• 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.

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  • 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!

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  • 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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  • Wedding Testimonial

    “We recently celebrated our wedding day in Blenheim, Marlborough in January 2017.  Our ceremony and reception were held at our family home.  As many of our guests were travelling from out of town and overseas, it was important for us to share with them a selection of our favourite local Marlborough wines.  These were also chosen to complement our gourmet locally produced menu. Lawson’s Dry Hills were extremely helpful from planning our selections to delivery.  The 2016 Sauvignon Blanc was a particular favourite with our guests.  We wouldn’t hesitate to recommend
    Lawson’s Dry Hills for your special day.” 

    Thérèse and Chris Phillips

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  • Wines for Weddings

    “Yikes! The wedding is coming up and we haven’t sorted the wine! How do we know how much and what type to get? How much will it cost? Where do we buy it?”

    For many, buying wine can be pretty daunting at the best of times, let alone when it’s for a special event like a wedding. How do you know what everyone likes? Other than Great Aunt Mary’s penchant for sweet sherry, it’s impossible to know.

    For many couples, the wine for their wedding is determined by the venue. Many venues have their own supply and so the most you have to do is select the type of wine you’d like when selecting the menu. Some will allow you to supply your own choice of wine but there will be a ‘corkage’ fee (this covers the cost of providing glasses, serving the wine, disposing of the bottles etc).

    But, if you are holding the wedding at someone’s home or other location, then you have the freedom to choose whatever you want. While to some this may be daunting, to others it means choosing wines you know everyone will enjoy on your special day.

    Buying wines from a retailer is a good idea as they can advise you across a wide range. You might choose a number of different brands rather than everything from one producer. For example, you might love a Sauvignon Blanc from one winemaker but prefer the Pinot Noir from another. A retailer may be able to hire you the glasses too, if you need them.

    The other alternative is to purchase direct from a winery. You can still choose which wines from which wineries of course, or you can go to one and buy all the styles you need. A clear benefit of buying from a local winery is that there’s every chance you can pop in and try the range so you can make your final selections with complete confidence (can you see where I’m headed here…?)

    Yep, we at Lawson’s Dry Hills would be delighted to supply wines for your wedding. We can offer a wide range including our Estate and Reserve wines, our limited quantity Pioneer wines and our very special single vineyard offering, Blind River. In fact, you can choose across the ranges – for example you might fall in love with the Pioneer Pinot Noir and like just a few bottles, while preferring to select the Lawson’s Dry Hills Pinot Noir for the more volume requirements. And what’s more our smart presentation truly looks the part.

    Call or visit and we can arrange a tasting for you. We can advise which wines styles will pair well with your chosen menu and we can help calculate quantities. We’ll also arrange delivery (free of charge) if you’d like us to.

    So, take the stress out of wedding wine and call us on 03 578 7674 or pop in and see us at our newly refurbished cellar door, 238 Alabama Road, Blenheim 7242.

    P.S. Sorry, we don’t do sherry….

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  • 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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