noir that is coming out of Marlborough, and loving some of the Syrah from Hawkes Bay.

MarlboroughSounds

How do you think Americans (or the outside world) perceive NZ wines? I do not think the US market has a very good understanding of NZ wine and that is probably an issue from our end, and also because of the three-tier system. I realize other countries cope with the three-tier system, but personally, I have found it harder to get in front of the people selling the wine as you are usually dealing with an importer, etc.

As of the end of November, the US now accounts for 25% of NZs wine sales by volume, up from 23% at the same time last year, so something is working, but I imagine a fair amount of that is Constellation and things like Cupcake. Complexity is working hard at the on-trade area of the market, so I can only assume that is helping the category in total also.

I think the people have a better understanding of NZ now than ten years ago but it is probably too strongly focused on Sauvignon Blanc. It has been good to have that as our calling card but to be considered a classic wine supplying country we need to prove we can do it with things like Chardonnay and Pinot Noir in particular.

What is your favorite non-kiwi wine region? Least?  My favourite wine region in the world is Burgundy, and probably least favourite is the Riverland area of Australia.

Which wine or grape (in the world) is the least understood or respected? I think Chardonnay is respected in certain circles but the main part of the market seems to think they are being clever when they say they do not touch Chardonnay. It is a classic variety, probably the best restaurant white wine because of its subtlety, and I do not understand how anyone can say ‘I do not drink Chardonnay’. I understand ‘I do not drink shit Chardonnay’, but no one is going to turn down great white Burgundy or Blancs de Blanc Champagne??

What do you drink at home when relaxing?

After a great Gin and Tonic, using Quina Fina Tonic Water, I have found I have been drinking a few wild ferment, barrel fermented Sauvignons over the Christmas break. Great structure for lighter white meats and heavier fish dishes, and refreshing enough for the summer afternoons. Other than that, Burgundy!

How do you spend your free time (if you have any)?

We have an old launch, over 100 years old now, and I love getting out on the Marlborough Sounds in that. Spending the night on the boat with a good wine, good book, fresh fish and a good friend in a bay surrounded by native NZ bush is a pretty special event.

If you could be traveling somewhere else right now, where would you be?  While Italy and France are real passions, I would love to visit India now. We export to 12 countries so I travel a lot but I have never experienced India, and after learning a lot about the country over the last few years, it is somewhere that I am really intrigued by.

Give one surprising fact about yourself. Weirdly enough, one of the reasons that I am in the wine industry is that I have a Grand Trine, apparently meaning that when I was born, my three major planets were arranged in a equilateral triangle, so 120˚ angles between them all. I am not really into it, but someone interviewing me many years ago for a job at a wine store that really cemented my love of wine, was, so I got the job over a lot of other people, and the rest is history.

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Why 2014 Will Be Your Best Wine Year Yet

JamsheedTasting.jpg

With the close of the calendar comes contemplation: what have I learned from the wine world in 2013 and what do I expect (or hope) to see in 2014? A few observations: the rise of a new breed of “somm”, the demise of the wine score, the discovery of a Jedi Wine Master, and the impending Best Wine Year Ever.

A Return to the Antipodes

Australia Does the theory “If you build it, he will come” apply to wine? I hope so, because the woeful state of Australian imports in the U.S. belies the health and creativity of the industry Down Under. A recent visit to Astor Wines confirms the lack of antipodean demand — NZ and Oz shared a shelf smaller than the one devoted solely to NY State craft spirits! The Australian wine market has languished for years at the bottom of the U.S. market, so with nowhere else to go but up, expect to see a breakthrough of fresh vinous perspective in stores and restaurants. Importers like Little Peacock, which focus exclusively on Australian wines, have expressed tremendous optimism for the coming year. The wines produced by the new generation of risk-takers in Oz are lean, refined, funky, terroir-driven, and characterful. They don’t all work, but the journey’s as interesting as the destination.
Two to Try: Ben Haines Marsanne 2011, Yarra Valley and Jamsheed “Healesville Vineyard” Syrah 2010, Yarra Valley.

New Zealand This island country faces a different problem from Oz, albeit its wines are still underrepresented in the U.S. New Zealand has done so well with Sauvignon Blanc, the rest of its wines have been ignored. The importance of the grape cannot be overstated. The entire world drinks it (including, to the chagrin of Aussie winemakers, heaps of Aussies). The crisp, grassy style is the New World benchmark for the variety. But there’s plenty more from the land of jagged peaks and glacial lakes to capture a wine drinker’s imagination, and we’re starting to see those wines here in NYC. Fantastic Pinot Noir is trickling out of both Central Otago and, amazingly, Marlborough (the spiritual home to Sauvignon Blanc). For alternative whites, seek out James Millton’s Chenin Blanc. Although produced in the otherwise unremarkable region of Gisborne, he’s been called the Yoda of Kiwi winemakers — a serious endorsement. Is he a true Jedi Wine Master? Drink and find out.
Two to try: Terra Sancta Mysterious Diggings Pinot Noir 2012, Central Otago and Millton Te Arai Vineyard Chenin Blanc 2011, Gisborne.

The New Somm
In the past, a restaurant’s “sommelier” often fell into one of several categories, each of which — in an era of increased consumer wine knowledge facilitated by ease of access to information and greater willingness to experiment with up-and-coming regions — have become increasingly irrelevant.

We’ve suffered through uninformed yet opinionated waiters posing as sommeliers, informed and condescending sommeliers, and, most exasperating, the Grand Cru-obsessed, pompous sommeliers selling 100 percent Western European lists with 100 percent of the bottles priced over $100. Thus, it was about time the role either be redefined or abolished. (Yes, I acknowledge someone still has to build and manage the list.)

Fortunately for restaurant-goers, we’ve met the new generation of enthusiastic, educated sommeliers or “somms” who’ve reinvented their role, gifting us a new reason to dine out: access to diverse, reasonably priced bottles. Sure, we’ve seen prices on certain wines this year soar to previously unseen heights, but for the rest of us scanning the lower end of a list for value, we’re in luck: lots more under $50 selections than ever. And somms have managed to balance their lists serving traditional needs while presenting to the curious a plethora of distinctive wines such as zero dosage, undisgorged crémant from the Jura.
Where to Try: Corkbuzz by sommelier Laura Maniec, Pearl & Ash by sommelier Patrick Cappiello.

Jamsheed

Domestic Affairs
Wine lists and retail stores in NYC used to be dominated by European selections — France, Italy, and Spain — with small weight given to the New World and even less to the juice of our citizen winemakers. However, with increased demand for local and hyper-local food sourcing, we’re seeing the same interest applied to wine. While in the past a reputable fine dining establishment might not dare be caught with anything from the East Coast on its list, sommelier Thomas Pastuszak at The Nomad has embraced our home state. A huge advocate of NY wines, he puts out an extensive list of Finger Lakes bottles. The best part? These wines offer tremendous value — $35 for a bottle of vibrant Riesling with dinner? Yes, thank you.
Where to Try: The NomadFrankly Wines.

Coravin as a Verb
2013 saw the launch of the most lauded device in recent wine history: the Coravin. It’s a wine extraction system that allows the user to pull out a measure of wine, while safeguarding the remaining precious liquid inside against oxidation with inert, tasteless argon gas. Testing has shown the wine can keep for years, allowing drinkers to sample the bottle to check for development or just have a glass of that rare Cabernet bought at auction now and again with a Wagyu ribeye. The pricey but genius device will change wine drinking habits both at home and in restaurants, truly, forever. Del Posto, an initial supporter of the device, offers rare wines by the glass, and Anfora has updated its menu to include a selection of “Coravin Wines.” What shall we Coravin tonight, dear? And a verb was born.
Where to Try: Del PostoAnfora.

Nobody’s Worrying about Robert Parker
Finally, America’s adherence to a mono-palate (Parker’s) approach to wine is on the decline. Although Parker stepped down in late 2012 from his post as editor-in-chief of the Wine Advocate — the newsletter he founded that spawned decades of obsession over a 100-point grading system that favored huge wines — in February 2013, he became the first wine critic inducted into the Culinary Institute of America’s Vintners Hall of Fame in Napa Valley. Perhaps a deserved award, but the collective unfettering of our taste buds over the year has left individuals free to make independent decisions — or at least use more resources to do so. Trusted local retailers in conjunction with social media apps like Delectable and Drync have been filling the void.
Retailer: Le Du’s Wines
Apps: DelectableDrync.

More Curiosity, More Choice 
Overall, NYC wine drinkers are imbibing during exciting times. Whatever we want, short of actually flying to the vineyard, we can find. Wines from Croatia? Blue Danube’s got them. Need that expressive, biodynamic Umathum from Austria? WineMonger’s your importer. Our increased curiosity and willingness to drink anything has encouraged importers to scour the globe and bring us a range of wines that dazzle in their diversity. So, keep sipping folks — 2014 looks to be our best year yet.

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