• Better by the dozen

    Gaining a greater voice on the world stage for premium New Zealand wine is an ever-increasing challenge. Smaller wineries are often drowned out by powerful multinationals with their vast budgets and sophisticated marketing tools. Yet there are those who believe quality speaks volumes; that several voices singing the praises of New Zealand’s wine in harmony will be more effective than one voice singing alone.

    So back in 2004, twelve of the country’s most prestigious and enduring artisanal wineries decided to join forces from a marketing and education perspective and ‘The Family of Twelve’ was created. Judy Finn of Neudorf remembers what first brought them together.”We were all friends and we decided we were doing too much travelling, had a huge carbon footprint and were all export-focused companies. So we decided to see if we could share the international travel workload and promote New Zealand and other premium products from New Zealand at the same time.”

    The Family of Twelve is an alliance of family-owned wineries across the length and breadth of New Zealand located in eight of the county’s top growing regions. Family members represent a who’s who of what makes New Zealand wine so special today and include Villa Maria, Kumeu River, Millton Vineyard, Craggy Range, Palliser Estate, Ata Rangi, Neudorf, Fromm Winery, Lawson’s Dry Hills, Nautilus Estate, Pegasus Bay and Felton Road.

    Reducing air miles may have been the initial catalyst but increasing interaction between winemakers and viticulturists has been one of the positive results. Wineries which, day-to-day are competitive, get to be collaborative through a once a year get-together they call ‘Vini Viti’. During these two-day events, the winemakers and viticulturists meet up for highly focussed workshops and tastings. It’s an opportunity to discuss what works and what doesn’t, and perhaps share information about trials they may have been running. Every year Vini Viti is held at a different winery which chooses a major topic for the workshops and is given a budget to purchase wines for a tasting where family members’ wines are tasted alongside their peers. As Marcus Wright, chief winemaker at Lawson’s Dry Hills explained, “It’s awesome to discuss the technical side of viticulture and winemaking. From a geek’s point of view, it’s great to have the opportunity to examine and drink some of the country’s best wines.”

    This collaborative philosophy is echoed in the Family of Twelve’s ‘Critical Comment’ – a document that serves as a roadmap for where the family is going and what drives it. The document describes how the family is “bound by a common love of their craft and a desire to share their knowledge to a wider audience”. For in this family, brothers and sisters help each other to achieve greatness, while each pursuing their own lofty ambitions.

    They meet several times a year for board meetings when members plan various educational and marketing initiatives. The Family Chair rotates every two years and right now Paul Donaldson of Pegasus Bay is at the helm. Right from the outset, there were a few simple house rules: to be a part of the Family, each winery had to be family-owned, you had to make great wine, and importantly, you had to be able to make decisions within 24 hours.

    When it comes to being heard in the world market, the alliance allows wineries to speak with a louder voice. Or as the website expresses it, “We are a family of twelve siblings with one voice and one purpose.”

    The export market is The Family of Twelve’s main focus and joining forces for international trade initiatives provides economies of scale by combining resources for events like workshops or the wine trade. A pre-requisite for participation is that the winery’s owner or perhaps the senior winemaker must be present to promote their products – and to assist in promoting their siblings’ wines.

    Together they’ve staged tastings and masterclasses in cities like New York, San Francisco, London and Amsterdam, while also hosting inbound visitors to New Zealand including the wine media, key sommeliers, retailers and wine buyers. Endeavours like these are what helps The Family of Twelve not only pioneer new opportunities, but fulfill its vision of “nurturing long term relationships with an emphasis on education at home and in key export markets” .There have been events where family members’ wines were tasted blind alongside some of the world’s best. Also important is education about the differences – and distinctions – between the various regions in New Zealand, with a leaning very much to the premium end of the member wineries’ portfolios.

    Education doesn’t stop there. In 2017 they established ‘The Family of Twelve Wine Tutorial’, a two-day residential tutorial for twelve wine professionals comprising a series of workshops, dinners and guest speakers. Its purpose was to impart first-hand knowledge to the wine industry’s next generation of leaders, representatives and communicators. The program has been so successful they’re now planning the 3rd event.

    Looking to the future, this family is very much focussed on building an enduring legacy for New Zealand wines. Certainly, the 16 years that the group has been in operation confirms The Family of Twelve is here for the long haul and the wider New Zealand wine industry will be the long-term beneficiary.

    For more information, please visit http://familyoftwelve.co.nz/

  • Blind River provides clarity for wine lovers

    AMW logo makes Sauvignon Blanc drinkers savvy to wine’s true origins.

    Can a wine label help you understand exactly where the grapes came from, how sustainably they were grown and where the wine was made and bottled? If you’re looking at a bottle of Blind River Sauvignon Blanc, it can – all from just three initials  ‘AMW’ on the back label. Allow us to explain.

    Nobody likes to buy a product that isn’t genuine and wine lovers are no different. Which is why French wine regions including Beaujolais, Bordeaux, Champagne and many others are protected by a strict ‘AOC’ or ‘Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée‘ guaranteeing that the grapes were grown in the region shown on the label and the wines were produced in accordance with strict quality criteria.

    It’s not just wines that are protected, with Roquefort cheese, Armagnac and Cognac, Parma ham and many other agricultural products also protected by strict regional laws and standards, ensuring generic produce from other regions around the world can’t carry these coveted titles.

    Now, Marlborough has established a standard to protect the integrity, authenticity and brand value of its Sauvignon Blanc known as ‘Appellation Marlborough Wine’. Common sense would suggest that any wine with ‘Marlborough’ on the front label 100% from the region, whereas in fact they are permitted to say ‘Marlborough’ with just 85% Marlborough grapes – the remaining 15% could be grapes from elsewhere.

    AMW not only assures that the wine has been made from grapes grown entirely in Marlborough, they must have been grown by vineyards independently certified by Sustainable Winegrowing NZ. They must also be from managed yields established according to soil type and vine density, and the wine bottled in New Zealand.  Quite a mouthful, but a good one.

    Blind River Sauvignon Blanc 2018 was amongst the first wines to carry the AMW ‘Appellation Marlborough Wine’ logo. Made from grapes from a single vineyard, Blind River Sauvignon Blanc is a perfect example of a wine that reflects the distinctive characters of not only the Awatere Valley, but the specific vineyard site.

    Yet Blind River is also very much the result of not just terroir but also teamwork, specifically the collaborative efforts of winemakers Marcus Wright and Rebecca Wiffen and the entire Lawson’s Dry Hills team. It has also proven to be one of the company’s most awarded wines, with the 2015 picking up five trophies at the 2016 International Wine Challenge along with numerous other accolades. Subsequent vintages have won a number of awards locally and abroad, including the trophy for Champion Sauvignon Blanc at the 2019 New Zealand Wine of the Year Awards

    AMW has far reaching benefits. With 86% of wine produced in New Zealand being Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc and an export value approaching $2 billion, there’s the ripple effect as it indirectly helps to protect the New Zealand wine industry as a whole. The AMW logo has been legally trademarked worldwide including critical export markets like USA and the U.K. While AMW currently applies only to Sauvignon Blanc, it is likely to be extended to other wines in future.

    It’s also refreshing to see that this is one initiative that is bringing different Marlborough wine producers together to benefit the region as a whole. AMW is chaired by Ivan Sutherland from Dog Point Vineyard supported by a committee made up of a number of producers including Belinda Jackson of Lawson’s Dry Hills.

    So when choosing a bottle of Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, it’s well worth checking the back label to ensure that it is exactly what you want to spend your money on – 100% Marlborough, made from sustainably certified grapes and bottled in New Zealand.

    More about our Blind River vineyard 

    More about our Blind River range

  • The morning break that bonds the team

    What makes a great wine? Free draining soils, perfect weather, an intuitive winemaker? Yes, all of the above. Yet there’s one ingredient that’s not often spoken about when judges swirl a wine around in their glasses and assess what makes it exceptional.

    At Lawson’s Dry Hills, the essential ingredient in all their wines is teamwork. That seamless interaction between diverse talents has a direct influence on growing the best grapes possible from the vintage and in turn, making the best wine. So, while Lawson’s Dry Hills is deeply rooted in the country’s top wine growing region, it’s teamwork as well as terroir that makes the difference.

    One of the catalysts for such teamwork didn’t originate at a corporate seminar or from a management philosophy, it’s a little more spontaneous than that. It happens every morning at 10am as everyone from the winery, main office and the vineyard down tools and meet up for a 15-minute smoko. This team get-together ignites conversation and fires up a break from the pressures of crafting, marketing and selling award-winning wines.

    The camaraderie is infectious as the team meets around a long table at the Alabama Road winery and share a coffee or tea, perhaps some home-baking or a morning tea shout for a birthday. Regardless of the pressures even at busy times of year, everyone makes an effort to pause from whatever issues are impacting that day.

    As we all sat together during one rather chilly Tuesday in early December, it was a jovial affair. The co-founder of Lawson’s Dry Hills, Barbara Lawson, was in attendance, along with the viticulturist, both winemakers, the general manager, marketing team and support staff.

    Barbara’s home made trifle

    The Stuff quiz is a tradition during these morning breaks with questions reeled off from either the newspaper or phone. It was all over in a mere 15 minutes, but the benefits have an impact on the whole day and contribute to the enduring team culture.

    Morning smoko is symptomatic of what’s occurring across the broader landscape in the more progressive modern businesses. As workplace pressures increase, many workers feel compelled to spend meal breaks hunched over their keyboards- or many have no breaks at all in the quest to get ahead. Yet studies have identified that mental health and productivity ramp up as individuals collaborate and mandatory time-outs are incorporated into workdays. At Lawson’s Dry Hills, this morning break is founded more on what feels good rather than science, yet the effect is much the same.

    In the same way that award-winning wines are a complex balance of fruit flavours, tannins, texture and acidity, creating these wines is the result of a cohesive interaction between diverse talents. The continued success of Lawson’s Dry Hills in wine shows and with growing global sales, indicates that this group of individuals come together as a great team.

  • Natural Wine Blog

    If you think you’re hearing more and more about natural wine, you’re not alone. While currently a mere drop in the wine ocean, interest in natural wine is gaining momentum at a rate that defies its modest volumes. As today’s consumers are increasingly wanting to know what ingredients are in the wine and food they’re buying and are willing to pay a premium for products they perceive as being ‘natural’, our curiosity about natural wines can only keep growing. With some wine drinkers reporting fewer or no side effects like hangovers from drinking natural wine, you begin to understand what the fuss is all about.

    So what exactly is ‘natural’ wine. While there is no legal definition, it means that the grapes have been grown and the wine made with minimal chemical or mechanical intervention along the way. Some would say it takes winemaking back to the way it was centuries ago – long before modern science got involved.

    In conventional wine production, there is plenty of scope for viticulturists to use herbicides, pesticide or fungicides to protect the grapes and ensure the fruit reaches its potential (although New Zealand vineyards must be certified by Sustainable Winegrowing New Zealand which employs strict criteria). Why should we worry? Decanter magazine reported that a recent study of French wine showed 90% contained traces of at least one pesticide, albeit at very low levels. Then during the winemaking process, winemakers have the latitude to use around 72 permissible additives including yeasts, enzymes, proteins, tannins and bacteria to enhance their wines, depending on the winemaking rules and controls of their region. After that, a raft of techniques including temperature-controlled fermentation, lees stirring, fining and filtering may be used to further manipulate the end result.

    In natural wine production however, the options are considerably limited. Grapes must be grown organically or bio-dynamically which, among other disciplines, means there’s no reliance on synthetic herbicides or pesticides. As Lawson’s Dry Hills winemaker Marcus Wright, pointed out, “There are still sprays that you can use, but your options are limited. You have to keep a very good eye on things, because the sprays are much softer.” With science doing little to help, viticulturists have to work with the forces of nature. Ploughing is minimised, soil is often enriched with compost rather than fertilizers and the vines require careful management.

    Once in the winery, the winemaker’s wings are clipped considerably. Only the grapes’ natural yeasts are used in fermentation and minimal or no sulphur is added. There’s no fining to remove sediment, nothing is added to rectify sugar or acid levels, even the use of oak barrels is minimised by many, preferring the natural taste of the grapes to be the driving force. As a result, natural wine is typically very much ‘alive’ when it’s bottled. White wines will often look cloudy as the wine may rest on skins for long periods; such skin contact potentially helping to naturally preserve the wine. However, that cloudy appearance is nothing to be alarmed about. The requirements of Sustainable Winegrowing New Zealand ensure the purity of the wine isn’t compromised by chemical residues.

    There’s also an increased chance of popping the cork on a bad bottle. That said, many natural wines look bright and vibrant and present an abundance of flavour in the glass. Marcus tried his hand at a natural wine using conventional grapes recently. “We actually made a Gewürztraminer using natural techniques, with no added yeasts, left it on skins for 100 days and it was absolutely delicious.”

    Of course, there are risks. With the whole process from grape to bottle presenting a range of challenges and the risks increasing considerably, you can understand the reluctance of many larger wine producers to dabble with natural wines. So why should we get excited about them? Perhaps we may be jumping the gun, but if the craft beer revolution gives us anything to learn from, natural wine could have a significant impact. Indeed, Marcus sees natural wines as, “The craft beer of the wine world. They have the potential to capture the attention of the younger generation who don’t have preconceptions about what they buy and drink.” Today, craft beers are no longer the fringe but are arguably the drivers of change in what once was a dying market.

    So, could the natural wine movement mimic the craft beer phenomenon? Natural wines are making an impact right around the world as vignerons of all cultures and countries are getting involved, while many bars and restaurants are only too eager to offer natural wines to their customers. Closer to home, a visit to ‘Cave à Vin’ – a bar which serves only natural wines on Auckland’s North Shore – provides a glimpse into what’s happening and the diversity of wines on offer. As you look around the rustic surroundings, you notice the funky label designs reminiscent of the hippie era. Behind the rough sawn timber bar, our host, Romain, originally from Beaujolais, paints a vivid picture of what is happening with natural wine from a French perspective.

    Romain described how, despite their strict adherence to the disciplines of appellation and tradition, a growing number of French winemakers are joining the movement and producing some exciting wines. Similarly, natural wines are popping up in California and Australia as well as New Zealand with many available for tasting at this quirky establishment. Sure, they’re not all great, natural wines tend to age quicker in the bottle and there’s a risk of striking the odd one that’s dull and flat, though it wasn’t difficult to find some shining lights as well.

    Right now, there are very few natural wines in the major wine stores and supermarkets, so how are consumer likely to respond as more of them appear on the shelves? According to global market research company Kline Research, consumers are willing to pay a premium for products they perceive as being ‘natural’, particularly millennials who are, of course, the new generation of wine drinkers. Closer to home, the 2018 OANZ Organic Market Report showed that retail sales of organic products are growing twice as fast as conventional products. The New Zealand organic sector has grown ten per cent a year since 2015 and by mid-2018 was said to be worth around $600 million.  So whether this increased interest in ‘natural’ will result in growing demand for natural wines, only time will tell. And there are those who insist that natural wines are nothing more than faulty – a strong opinion that is not without merit. Keep watching this space!

  • Christmas salad

    Food and wine pairing is about what tastes good – so don’t worry too much about the rules, just mix some flavours and pour a glass of your favourite wine and see what you think! You can use recipes for inspiration, but adapt them to suit your own tastes, or perhaps to suit seasonal produce from your garden.

    This salad mixes many different flavours from sweet to peppery, tangy to toasty – perfect with our exciting new Rosé, PINK Pinot by Lawson’s Dry Hills. Serve chilled.

    Christmas salad

    2 cups rocket

    50g goat’s cheese, crumbled

    Fennel bulb, finely sliced

    50g toasted pine nuts

    Tablespoon of pomegranate seeds

    Fresh mint, Italian parsley, oregano

     

    Dressing – combine the following in a jar and shake until well-mixed.

    ¼ cup Raspberry vinegar

    ¾ cup good quality extra virgin olive oil

    ¼ teaspoon Dijon mustard

    Half a clove of fresh garlic, minced

    Pinch of Marlborough sea salt

    Few grinds of freshly ground black pepper

     

    Combine the salad ingredients in a large bowl and add as much of the dressing as you wish. Quantities are approximate!

    Enjoy with grilled fish or meats, especially glazed ham, or just some artisan bread and don’t forget the PINK!

  • The rise and rise of Rosé

    Across the ever-changing wine landscape, there’s one trend that’s growing at a startling rate. Rosé. It continues to climb the sales charts with both seasoned aficionados and newcomers to the world of wine thoroughly enjoying drinking pink. The release of PINK Pinot by Lawson’s Dry Hills is indicative of how far Rosé has come – and how seriously the country’s quality wine producers are taking it. Winemaker Marcus even chose to use an imported a yeast from the south of France especially suited to this style of Rosé.

    The latest wine competitions add a sense of perspective to how much Rosés have come of age. At the 2018 New Zealand Wine of the Year Awards, there were 70 medal-winning wines. The winner of the Best Open Red category was in fact a Rosé, not a traditional red Pinot Noir or Syrah as you may have expected. A record number of 100 Rosés lined up for the 2018 New World Wine Awards – up 33% on the previous year. Then at the latest Organic Wine Awards, there were eight Rosé medal winners – more than for varietals like Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Gewürztraminer.

    In 2015, Decanter magazine reported record sales of Rosé in the US and today the trend continues to gather momentum. From 2001-2016, 11.5 million litres were exported from France to the US, as reported by Wine Spectator magazine. Even celebrities like Brad and Angelina joined the movement having invested $60 million in Chateau Miraval in the Côtes de Provence back in 2011. Closer to home, new Rosés are constantly being added to the line-ups of major wine producers on both sides of the Tasman.

    With over 150 New Zealand examples on the shelves in right now (and counting), Rosés are creating strong demand from women and younger wine drinkers, but men are also joining in, disproving the stereotypical assumption of ‘pink must be for girls’ (about time!).

    So where did it all begin? Provence in southern France is the heartland of Rosé while other French regions including the Loire, Languedoc-Roussillon and Corsica also produce many high-quality examples. Virtually every wine region in the world produces Rosés, the most well-known globally being Mateus from Portugal in the distinctive flask-shaped bottles (often coveted as candle holders back in the ‘70’s).

    From a style perspective, there tends to be two distinctive camps – darker, slightly sweeter wines or the more favoured pale and dry ones, such as those predominantly from Provence. Rosé is made by crushing the grapes and leaving the skins in contact with the juice for just enough time to extract the desired amount of colour. The skins are then removed and the juice usually fermented cool, in stainless steel. A number of red varietals are suitable for Rosé with many of New Zealand’s north island producers opting for Merlot or Sarah, while south island wineries tend to choose Pinot Noir.

    To create PINK, Marcus chose Pinot Noir grapes from the company’s Chaytors Road vineyard in Marlborough’s Wairau Valley. Grapes were picked in early March with sugar levels of 21.5° Brix, a crisp acidity and lovely, intense flavours. Once in the winery, the grapes were gently pressed and allowed to settle overnight. Then during fermentation, the specially-imported yeast proved its worth, highlighting the natural berry fruit characters to help create a ripe, fruity yet refreshingly dry wine. Marcus is delighted with the results, saying, “We have worked hard in the vineyard and winery to craft a wine that is a much fun as the packaging – beautiful on the eye and delicious on the palate”.

    As one trade professional said when tasting PINK, “It’s a rare thing to find a pale Rosé that is dry, yet so packed with flavour!”

    So as spring gently creeps up on us and we think ahead to warm, summer evenings, there will be many delicious pink wines to sip and enjoy chilled, including the brand new PINK Pinot by Lawson’s Dry Hills. This immensely drinkable wine with lifted aromas of ripe strawberry and elegant floral notes is ideal for serving with those mixed platters of cured meats, olives and young cheeses.

    PINK Pinot sits alongside the popular Lawson’s Dry Hills estate range that includes Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Riesling, Pinot Gris, Gewurztraminer and Pinot Noir, but looks very different! The label is modelled on the popular mandala pattern, the literal meaning of which is ‘circle’ which represents wholeness. A circle also denotes balance and perfection, important characters in great wine. Dressed in silver, which is said to restore balance and pink for compassion and glamour, this exciting new wine should be enjoyed with great friends, delicious eats and inspiring conversation.

    More about Lawson’s Dry Hills PINK Pinot

  • 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).

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