This New Zealand wine adventure has been very interesting and great fun but when we hit Blenheim, a pleasant little city in the heart of the Marlborough, the largest and most acclaimed wine region in the country, it got even better. We arrived mid-afternoon and since we had received directions to get to Kevin Judd’s base of operations at the Dog Point Winery, we made that our first stop and set up a meeting time for the next day. After settling into a beautiful two bedroom cottage on the edge of the vineyards with the chardonnay vines literally touching our parked car, we set out to visit a couple of cellar doors. However, the afternoon didn’t finish as planned. Our first stop was the No. 1 Family Estate and since Kailey had written to the owners Adele and Daniel Le Brun, we were welcomed with open arms. We were hoping for a taste of their four ‘methode traditionelle” wines but in addition to enjoying those lovely sparklers, Adele pulled out a bottle of their Virginie, a special cuvee made in honor of their beautiful daughter, who is a famous television actress on a New Zealand soap. Adele insisted that we enjoy the remainder of the bottle back at the cottage but only after getting a very thorough tour of the winery with Daniel. Daniel was born and raised in Champagne and brought his heritage and expertise to New Zealand just as the region was starting to produce wine. He is truly the king of ‘methode traditionelle’ in Marlborough, bottling much of the region’s wine that is made by this method. We could not have asked for a more interesting learning experience. Thanks for the introduction Kailey!
Our next day began with a return trip trip to Dog Point to meet with Kevin. We started with a driving tour of one of the sub-regions of the Wairau Valley. Kevin showed us the predominant fields that supply the fruit for his wines and also for the Dog Point wines. He described the use of the frost fans that are common throughout the valley. We thought that they were wind turbines, as that is what they closely resemble. During periods of frost warnings, these frost fans are used, along with a large number of helicopters brought in specifically to break up the inversion layer to lessen the impact of the cold temperatures on the grapes. Kevin also enlightened us on the two cane trellising system as well as the Scott Henry four cane system. When we returned to the winery, Kevin shared with us samples of his current wines, as well as a couple of next year’s releases that are still in the barrel. Kevin was a great host and I am looking forward to his making a return visit next year.
After we left Kevin, we passed by a Brancott vineyard that was just being re-planted, and since the crew was on their lunch break, we stopped to have a chat with them about the process of planting new vines. They use a a special machine that is half-tractor/half wagon in which two men sit and stick the root stock into the ground by hand. A third person walks behind and does quality control, pulling out and replanting any errant vines. Since the machine is guided using a GPS laser system, the rows tend to be pretty straight.
Since lunchtime had come and gone, we decided to head over to Highfield to taste some old favourites and sample their luncheon fare. After tasting their current releases, we sat down to our pumpkin soup lunch and were soon joined by Derek Johnson, their marketing director. He was quite enthused to talk to someone who not only knew their wines, but sold them as well. In fact he was so keen that he called up Alistair Soper, the managing director and winemaker, to come and meet us. Once we had finished our lunch, we were treated to a personalized tour of the winery and a visit down to the cellar. There we had the opportunity to barrel sample half a dozen of the 2011 pinot noir vintage. It was amazing to taste the subtle differences among the samples, due to the influence of type of barrels, different clones and the terroir of each. Alistair and his team will blend the best of these barrels to create the 2011 vintage, which will be released in 2014.
We concluded our day with a visit to the iconic Cloudy Bay, and although the wines were very good and the facilities impressive, it did not have the same ambience of the smaller vineyards we had visited.