On Aug. 24, 1973 Frank Yukich, founder of what was known, then, as Montana Wines -planted the first vines in Brancott Valley, the unofficial beginning of the internationally acclaimed Marlborough wine grape-growing region and the first modern day planting of wine grapes in New Zealand.
Today's New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs are all about intensely aromatic green pepper notes, kiwi and gooseberry fruit and lingering tropical mango and passion fruit in the finish. With 23,232 hectares of land planted with grapes, Marlborough is the largest wine-producing region in New Zealand and makes up 75 per cent of the country's total production. At the same time, the Marlborough region is responsible for 80 per cent of New Zealand's Sauvignon Blanc.
Marlborough's high sunshine, low rainfall, and free draining soil were the driving factors in the decision to plant vines in the region back in 1973. "Fast forward 40 years and Marlborough is now a world brand," said Philip Gregan, CEO of New Zealand Winegrowers. "Planting those vines was probably the single most important event in the history of the New Zealand wine industry."
According to local Marlborough lore, in the late 19th century, an Englishman visiting the north coast of New Zealand's South Island reported seeing a monkey cavorting near a small bay. Monkeys are not indigenous to New Zealand...but the bay became known as Monkey Bay. Grown in the nearby coastal Rarangi vineyards, and affordably priced, Monkey Bay Sauvignon Blanc (324095) $14.99 with its generously accessible aromas of gooseberry, bell pepper, and fresh mowed grass just sizzles on first sip and then tingles over the tongue.
Oyster Bay Sauvignon Blanc (316570) $19.99, Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc (100594) $19.99 and the iconic Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc (304469) $31.50 are all Marlborough grown wines and flagship brands for New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. Thirty years after Yukich's seminal Marlborough plantings, producers and distributors started rolling out a wider range of wines.
Slowly but surely, we are coming to expect exceptional red wines from New Zealand but we still have higher expectations of their whites. Villa Maria Private Bin "East Coast" Pinot Gris (217349) $16.99 is masterfully crafted from wine grapes grown in Hawke's Bay and Gisbourne vineyards on the North Island as well Marlborough-grown South Island fruit. Fresh cut and canned pear aromas and flavours slide into creamy/yeasty honeyed melon and mango before finishing with a clean, refreshing citric twist.
Hawke's Bay - on the East Coast of the North Island -is New Zealand's oldest and second largest wine region going back to 1851. It is the largest premium red wine-producing region in the country with over 80 per cent of the national vintage for Cabernet, Merlot and Syrah. Chardonnay and Cabernet Merlot make up 50 per cent of the total annual vintage.
Ancient alluvial river terraced vineyards provide a superb mix of soils over gravel-rich, free-draining sub-soils, with an abundance of pure river water for irrigation. With a temperate maritime climate, the vines are warmed by strong clear sunlight during the day and cooled at night by the sea breezes of the Pacific Ocean. No surprise then that Oyster Bay "Hawke's Bay" Merlot (111310) $19.99 is a lush and deeply fruited red that oozes ripe dark plums and dark tree-dried cherry both on the nose and on the taste buds.
Much further south, Central Otago sits in the dry rain shadow of the Southern Alps. Just as vital where Pinot Noir is concerned, growing seasons are marked by warm days and cool nights. Well-drained alluvial soils give naturally low yields of grapes per vine, concentrating flavours in the bunches.
Despite a sloppy kind of packaging strategy and what at first glance might seem to be a self-consciously hand scrawled label The People's Pinot Noir (744318) $17.99 -from New Zealand's Central Otago in the southern part of the South Island - deserves some serious consideration. There's a wealth of classic black cherry, beet and earthy, spicy wet undergrowth in this dusky brooding red.
While our northern vineyards are just beginning to bring in their 2013 crop, the New Zealand 2013 vintage is already maturing in barrels and tanks. Excellent summer weather on both the North Island and the South Island helped produce 345,000 tonnes of grapes -28 per cent more wine grapes than 2012. Get ready for the wines....
Doug Sloan is a Campbell River wine enthusiast. Reach WineWise by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
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