• Writing for the world wine web

    Keeping informed about the world of wine used to be simple. Glossy magazines and daily newspapers provided fertile soil for New Zealand writers like Bob Campbell MW, Vic Williams and Geoff Kelly to flourish and share their views. They were our palate’s alter ego; our ears to the ground in a pioneering industry eager to grow and develop its identity. It was a time when receiving the latest news, a matter of weeks or even months later, was deemed timely enough. After all, in this industry speed was never the driving force and time, it seemed, could only make a good thing better.

    Oh how things have changed.

    Wine scribes have had to embrace the new digital media, keeping wine lovers informed at the click of a mouse barely seconds after the finishing touches have been applied to articles, posts, blogs and tweets. And it’s just as well as wine columns in the daily papers, globally, have been disappearing as the big media companies look to cut corners to try to cope with their shrinking patronage.

    While search engines have made seeking out the latest news easier, the plethora of information on offer has made it harder to be selective. Where do you start? Well, many of the writers and critics who made their names in print have been just as successful online, so they make a good starting point. Internationally, Jancis Robinson’s columns still grace the pages of the UK’s Decanter magazine but she also has her own website and e-newsletter. Decanter’s online newsletter offers snippetsof their tastingsfor free, or you can pull the cork on a Premium Subscription to read the full reviews for £75 a year (around $NZ145).

    From the US, subscribe to the Wine Spectator newsletter at www.winespectator.com and while Robert Parker’s ‘Wine Advocate’ is still available in print, it is more accessible at www.robertparker.com.

    Closer to home, Australia’s Winestate Magazine can still be found on newsstands and also read as a digital edition at winestate.com.au. Gourmet Traveller Wine, which harnesses around 30 leading wine writers including an impressive seven Masters of Wine, is available as a bi-monthly digital edition. Or for those who tire of reading on their tablet or PC, it too can still be found at newsstands. Also making the transition from print to digital, Bob Campbell MW, together with writer Huon Hooke, have a successful online newsletter ‘The Real Review’ at www.therealreview.com. And then there’s Yvonne, Joelle, Michael and co locally. Need more inspiration? Simply google ‘wine news’ and watch the flood gates open!

    Onlinepublishingarguably gives wine writers more opportunity to engage with their readers leading to a more ‘personal’ relationship. It’s therefore important that messages and comments are replied to in good time – there is now an expectancy to receive a response within 24 hours at the most – something that the ‘old school’ writers have had to get used to. And their opinions travel fast via the viral nature of social media, where hashtags and online communities reach readers unrestricted by industry, time zone or geography.

    In today’s world, wine news like many other things, also comes via a cellar full of apps allowing you to download buying guides like Vivino, Wine Searcher and more.

    Yet with the rise of digital media one wonders if some of the mystique has been filtered away. This revolution is rather like that which occurred when screw caps began replacing corks. The once familiar ‘pop’ now mostly echoes in the corridors of time, replaced with the ‘click of quality’ (according to the pioneers of the Screwcap Initiative back in 2001). So too, digital writing has re-written the rules of traditional print media.

    Whilst we are obviously a wine producer rather than a wine writer, we do make an appearance on social media with Facebook, Twitter and Instagram under our Lawson’s Dry Hills brand. Like bringing the media closer to readers, these social platforms bring brands like ours closer to our customers and that’s a really good thing. When someone writes about us and tags us, we get to see that review and can reply or thank people straight away. We can re-post it, ‘share’ it, ‘like’ it – it’s all great brand exposure and word-of-mouth is the strongest form of advertising!

    The internet is not going anywhere, so the instantaneous nature of news, thoughts, reviews, comments and opinions can reach thousands, if not millions with just a few clicks. This is now the way of the world and the demand for expediency will only grow as people continue to want to satiate their appetites for instant information.

  • Vintage 2019 in Marlborough hits the sweet spot

    While most New Zealanders were basking in the warmth of an unseasonably hot, dry summer, Marlborough wineries were basking in the glory of a different kind. High sunshine and low rainfall provided the perfect conditions for their grapes, offering the essential ingredients for a standout vintage. So this year, unlike the more-challenging harvests of the past few years, winemakers had the freedom to call the shots. For Lawson’s Dry Hills’ senior winemaker Marcus Wright, that meant picking when the grapes and the conditions were right, unhurried by the threat of inclement weather and ensuing challenges such as botrytis.

    However, it takes more than good weather to make great wine. Years of nurturing the soil and managing the vines plays a huge part in the resulting wines and none more so than managing the yields. Pruning to two or three canes is just the start (many vineyards grow four canes) and already reduces the amount of fruit a vine can produce. Careful canopy management and taking decisions to sacrifice fruit post-veraison are all hugely important decisions that affect the quality and style of the wines. The strategies employed by the Lawson’s Dry Hills team are part of why their wines are so consistently good, year on year. They’re here for the long-term and therefore avoid the short-term gains to be had from large crops but poor quality, resulting in wines that lack the varietal character and sense of place that are so important.

    The freedom to harvest when the time is right is also the result of careful planning, a luxury made possible by Lawson’s Dry Hills having invested years ago in their own harvester. This is not the case for many other vineyards with contractors having to work around the clock to meet demand. For some, that meant waiting in a queue and producers having to delay bringing in fruit that was deemed to be ready.

    Back to 2019 and the LDH harvester rumbled into the vineyard around two weeks earlier than normal, beginning with the Pinot Noir for the Rose at the end of February, followed by Chardonnay then some of the Sauvignon Blanc in early March and the rest at later intervals. Pinot Gris, Riesling, Gewurztraminer and Pinot Noir were sprinkled throughout. The excitement of the winery and vineyard team would suggest this harvest will draw comparison with the highly rated 2015 (the vintage our Blind River Sauvignon Blanc received multiple trophies at the International Wine Challenge in London).

    Marcus believes the company’s grapes are pretty much perfect this year, having achieved the ideal balance of sugar (ripeness), flavour development and acid levels. All the winery team need to do is gently guide these characters into the finished wine with minimal intervention. The only negative is that volume is down on an average year by about 30% for Pinot Noir and 10% for Sauvignon Blanc.

    Fast forward to May and some of the ferments have finished whereas others are still quietly ticking away. It’s important to keep tasting the ferments with a view to the final blends although the flavours will continue to develop over the next few weeks.

    Such a season of favourable growing conditions is backed up by Met. office data which indicated that ‘Growing Degree Days’ in January 2019 for Blenheim were around 33% above the long-term average. There were over 20% more sunshine hours than the norm and only 8% of the long-term average rainfall.

    For other Marlborough producers, initial reports are also positive. Harvest began in many cases ten days earlier than normal with good quality, yet in some cases, lighter yields. Many reported that it was the earliest they had ever experienced. Of course, hot weather also brings unique challenges as low rainfall earlier in the summer forced a shutdown of the Southern Valleys Irrigation Scheme which harnesses much of the water the vineyards depend on. Some growers were even trucking water in to sustain their vines.

    Right now at Lawson’s Dry Hills, the focus is on treating the new season’s juice with care and ensuring that the high quality finds its way into the company’s brands Blind River, The Sisters, Mount Vernon and of course, Lawson’s Dry Hills. These wines will then follow the 2018’s into the New Zealand market and further afield to export markets around the world.

  • Wine in the cooking as well as in your glass!

    Many of us like to try a new recipe or attempt to dazzle our dinner party friends with a new dish but when it comes to adding wine, we’re a little less confident. Fact is, wine can add a new flavour dimension so here are some tips that may encourage a few more cooks to take the plunge.

    Adding wine to cooking all begins when you’re out shopping. If you’re going to pick up a bottle or two of wine for dinner, and if you need more than a splash for the dish, grab another bottle to cook with. Not that it has to be exactly the same wine, but something of the same grape variety is preferable (don’t worry about having a little wine left over, did you know you can freeze it and save it for another day?)

    So how exactly does wine work its magic? They say that the alcohol in wine helps release flavour molecules in food as well as help dissolve the fats. Add wine early enough in the cooking process to give it time to reduce and concentrate the flavour.

    Imagine you are preparing a Coq au Vin which calls for a bottle of red Burgundy (although with Burgundy prices what they are, not many of us want to tip a bottle into the cooking! Just go for Pinot Noir, which is the same grape variety). Then for your guests, open a good New Zealand Pinot Noir (Lawson’s Dry Hills Reserve springs to mind!) to serve with it.

    There are other ways of using wine to great advantage when cooking. The best gravies are those made in the pan that the meat has been roasted in. It’s very simple – remove the meat for it to rest, spoon off some of the fat is there is a lot – you need to leave just a tablespoon or two. Keep a medium heat under the pan and add a tablespoon of flour, stirring well to absorb all of the fat. Cook it for a minute or two, always stirring. Next add hot stock – keep stirring until it boils to avoid it going lumpy. Once simmering, add a cup or two of wine – white for chicken dishes and red for lamb and beef ideally, and a good grinding of black pepper. Allow to simmer gently for 20 minutes or so, stirring every now and then.

    Another idea is to match the region with the produce by using, for example, a crisp Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Gris to steam the local green-lipped mussels. Delicious!

    If searing a piece of meat, such as steak, once it is cooked, remove and add red wine to the hot pan – it’ll sizzle and reduce as you stir to get all the flavoursome bits off the bottom. Add a few herbs, some salt and pepper and a knob of butter and there’s your red wine sauce.

    For barbecues, using wine in marinades helps to tenderise the meat and adds another dimension to the flavour. When grilling or basting, marinades help retain moisture in the dish while it’s in the oven.

    Enjoy!

  • Medalling with wine shows

    The source of endless debate within wine circles is the value and accuracy of wine shows. When judges may be tasting around 100 wines or more a day in a typical show, can the results really be very accurate? And how can the results of one show be so different to those from another?

    Here in New Zealand, wine shows are an evolution from the competitions at local A & P shows where farmers and growers brought their produce to town to be rated by their peers. Wine shows strive to be impartial and remove subjective factors from influencing the results. Wines are tasted ‘blind’, which means the judges cannot see the label, they typically only know the vintage and grape variety they are tasting. So all they have is their eyes, nose and palate to rate the quality, score the wines and therefore award medals.

    According to Belinda Jackson, Group Marketing Manager at Lawson’s Dry Hills and co-founder of the Marlborough Wine Show, “It can be a bit unpredictable. A wine which scores a gold at one show may only score a silver at another.”  Yet wine shows do add credibility to a particular wine and, in a broader sense, to entire regions.  Wine Marlborough stated, when they took over the Marlborough Wine Show, that the show plays an important role in developing the reputation of Marlborough wine.

    So too for wine producers. Wine shows play an important role in helping build reputations. The Lawson’s Dry Hills family of wines has performed extremely well in recent shows, achieving nine gold medals and three trophies during October! The company’s Blind River is looking like it will have another big year with the 2018 Sauvignon Blanc having already picked up the ‘Antipodes Water Company Champion Sauvignon Blanc’ trophy at the latest NZ Wine of the Year awards (formerly known as the Air NZ Wine Awards). Another standout has been the 2016 Lawson’s Dry Hills Gewürztraminer which won the ‘Riedel New Zealand Champion Gewürztraminer’ trophy for the third year running in the NZ Wine of the Year Awards in addition to its many other accolades.

    So what is the value of wine shows from a winemaker’s perspective? Marcus Wright, chief winemaker at Lawson’s Dry Hills, feels the value of shows is more for the consumer. “It can be difficult comparing wines at a similar price and varietal. Medals won at wine shows can help customers choose one from another.”  But speaking as a winemaker it’s a different story.  “I take no real notice of shows as they don’t influence what we do.” He believes there is a randomness about shows that means a wine which scores a medal at one show may come away with nothing at another, while shows often fail to acknowledge truly outstanding wines. “Our Lawson’s Dry Hills 2016 Reserve Chardonnay is the best chardonnay we’ve ever made. It amazes me that it has never won anything until it picked up a gold medal at the Marlborough Wine Show. ”

    He also feels that with so many wines being tasted in the one session, chances are it will be the bigger wine styles which stand out. “If you want to be successful at shows, you’d possibly be chasing bigger alcohols, less subtlety and that’s not what we’re about.”

    Despite all the variables, the team at Lawson’s Dry Hills are actually rather chuffed to have enjoyed so much success at wine shows recently both here and abroad. Of course, the judges that we truly care about are the wine-loving consumers – those thousands of people who pick up a bottle of our wines in their local store, open their wallets followed by their mouths and enjoy the results of what we do.  Their approval is what matters most to us.

  • Frosts put the bite on Marlborough vineyards

    In most forms of agriculture, spring is a welcome time of regeneration and rebirth. Lambs are born, fruit trees blossom, days start earlier and the sun shines longer. But for a viticulturist it brings a fresh set of headaches, especially in cooler climates like the South Island of New Zealand.

    For Mark Ludemann, viticulturist at Lawson’s Dry Hills in Marlborough, it can be a time of 4am starts and often sleepless nights. Mark is responsible for overseeing the company’s vineyards in the Awatere and Waihopai Valleys, Rarangi, Ben Morven and also those closer to Blenheim. So as spring approaches and the vineyards come to life, Mark certainly has his hands full.  There’s the ever-present threat of frosts, all at a time when extreme weather conditions can do the greatest damage. “The vineyards in the valleys are most prone to spring frosts,” Mark explained. In 2018, bud burst began with the Chardonnay vines in the 2nd week of September, but as a cold blast blew in from the south during mid October, Mark was feeling nervous.

    Frosts threaten to kill off the delicate spring buds reducing grape yields and can also affect the vine’s foliage which is vital for photosynthesis. So anything a Marlborough wine producer can do to minimise the impact of frost will pay off at harvest time. For centuries, European grape growers have used various forms of heating like oil-burning ‘smudge pots’ to increase temperatures at ground level. In modern times, however, large frost fans and even helicopters have proven to be more effective.

    Lawson’s Dry Hills’ vineyards are equipped with frost fans which move warmer air down to ground level, which helps prevent moisture on the vines from freezing. Towering around 10 metres in the air and equipped with large aeroplane-sized propellers, frost fans are much like rescue helicopters when it come to protecting grape vines.

    But frost isn’t the only concern. “Right now, we’re spraying for diseases like powdery mildew,” Mark said.  They also have to mow between the vines to keep the grass and weeds down, which can also help reduce the impact of frosts. Like many Marlborough vineyards, sheep graze between the vines for part of the year. But at the end of winter the sheep are sent off to conventional pastures, so vineyard managers revert back to traditional forms of mowing to keep the grass down.

    Viticulturists like Mark can gain some comfort from knowing that the region is becoming warmer, with spring frost becoming less of a threat over time. Whether these warmer temperatures are the result of climate change or are caused by other changes in weather patterns may be a matter for debate but the region is certainly becoming warmer if meteorological records are any indication.

    Data recorded at the Blenheim Meteorological station at Grovetown Park indicates that Marlborough is experiencing half the frosts it did 90 years ago. Back in the 30’s and 40’s, Blenheim shivered with up to 70 frosts a year. Compare this with 2017 when there were just 30 ground frosts during the winter, four frosts in September and none in October – the first year in which no ground frosts had been recorded. While the Awatere and Waihopai valleys are generally colder than Blenheim, the vineyards even in these valleys are experiencing fewer frosts than in years gone by.

    Of course all will be forgotten come summertime when Marlborough sparkles as one of the sunniest regions in the country, and the new vintage wines once again prove ­­­­our distinctive sauvignon blancs, chardonnays and pinot noirs to be the toast of the wine world.

  • Order of wine service

    When planning events, from awards dinners for 100’s to intimate dinner parties, the order in which the chosen wines to be served is something to be considered. For the most part it depends on the food being served and you’d pair the wines accordingly.

    With wines, as with food, you’d perhaps tend to start with the lighter styles before moving on to those with more oomph. A pre-dinner drink might be bubbles or a dry Riesling for example and then a Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Gris with an entrée of maybe seafood. If the main course is a white meat, then Chardonnay could be on the cards, or Viognier, Albarinho or some other full-bodied white.

    Light red meat or stronger flavoured vegetarian dishes such as earthy lentil-based recipes would work well with Pinot Noir while full-on beef with rich flavourings would be a great pairing with Syrah. Lamb and Cabernet Sauvignon are a great match too. Or you can always save the ‘big red’ for the cheese course if you’re having one. Hard, strong flavoured cheeses can be a flavour sensation with big, ripe Cabernet Sauvignon (but not more delicate flavoured cheeses!). And blue cheese with Port or botrytis dessert wines such as Riesling or Semillon are truly a match made in heaven (and while we’re at it – goat cheese and Sauvignon Blanc are terrific together – but probably earlier in the evening or as the entrée).

  • Pairing our wines with food

    Whilst there are said to be rules for pairing food and wine, all that really matters is if you like it. However, if you’re not sure where to start – here are a few suggestions that work well.

    Estate Sauvignon Blanc

    Goats’ Cheese, herb, feta and light, fresh cheeses. Vietnamese, Thai green curries, tomato-based dishes, seafood with fresh herbs and citrus, oysters, smoked salmon, fresh fennel, capsicums, asparagus, chilli, peas, dill, parsley, coriander, basil.

    Estate Chardonnay

    White rind cheeses such as Brie, Camembert. Young Gouda, Haloumi, Havarti. Creamy curries, smoked salmon, oysters, scallops, richer fish dishes, crayfish, light chicken dishes, turkey, pork. Creamy pasta, nutmeg, saffron, paprika.

    Estate Riesling

    Brilliant aperitif, but also good with soft, white cheeses, feta, fresh seafood with lemon or lime flavours, poached or fish smoked fish, salads, green vegetable dishes, fresh summer herbs.

    Estate Pinot Gris

    Washed rind, soft, white and mild blue cheeses, pates, terrines, creamy pasta, Chinese dishes, coconut-based curries, chicken and pork, ginger, star anise, cinnamon, cumin, clove, Moroccan flavours.

    Estate Gewurztraminer

    Soft, ripe cheeses, pates, Thai foods, red curries, Chinese food, ginger, cardamom, coriander, sweet brown spices such as cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves.

    Estate Pinot Rose

    Firm, nutty cheese such as Gruyere, young Gouda. Seared or poached salmon, cured meats, platters, stews and casseroles, chick peas, lentils, ham, turkey, pork, chicken, juniper, fragrant Asian spices.

    Estate Pinot Noir

    Nutty cheeses such as Gruyere, aged Dutch cheeses, cured meats, pates, light beef or lamb curries, seared or poached salmon, seared tuna, hot ham, pork, turkey, beef casseroles, sausages, pizza, lentils, pasta, thyme, rosemary.

    Reserve Sauvignon Blanc

    Fresh cheeses, herbed or lemon flavours, seafood such as oysters, clams, white fish, seafood pasta in tomato sauce, poached fish with herbs, herbed chicken,  green vegetables, dill, parsley, chervil, basil, thyme, fennel, tarragon, lemongrass, chilli,

    Reserve Chardonnay

    Ripe, white rind cheeses, especially stronger French types. Scallops, salmon, butter/creamy sauces, poached white fish, crayfish, mussels in garlic, white wine and cream, coconut-based curries such as Masamon and Madras. Roast chicken or pork, roasted root vegetables, saffron, nutmeg.

    Reserve Pinot Noir

    Hard, full-flavoured cheeses, seared salmon or tuna prepared with stronger flavours, Mexican dishes, hearty pizzas, lamb, beef, venison, duck, wild pork, dishes with spices such as cumin, garam masala, rosemary, thyme, oregano, paprika.

    Back to Lawson’s Dry Hills website

     

  • Why We Love Wine

    We do. Love wine, I mean. And this is why.

    • We can use a really nice glass to drink it from. Doesn’t have to be expensive – just nice. Preferably quite thin, with or without a stem, tapered toward the top and no chunky rim. And large (only fill to 1/3).
    • We can enjoy it with some yummy food. Might be just a platter of antipasti, a chunk of good cheese or a full-blown degustation dinner – regardless, wine and food were made for each other.
    • We can talk about it if we want to. If you really like it – you might want to say so – if you really don’t you might want to say so too, but perhaps not if you weren’t the one who brought/chose it.
    • We can buy into the whole experience of enjoying wine. If we want to. Pour a glass a third full, swirl it round, stick our noses in and take a good sniff or two, then a sip/mouthful and savour it for a moment, letting it reach all parts of your mouth. Even suck in a bit of air like the professionals, if you feel like it and if you’re not wearing white.
    • We can experience the wine changing in the glass, or from one glass to the next (steady). As white wine warms up, having come from the depths of the chiller or ice-bucket, it reveals more aromas and more flavours. Red wine tends to soften as it gently absorbs more air once released from the bottle.

    Back to Lawson’s Dry Hills website

  • Sustainability and sensibility – going the extra nine yards

    ISO14001 ENVIRONMENTAL MANAGEMENT

    No agriculturally-sourced product whispers its reliance on the soil and environment quite like wine. When the land talks, wine changes it voice. Wine owes its soul to the ‘terroir’ and Marlborough-based winery Lawson’s Dry Hills believes you have to repay the favour and respect the environment in return.
    When a decision was taken to achieve the lofty ISO 14001 standards, it wasn’t so much a case of needing to, but wanting to, in order to gain a further competitive advantage. Much is spoken about Sustainable Winegrowing NZ (SWNZ) accreditation which casts a halo over wineries New Zealand-wide. ISO 14001, however, gets less of a mention largely because relatively few wine businesses have actually achieved it.
    Sion Barnsley, General Manager and a Director of Lawson’s Dry Hills, reflected on the decision to undertake the audit and meet the standard. “Environmental management touches every aspect of the business.” From the back blocks to the front office, it requires a shared attitude on the part of every individual to manage resources wisely, reduce waste and give back to the environment. “Initiatives like carbon neutral, for example, may affect only an organisation’s main office for instance, ISO 14001 goes much further.”
    The eight individual recycling bins sitting outside the cellar door stand as a daily reminder of this commitment, requiring staff to sort their waste into distinct recycling categories. Yet this is just the tip of the environmental iceberg. “We looked at minimising our peak electricity usage. It meant not only reducing our total consumption but, where possible, shifting certain operations to off-peak times of the day. That saves money as well.” Water usage is also carefully managed. Day to day it means things like not completely filling a vat in order to clean it, for instance, and looking at smarter ways to use water in all daily chores.
    He also believes Lawson’s Dry Hills has a distinct advantage – they’ve even been told they’re one of New Zealand’s best performing wineries environmentally. “The size of our operation makes it easier, as everyone in our relatively small team shares a mindset of sustainability. Yet we’re large enough to have a lot of our own equipment including a grape harvester, a complete bottling operation and warehousing. That means you can better control these assets and use them in the smartest ways possible.” As you walk through the operation, it feels more like an extended family rather than a corporation. The ‘family members’ not only share a common vision for sustainability, the expressions on their faces suggest they actually have a good time doing it.
    The team carefully monitors machinery usage in the vineyard, helping reduce diesel consumption, carbon emissions and reliance on fossil fuels. “We’re reducing our use of herbicides, that also helps,” Sion added. It’s not simply a one-off attitude change. “Right now we’re looking at leasing a solar power system and at ways to store that harvested electricity, because the sun isn’t always shining at the times you need it most.” While they’re already recycling water, moves are in place to capture and filter rainwater for use in the winery. Regular review meetings unearth further initiatives as new ideas present themselves, ensuring continual improvement.
    As Sion also reflects, it also had to make sound business sense. “Environmental Management gives back in so many ways – not just to the environment – it also benefits your productivity and bottom line.”
    So if the land and environment is feeling the impact, who else is listening? People like buyers in European supermarket chains and other customers are placing increased importance on sustainability, and the internationally-recognised ISO 14001 standard offers tangible evidence of their commitment. So when that next glass of gold and trophy-winning Mount Vernon Sauvignon Blanc or Lawson’s Dry Hills Gewürztraminer trickles across your palate, perhaps it will leave a better taste in your mouth knowing the environmental initiatives that helped get the wine into your glass.

    Back to Lawson’s Dry Hills website

  • The fine art of vegan-friendly wines

    It’s May – typically one of the busiest months for a winemaker in Marlborough, yet Marcus Wright, Chief Winemaker at Lawson’s Dry Hills, still finds time to reply to his U.K. distributor’s email about the new fining technique he’s been exploring with his wines. Such attention to detail is symptomatic of the measures taken by this relatively small yet hugely successful Marlborough winery to keep lifting its game.

    Over the past year, Lawson’s Dry Hills has been trialling different fining agents in a bid to broaden the appeal of its wines to new sectors of the market, namely vegans and vegetarians. As a result, they are now fining or ‘clarifying’ most of their sauvignon blancs and certain other varietals with totally plant-based fining agents. According to Marcus, “A number of new products have come available recently, allowing us to make our wines completely vegan and vegetarian friendly. Plus, we’re producing a better end product which everyone can appreciate.” The new fining techniques are being used in many of the wines under the Lawson’s Dry Hills, Mount Vernon and Blind River ranges.

    Even the more seasoned wine drinkers amongst us may be unclear about what effect fining has on a wine. As Marcus puts it, “Fining takes away those more astringent elements known as ‘phenolics’, giving the wine a softer mouth feel, improved aroma and a cleaner, brighter appearance in the glass.”

    Fining is quite a simple process. The winemaker pours a small quantity of the fining agent into the barrel or tank which bonds to suspended particles including dead yeast cells, tannins and grape fragments, causing them to slowly sink to the bottom. When the wine is ‘racked’ from one barrel or tank to another, the sediment is left behind and discarded. Traditionally, fining agents such as egg white, gelatine, isinglass (a fish-based product) and milk are used. While they ensure the final wine is clear and less astringent, there is a chance that minute traces may still remain in the wine; as stated on the back labels of many wines. This can be of concern not only to vegans and vegetarians, but also to those who may be allergic to milk, egg or fish.

    With the new plant-based fining technique being used by Lawson’s Dry Hills, there’s absolutely no contact with any animal-based products at any point during the winemaking process. It’s also yet another example of how Lawson’s Dry Hills always looking to make many small improvements along the way, which add up to a better end product. So how good are the new wines? To find out, open any of the recent 2017 wines from Lawson’s Dry Hills, Mount Vernon or Blind River Sauvignon Blancs and taste for yourself. You don’t have to be a vegan or vegetarian to appreciate the difference, just someone who enjoys good wine!

    Back to Lawson’s Dry Hills website

  • Wine, weather and awards

    If ever you meet a winemaker and you’re stuck for conversation, just talk about the weather. This year there was plenty for winemakers right across the country to talk about. April 13th was unlucky for some as Cyclone Cook – the worst storm since the Wahine disaster – poured cold water on some vintners harvest plans.

    Fortunately, having its own harvester means Marlborough’s Lawson’s Dry Hills is autonomous and not dependent on the availability of contractors. This gives the team greater freedom to harvest when the fruit reaches optimum ripeness and before the weather deteriorates. Sadly the harvests of many other Marlborough vineyards were less successful while some even left their fruit to rot on the vine.

    As General Manager Sion Barnsley recounted, “While the grapes were picked with lower brix (sugar levels) this year, concentration and flavour were good.” Achieving a good harvest even in challenging years is very much the result of good vineyard management, as Lawson’s Dry Hills vines are low yielding, producing fruit off two canes rather than four canes as is the practice in many local vineyards. This concentrates more flavour into fewer bunches and also helps the vine to ripen the fruit sooner. Quality-focussed practices like this have ensured that, despite the challenges of inclement weather, 2017 has been a successful vintage.

    Proof of the quality is already coming in for all the Lawson’s Dry Hills brands, with successes in a range of wine shows both here and internationally.

    Our ‘Mount Vernon’ Sauvignon Blanc 2017 has already won a gold medal at each of the following:

    • NZ International Wine Show 2017
    • Marlborough Wine Show, 2017
    • New World Wine Awards 2017
    • Air NZ Wine Awards 2017
    • Sydney International Wine Competition 2018

    And runner up in Winestate’s ‘Wine of the Year’ Competition coming second out of all Sauvignon Blancs from New Zealand and Australia in 2017.

    And it hasn’t been only Mount Vernon that has been stealing the limelight, other Lawsons’ Dry Hills brands and varietals from the past two vintages have done well this year.

     

    Wine Award Show
    Lawson’s Dry Hills Sauvignon Blanc 2017           Silver Medal Air NZ Wine Awards
      Gold Medal New World Wine Awards
      Blue Gold Medal Sydney International Wine Competition
    Lawsons’ Dry Hills Gewürztraminer 2016 Trophy – Champion Gewurztraminer Marlborough Wine Show
      Trophy – Champion Gewurztraminer Air NZ Wine Awards
      Gold Medal Air NZ Wine Awards
      Gold Medal NZ International Wine Show
    Lawson’s Dry Hills Reserve Sauvignon Blanc 2016 Five Stars and No.1 Cuisine Magazine #186 (out December 2017)
    Lawson’s Dry Hills Chardonnay 2016 Silver Medal NZ International Wine Show
    Lawson’s Dry Hills Riesling 2015 Trophy – Best Aromatic Wine Sydney International Wine Competition
      Trophy – Best Dry White Table Wine Sydney International Wine Competition
      Gold Medal International Wine Challenge
    Lawson’s Dry Hills Pinot Gris 2016 Gold Medal New World Wine Awards
    Lawson’s Dry Hills Reserve Pinot Noir 2015 Gold Medal New World Wine Awards
    Blind River Sauvignon Blanc 2016 Double Gold Medal Six Nations Wine Challenge
    Blind River Sauvignon Blanc 2017 Blue Gold Medal Sydney International Wine Competition

    Looking to the 2018 vintage, Marlborough was less affected by the wintery blast which hit the southern areas of New Zealand’s South Island in early November 2017. Central Otago shivered under a blanket of frost and ski fields enjoyed fresh cover while gale force winds hit Wellington and threatened sailings of the Cook Strait ferries. Luckily, Marlborough temperatures stayed just above zero keeping the frost fans silent. Now as summer begins, that late wintery blast has been replaced by a warmer than usual December setting up the expectation for an exciting 2018 harvest. Stay tuned.

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  • The earth moves for Lawson’s Dry Hills

    When the earthquake struck Kaikoura in November 2017, its effects were more far reaching than many first realised. A number of Marlborough wineries felt the impact as some lost power, others suffered damage to their tanks and as a result ended up losing a quantity of wine. So on the surface, the damage seemed relatively minimal. Yet Rebecca ‘Bec’ Wiffen, assistant winemaker at Lawson’s Dry Hills, has noticed a more lasting effect to the 7.8 magnitude Kaikoura earthquake.

    As Bec commented recently, “We’ve noticed that the water table has actually risen and as a result many of the vineyards around the Marlborough region seem to be wetter than normal.” So maybe it hasn’t simply been the winter rains which have caused some of the low-lying vineyards to remain quite damp.

    Bec is very hands-on when it comes to all aspects of the winemaking process, so naturally she is very sensitive to any changes that are happening in the vineyard.  Bec has had to deal with a range of conditions having worked for several wineries around New Zealand. She’s also worked in the Napa Valley in California, and in the Alsace and Languedoc regions of France, so dealing with acts of nature is all part of a day’s work. However, earthquakes are something beyond what any of us in the wine industry can plan for.

    To learn more about Bec’s observation, it was time to dig a little deeper to truly understand what has actually happened underground.

    Peter Davidson, water scientist with the Marlborough District Council, has been monitoring changes to the ‘aquifers’ – which are the underground layers of water-bearing rock – from which wells source groundwater supply. “The 2016 Kaikoura Earthquake caused ground water levels to rise up to six metres at some Marlborough District Council monitoring wells across the region. On the day of the earthquake, the ground water level rose from 68 to 73 metres above sea level. ”

    When Peter spoke to the Marlborough Express earlier in the year, he highlighted the immediate effects of the earthquake. “The largest changes were associated with deep wells penetrating aquifers formed of compressible clays rather than from gravels alone,” he observed. After the earthquake, water came rushing up in the wells causing them to overflow, with the water in some rising by four to five metres causing it to seep into the ground. “An aquifer in Ben Morven rose by four metres, while water in another aquifer rose by five and a half metres. It destroyed our water monitor.” he said. At that stage it was unknown what the longer term impact would be to the underground water supply.  “We are still learning from the Christchurch earthquakes and what effects they have had, so it’s still early days.”

    So what has actually happened since the earthquake? Looking for instance at the 400 metre deep Marlborough District Council well in Hawkesbury Road in the Omaka Valley, “The groundwater level has largely returned to its pre-earthquake level,” Peter commented “But other aquifers like the one at Ben Morven, for example, have remained high and show no sign of falling.”

    In Marlborough, water supply is important for not only drinking water, it is also critical to the local vineyards and the agricultural industry in general. Marlborough enjoys some of the most idyllic grape growing conditions in New Zealand, with high sunshine hours, free draining soils and low rainfall. In fact, parts of eastern and southern Marlborough are amongst the driest regions in the country, according to the Marlborough District Council. Most vineyards in the area are irrigated, which means underground water is a lifeline and any changes to this water supply need to be carefully monitored.

    While water from below is one concern, water from the heavens is something else. The 2017 harvest presented many vintners with additional challenges with the after-effects of Cyclone Debbie battering much of the country back in April. As Bec Wiffen pointed out, since Lawson’s Dry Hills has its own mechanical harvester, the vineyard is better able to harvest at precisely the right time as they don’t have to depend on the availability of mechanical harvesters operated by outside contractors. So for 2017, they were able to work with the weather and bring the grapes in before the storms.

    As wine lovers eventually come to enjoy the excellent wines produced by Lawson’s Dry Hills from the 2017 vintage, maybe they’ll raise a glass to the winemakers who had to withstand more challenges than normal. This year, even more so than with previous releases, enjoying your favourite wine from Lawson’s Dry Hills will be moving experience.

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