• The stars are taking a shine to wine

    Ever since our own Sam Neil put down roots with his Central Otago winery in 1993, it seems many in the entertainment world are star-struck with owning vineyards. Over the past few decades, the title deeds of many of the world’s high-profile wineries have read more like the cast of a Hollywood movie. From Francis Ford Coppola to George Lucas, Sting to Kylie Minogue, a growing number of celebrities are blending creativity with chemistry with surprising results. So we decided to find out why so many stars moving from the red carpet to the green hills.

    And we’re not only talking about celebrities simply adding their name to the label (although clearly this has proved successful with Invivo and their partnerships with Graham Norton and Sarah Jessica Parker).  Many of today’s celebrity investors are quite hands-on in the process and have often transformed run-down vineyards into superstars.

    Back in 2011, when they were on better terms, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie took ownership of a historic Côtes de Provence winery named Château Miraval. Just a year later, their rosé was named best in the world by the LA Times. Their latest achievement is a Champagne named ‘Fleur de Miraval’, rated 94 points by Decanter magazine.

    Image: Decanter Best

    Founding member of The Police, Sting, bought Il Palagio – a run-down 16thC vineyard in the Tuscan hills in 1999, and subsequently took it from extinction to distinction. Wine Spectator named Sting’s Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot blend amongst the top 100 Tuscan wines in 2016. One of his latest releases, named ‘Message in a Bottle’, has also been quite a hit.

    The Godfather director, Francis Ford Coppola, is said to have made more wines than movies as owner of several wineries including a superstar vineyard in Sonoma, California winery appropriately named ‘Francis Ford Coppola’. Meanwhile Star Wars director George Lucas bought ‘Skywalker Vineyard’ 20 years ago and is turning the Marin County wines into a real force.

    From Snoop Dog to Cliff Richard, Kurt Russell to Cameron Diaz, there seems to be no limit to the A-listers getting onto the wine list. Sports star aren’t missing out either. Golfer Ernie Els, NBA star Dwayne Wade, cricketer Sir Ian Botham and Superbowl-winning NFL quarterback Joe Montana have joined the team of vineyard owners.

    There’s no obvious single reason for buying a vineyard – and it’s not necessarily about making money. David Beckham bought a Napa Valley winery as a gift for his wife Victoria – yet they’ve been quite discreet about its name and exact whereabouts, shying away from using their high profile to generate sales. For Sam Neil, it’s truly a labour of love. “It’s the whole business of working with soil and with seasons that has greatly enriched my life.” The UK’s Decanter magazine described his Two Paddocks Pinot Noir as one of the top 50 “most exciting wines of the world”, while in the US, Wine Spectator Magazine scored it 95/100.

    Of course, celebrity appeal also helps with sales. Brad and Angelina’s release of 6,000 bottles of their rosé in 2012 sold out in just five hours. Kylie Minogue’s rosé sold 70,000 bottles in its first week, while total sales of her wine range have reached a million bottles in less than a year.

    You probably won’t see a well-known celebrity singer or actor getting involved with Lawson’s Dry Hills any time soon, although we did launch the Max – an exclusive pair of wines in collaboration with famous artist Max Gimblett last year. And of course we have our own superstar winemaker, Marcus, and his supporting cast!

    The Max wines

  • Natural wines, vegan wines, orange wines… what’s next?

    New Zealand’s wine industry has never been one to rest on tradition. Whilst learning in the early days came from the old-world producers of France, it’s the addition of kiwi practicality and innovation that has pushed the country’s wines into the limelight. We’ve also listened to the market in an effort to understand consumer direction and trends and have sometimes been surprised by what we found.

    Take the increasing move towards non-meat, vegetarian and vegan food choices. When you start seeing burgers without meat, chickenless chicken and ice-cream without cream, you realise this is more than a passing fad and perhaps not surprisingly, wine isn’t immune.

    Although wine is made from grapes, one or two other ingredients (albeit in tiny quantities) come into contact with the juice (or wine) to facilitate various processes. For example, after fermentation, wine is ‘fined’ to remove excessive tannins, sediment and dead yeast cells. Fining agents are traditionally egg white, skim milk or isinglass (fish bladders) which bond with the unwanted particles and sink to the bottom. Some time ago, chief winemaker for Lawson’s Dry Hills, Marcus started experimenting with plant proteins as an alternative to animal derivatives and for a few years now, all the white wines and most of the reds have been vegan-friendly. According to Marcus, “Fining softens tannins and more astringent elements known as ‘phenolics’, giving the wine a more supple mouthfeel, improved aroma and a cleaner, brighter appearance in the glass.”

    Another phenomenon you might be familiar with, is natural wines. This trend is not actually all that new, in fact it is simply reviving more traditional methods of winemaking which have been around for thousands of years.  First, the grapes are often grown organically or bio-dynamically – but not always. Then in the winery, things get interesting. Natural winemakers believe in minimal human or chemical intervention during the winemaking process and rely on just wild yeast for fermentation. As a result, fermentation takes much longer than when using cultured yeasts – months longer in fact.  There’s more skin contact which gives the whites more colour and they’re often more tannic.

    Marcus has experimented with small trial batches of Gewürztraminer and Pinot Gris in recent years. “I like natural wines, they’re quite interesting. They’re bone dry, because all the grape sugar turns to alcohol”. While it’s unlikely we’ll see natural wines from Lawson’s Dry Hills any time soon, in 2019 Marcus did make a small two-tonne batch of Sauvignon Blanc naturally, in an open top fermenter, which he says turned out rather well. “The result was very aromatic,” he recalls, so he blended it with some traditionally made Sauvignon Blanc and the result was quite stunning.

    Natural winemakers also believe in adding minimal if any sulphites – which requires more careful handling of the fruit in the winery as it is prone to oxidation. Some believe that these wines are healthier, especially for those who have an adverse reaction to excessive sulphur being added to stabilise the wine (although the number of people who truly have a problem with SO2 is incredibly small and in fact, 50g of dried apricots has five times as much sulphur than a glass of wine). But then there is another school of thought that natural wines are, indeed, faulty, especially due to the lack of SO2 to preserve freshness and flavour.

  • 30 Highlights

    Each day of December 2021 we celebrated our 30 vintages by posting a company highlight from the last three decades. From being the first winery to commit all our wines to screwcap back in 2001, to Tomi, the grape-munching mutt, there are lots of memorable moments! In case you missed them, you can see them all here.


  • 12 Days of Christmas by Belinda Jackson

    Fun to write a wine piece with this title! Why? Well, there are 12 bottles of wine in a case (or sometimes six, so you can just tape two together…)

    Until this very moment, and possibly linked to the fact that I did not have a religious upbringing, I thought the 12 Days of Christmas culminated in the 12th day being Christmas Day. Wrong. The first day of Christmas is apparently Christmas Day and the 12th is, well, 12 days later.

    Anyway – you can keep your various birds, leaping lords and maids-a-milking as I’d much prefer a dozen wines. Far less hassle and infinitely more enjoyable (although the five gold rings wouldn’t go amiss… have you seen the price of gold recently?)

    So, here goes…you know the tune….

    On the first day of Christmas, the glass I want the most

    Is a bubbles so we can drink a toast

    On the second day of Christmas, a rosé works a treat

    And pairs well with anything we eat

    On the third day of Christmas, I think a Gris is best

    It should pass the curried turkey test

    On the fourth day of Christmas, a Marlborough Savvy Blanc

    With seafood it is the perfect plonk

    On the fifth day of Christmas, a red will do the trick

    A ripe Pinot Noir would be my pick

    On the sixth day of Christmas, it’s Riesling that I crave

    Chilled, it’s perfect for in a heat wave!

    On the seventh day of Christmas, another Pinot Gris

    ‘Cos everyone enjoys it (not just me)!

    On the eighth day of Christmas, I want a statement wine

    A Gewurztraminer will suit me fine

    On the ninth day of Christmas, something a little sweet?

    A late Harvest Riesling’s such a treat!

    On the tenth day of Christmas, a ripe Hawke’s Bay Syrah

    With barbecues it really is on par

    On the eleventh day of Christmas, it’s Chardonnay for me

    It’s great with cheese especially French brie

    On the twelfth day of Christmas, I’ll take a Viognier

    Even though many find it hard to say

    So in summary – there is a wine for any occasion – Christmas or not! Wine is for sharing and enjoying with friends and family and of course, great food. Why not use the festive season to try out a few different styles?

  • 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.

    PINK Pinot

    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.

    Check out our recipes 

  • Five Must-Know Acronyms for Wine Lovers

    ABV  This is ‘alcohol by volume’ and is determined by the fermentation process. This is when yeast convert the natural grape sugars into alcohol. The amount of alcohol is dependent on the amount of sugar in the grapes, which in turn is determined by how ripe the grapes are. Riper grapes have more sugar!

    AOC  Appellation d’Origine Contrôllée is a set of standards that French wine must meet, to be granted AOC status. There are about 350 AOCs in France and these make up just over 50% of all wine produced. The standards cover which grapes can be grown in which geographical areas as well as yield, planting densities, production methods and minimum levels of alcohol.

    DOC/DOCG  This stands for Denominazione di Origine Controllata (e Garantita) which is the set of standards for Italian wines, similar to the French AOC system.

    AMW  Appellation Marlborough Wine is the assurance mark of Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc. It is a promise of origin, integrity, authenticity and sustainability that the wine-buying public of the world can see and trust. To qualify for the certification, wines must adhere to strict criteria including the grapes being 100% from Marlborough, grown by Sustainable Winegrowing New Zealand-certified vineyards from managed yields and be bottled in New Zealand.

    RS  RS stands for ‘residual sugar’ and is the amount of natural grape sugars left in the wine after fermentation and it is measured in grams per litre. If a wine is fermented to dryness, then there will be very little RS, usually less than 5g/l. A winemaker can also choose to stop the fermentation to make a sweeter wine – this would usually result in lower alcohol. Whilst New Zealand winemakers are not bound by rules for RS, European wines abide by the following:


    Amount of RS Labelling term
    Up to 4g/l Dry/Sec
    4g/l – 12g/l Medium dry/demi-sec
    12g/l – 45g/l Medium (Medium sweet)
    More than 45g/l Sweet/Doux

    For sparkling wines, the labelling terms are regulated as follows:

    Up to 3g/l Brut Nature
    Up to 6g/l Extra Brut
    Up to 1 g/l Brut
    12g/l–17g/l Extra Dry Extra Sec
    17g/l –32g/l Dry Sec
    32g/l –50g/l Demi-sec
    More than 50g/l Sweet/Doux


  • Five minutes with Donna




    Donna is a ray of sunshine in the office. Always a smile and a quip – her favourite one being ’You can’t rush progress!’ Supportive of everything and everyone, she is a great team player. When not working she loves family life with her husband and two sons.



    Lying on the beach or skiing down a mountain?  Gawd me on ski’s, dangerous for both my health and those on the mountain, as for lying on a beach, everyone would need rose coloured glasses for sure
    Cake or biscuits? You know I love sweet stuff, I’m a shocker.
    Beef or lamb? I can do justice to either, brought up on a farm I’m good with both.
    Rock or pop? I love music in general, country rock is always a fave.
    Football or rugby? Don’t tell my boys but I grew up playing rugby.
    Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc? Being versatile anything goes, although I do love our Reserve Chardonnay.
    Comedy or thriller? A good thriller as long as there is the mute button on the TV remote nearby, I’m a screamer otherwise.
    Jason Stratham or Daniel Craig? Do you need to even ask, Jason Stratham for sure.
    TV1 or TV3? I’m a TV1 fan.
    Late nights or early mornings? Pretty much both!
    Retro or contemporary? I’m not really sure, I think I’m more contemporary, but do like a little retro.

  • What goes into a bottle of wine?

    What goes into a bottle of wine? The numbers may surprise you!

    Have you ever thought about what goes into every bottle of wine you buy?

    Probably not, so we thought we’d crunch a few numbers for you. We all know that wine is made from grapes, but did you know it takes 600 – 800 individual grapes to make a single bottle? A typical Sauvignon Blanc vine in Marlborough is pruned to four fruiting canes and produces about 60 bunches of grapes (although Lawson’s Dry Hills Sauvignon Blanc is only grown on two or three canes which produce about 45 bunches). A Pinot Noir vine on the other hand, is usually pruned differently and produces fewer bunches, which partially explains why a good Pinot Noir is more expensive.

    Marlborough is responsible for 77% of New Zealand’s wine production, with 20,000 hectares planted in Sauvignon Blanc. In a typical Marlborough vineyard, 2,200 Sauvignon Blanc vines are planted per hectare and the yield can be up to 25 tonnes of grapes, although this is quite high and mainly applies to bulk producers. The majority of wineries producing top quality Sauvignon Blanc under their estate name would average closer to 12-15 tonnes per hectare, or less. In the Loire Valley, home to Sancerre, that other great Sauvignon Blanc region, has a minimum planting density of 6,100 vines per hectare. However, these are much more closely planted, are not irrigated and have much lower yields. One tonne of Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc produces about 740 litres of juice resulting in about 80 cases (12 x 750ml).

    Vineyards in Marlborough can sell for $300,000 plus per hectare. Yet a study commissioned by Wine Marlborough in 2019 revealed that land was fast running out, and that by 2025 there may be no additional land left for planting vineyards (some say we’ve hit that already).

    Grapes are just the beginning; many wines are fermented or matured in 224 litre, French oak barrels, which cost $1,450 – $1,500 each. With about 300 bottles in each barrel, that’s $5 per bottle – just for the oak! Most barrels are used for several seasons reducing that cost, however top reds and Chardonnays usually have a portion of new oak.

    And there’s more! Excise tax alone is $2.21 a bottle and then there’s the bottle, label and cap adding up to about another $1.20. Oh and GST…

    So if you’re buying a cheap bottle of wine, say $10-$12, you’re paying a much higher percentage for the packaging and tax, plus there’s the retailer margin, so not much left for the wine itself. Conclusion? Spending just a few dollars extra can give you a lot more quality in your glass.

    So next time you open a wine, raise a glass to the viticulturists, vineyard workers, winemakers, cellarhands, service providers, warehouse workers, truck drivers, marketers, salespeople, distributors and retailers, all of whose efforts are squeezed into the bottle! Cheers!

    Winery team (left to right): Nigel, Paddy, Mark, Margot, Angel, Luke, Bec, Marcus, Ocean, Matt


  • Five minutes with Marcus

    Marcus Wright




    Marcus is our Chief Winemaker. Usually in, on or under the water when not in the winery, he coaches underwater hockey and loves to fish and dive.




    Tea or coffee? Silly question
    Cereal or toast? Toast
    Fish or meat? Seafood of all kinds. Preferably harvested myself
    Veg or fruit? Both
    Burgundy or Bordeaux? Both, but if I had to choose it’s got to be Burgundy, both white and red
    Read or listen? OMG Both!
    Vinyl or CD? Vinyl
    Spontaneous or planned? Meticulously planned or very last minute depending.
    Late nights or early mornings? Pretty much both!
    Run or bike? I’m my happiest in the water so UWH/swimming/freediving

  • Five minutes with Bec

    Rebecca Wiffen




    Bec is our Assistant Winemaker and when she isn’t in the winery, she’s running around after her two young children or looking after things on her farm. She’s a busy lady with a passion for watching sport and organising the local Wine Options competition!



    Tea or coffee? Coffee in the morning, tea any time after 3pm – I like my sleep!
    Cats or dogs? Cats and dogs, I have two of each. My cats are both mixtures and my dogs are a Kelpie (with a, hopefully, mended snapped achilles) and a Beardy sheep dog – old and retired!
    Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc? Chardonnay!!!
    Shorts or pants? Shorts! Pants are for July, I say!
    Cake or muffins? Cake, the more chocolate the better
    Vegemite or Marmite? Vegemite (but I prefer boysenberry or raspberry jam!)
    Beef or lamb? Both, yum, home killed straight off the farm
    Gin or vodka? GIN!
    TV or Netflix? Happy to watch either but I do like a good series on Netflix. I seem to have lost the patience to wait for anything to be on TV!
    Book or a magazine? Magazine… The trashier the better!

  • Our response to responsible drinking

    Right now in New Zealand, we’re enjoying the perfect storm. The quality of NZ wine continues to improve, craft beers are on the rise, as are boutique spirits, so the industry is constantly in the media announcing the newest, latest and greatest alcoholic drinks. We’ve also emerged from a year of lockdowns in which many of us indulged more than usual and with increased availability through retail outlets and restaurants, and spending on luxuries to make up for not going overseas, are we at risk of enjoying too much of a good thing?

    At Lawson’s Dry Hills, as much as we’d love you to enjoy more of our handiwork, we’re staunch advocates of responsible drinking. The idea of drinking less but better quality, is one that we totally support, not least because we feel that it’s all about the experience. Enjoying something special using some really nice glasses can make for a far more memorable moment than chugging cheap stuff just for the sake of it. We’ve started using #enjoyinmoderation, in our social media as we believe responsible drinking is the right response, although it could be said ‘responsible’ is subjective.

    So, what exactly are the stipulated levels of responsible drinking today?

    The New Zealand Ministry of Health recommends no more than two standard drinks a day for women and three for men (that’s not sexist, it’s based on body mass index (BMI) differences and women tend to have less body mass than men). Those limits are debated around the world, with some countries suggesting up to 20 drinks a week are okay, however ten drinks a week is a widely regarded limit for most western countries. The Ministry also recommends having at least two alcohol-free days a week and to totally avoid alcohol when pregnant.

    A standard drink is 10ml of alcohol, but what exactly does that mean? If you look at the back label of a 750ml bottle of wine with around 13% alcohol, that means approximately 7.5 standard drinks. A 375 ml stubby of beer is around 1.5 standard drinks, while a 1-litre bottle of spirits contains around 37 standard drinks.

    And there is endless debate on even these ‘safe’ limits. A study released in 2018, in the highly respected medical journal ‘The Lancet’, showed the safe limit to be much lower. A survey across 19 countries showed less than 100 grams of alcohol, or ten standard drinks per week, to be the recommended safe limit.

    Then there’s the European view on responsible drinking given how much the French and Italians love their wine. The French diet has often been labeled ‘The French Paradox’ – being high in saturated fats, yet they usually enjoy a glass (or two) of wine, often red, with dinner. Numerous studies have shown that drinking a moderate amount of red wine is good for your health due to the antioxidants and ‘polyphenols’ which can help lower the risk of heart disease, especially from a diet high in saturated fats.

    Which brings us to another fundamental of responsible drinking – food and water. It’s a good idea to enjoy that glass of wine with food, not on an empty stomach. Alcohol is hard on the body and enjoying food at the same time not only lessens the likelihood of feeling drunk, but also helps the body to process the alcohol. And as alcohol dehydrates you, drinking plenty of water is also recommended. Bars and other places that serve alcohol are required by law to offer ready access to free water. And as we mentioned above, if you feel you would like to drink less, choose quality over quantity, and if you’re concerned about your waistline – it’s worth considering that one serve of alcohol is 150 calories (as a rough guide, that’s about 10% of the recommended daily calories for women, and about 8% for men).

    When it comes to driving or working, of course, no alcohol is the smart choice. Even a single glass of wine can impair your judgment, which is why alcohol should be avoided whenever you are going to be driving, heading to work, or undertaking anything that requires you to be on top of your game.

    So please, enjoy our wines and if you drink responsibly, perhaps even mindfully, you will enjoy the experience even more.

  • Five Things You should Know About Sauvignon Blanc

    • The world loves Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough, New Zealand – its big, powerful expression with passionfruit, citrus and fresh herb aromas and flavours make it unmissable!
    • France has two areas famous for Sauvignon Blanc – the Loire Valley with flinty, dry Sancerre and Pouilly Fume as well as some lesser known wines from Touraine, and Bordeaux in the south-west. Here it makes crisp, dry wines and yet it is also a component of Sauternes and Barsac – the great sweet wines (also made with Semillon and Muscadelle).
    • Sauvignon Blanc is great with seafood, but be careful not to overwhelm the gentle flavours of a fish dish with a big, fruity wine. Instead look for a more subtle style. The bigger, more fruit-driven styles are great with more flavoursome cuisine such as Thai green curry. Sauvignon Blanc is also great with sushi and goat’s cheese (among other things!)
    • Sauvignon Blanc has a number of styles – from fresh, dry and steely to highly aromatic and juicy. It is sometimes made using oak barrels too which give a richness and complexity to the wines.
    • Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Franc are the parents of Cabernet Sauvignon.


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