–submitted by Mike Wilson
Ten Rotarians with some of their spouses met at the Wilson’s to taste wine with a NZ influence. This was a second NZ tasting as the first was oversubscribed. Because at least two couples (Wilson’s and Mixtacki’s as co-Chairs of the Wine Fellowship) attended both tasting’s there were changes in most of the wines selected but ~5 wines were common and the theme was nearly identical.
Mike Wilson selected thirteen wines from NZ and the world. These included wines (wines with winemakers from both NZ and the USA – Washington and Oregon), and with a very large emphasis on Sauvignon Blanc (from NZ of course and also the Loire and California). These SB’s represent most NZ wine now produced (75% SB and 9% Pinot Noir). We also tasted NZ Chardonnay and Pinot Gris which with SB and Pinot Noir makes up 94% of total wine production – an extraordinarily high percentage of the majority of NZ wine being of the four top classical varieties. In some ways this results from NZ being a New World wine region, where there are no historical precedents of local native grapes having been grown over the prior centuries.
Because of the early influence of Muller Thurgau (a Riesling and Chassalas hybrid) in the 1970’s when more than half the wine produced in Germany and NZ, and likely most other countries making white wines was made from this sweet, rapid growth, abundant yield grape that was the bane of classical wine drinkers (who were few and far between at the time). I dislike this wine generally but we tried one from the heights of the Alto Adige (1000 meters) that was excellent with this minimally pink color. It had been recommended by Pat Ducey at Steve’s University Avenue.
We discussed the history of wine making in NZ and the influence of the Dalmatians (from coastal Croatia) who came to dig up the Kauri tree gum, and then restarted the NZ wine industry that then prospered after the Muller Thurgau was finally dispatched. An added wine (that the first NZ Tasting group had) was from a winemaker that came to dig gum but when that ran out, bought land in the 1930’s, and planted vines. His wife remains the patriarch of Kumeu Vineyards (the region where wine making was reinvigorated) and his son is the winemaker and the only winemaker with a Master of Wine (~ 8 get this exam each year, and there are only 300 MW’s worldwide) making him quite unique. Jancis Robinson is a MW too.
We tried some Kim Crawford wines. Kim is famous as being the first Virtual Winemaker of NZ (no vines and no winery) who with his marketer wife sold half of his 40,000 case output overseas to the UK. He rapidly became winemaker of the year twice in NZ during the wine resurgence of the late 90’s and had top 100 wines in the Wine Spectator for many years from 2006 to 2010. We discussed his sale to a Canadian Conglomerate (Vincor) in 2003 of the no longer virtual vines, winery and real estate for US$50,000,000. There was a subsequent 2006 hostile transfer to Constellation which strictly enforced the Crawford name trademark they had purchased. The Crawford’s were no longer able to use the Crawford name, and not make/sell wine for 10 years. Crawford now has land in Marlborough and Central Otago (the two prime NZ sites) and sells wine under the Loveblock label, with their name selection relating to the care they used in selecting and preparing the land and vines for their second wine making adventure and released their own Loveblock (not Crawford) wines recently. We tried their latest SB and compared to their “sold” Crawford namesake wines, with their own wine naturally being the better!
Lastly we tried two Church Road wines. The original owner of this property was Tom McDonald a second cousin of Mike Wilson. In the early 80’s Tom told Mike some of his stories and one that when Tom made Chardonnay in the 70’s there was no market for it so he kept some for himself each year and threw (blended) the rest into the dreaded Muller Thurgau. Tom began in the wine business at the Mission Vineyards run by the Marist Brothers that happens to be the oldest continuously running winery in NZ. Tom bought the land next door and began his own business and is widely acclaimed as the Father of the Red Wine Business in NZ. Mike Wilson received two bottles of red wine from Tom a year or two before his demise in the 1980’s (a 1968 and 1980 Cabernet Blend) which Mike returned to the Church Road Winery museum this year when the Wilson’s and Mixtacki’s traveled to NZ. We tried an older Chardonnay and a “Tribute to Tom” Cabernet/merlot blend and the latter was both corked and wax sealed (NZ has 99% Stelvin “screw” caps usage).
All in all, a nice tasting with a fun learning experience for all!