After growing up working on the Corban family’s vines in West Auckland in the 1950s, Warren Moran became a professor of geography at the University of Auckland and an international expert on the role of terroir in the wines of Burgundy and New Zealand.
In his upcoming book (New Zealand Wine: The Land, the Vines, the People) he provides an unrivalled introduction to New Zealand wine: the climate, soils and geography our winemakers work with; the grape varieties they have tried to tame; and the personalities, families and companies who have made the wine and the industry.
Here, Moran takes us around New Zealand through five wineries.
Kumeu River Wines
Mate Brajkovich came from Croatia with his parents in 1938, learned to make wine with the Soljan family, and then built up what became Kumeu River Wines. Now run by Mate’s son Michael, Kumeu River Wines produces widely acclaimed Chardonnays as well as Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir.
Paying little heed to the hype suggesting that Central Otago’s winter chill and long and dry ripening period gives special qualities to that region’s Pinot Noir, Michael Brajkovich’s philosophy, influenced by his French experience (at Pétrus, the prestigious chateau in the Bordeaux region), is that great wines are made from understanding the land where you find yourself growing vines and matching the varieties to it. He had already done this with Chardonnay. Now it was the turn of the other Burgundian variety, Pinot Noir, and a white from Alsace, Pinot Gris.
Established in 1979, former Cloudy Bay viticulturalist Ivan Sutherland’s Dog Point was one of the early vineyards to be established on the ridges separating the Southern Valleys off the Wairau Plains. Shortage of easier land partly necessitated this move to the hills, but experienced growers like Sutherland argue convincingly that the hills – with more solar radiation, better cool-air drainage, and more moisture retained in the clay loams – may grow better, or at the least different, grapes and wine – especially, in his opinion, Pinot Noir. Dog Point has become one of a handful of New Zealand wine producers with strong international recognition of its brand and sells 90 per cent of its wine offshore.
Nick Nobilo grew up in West Auckland, a second-generation Dalmatian winemaker and a promising rugby player. His father Nicola gave him clear options: “You play-a the rugby or you make-a the wine, not both!” Nick chose the wine. During the 1970s, Nick made outstanding Pinot Noir in the family business in Huapai.
Then, when the corporates bought Nobilo Wines in 2000, he created a boutique, single variety winery and christened it Vinoptima. He chose the region, Gisborne, the variety Gewürztraminer, and the site on the Makaraka heavy silt-loam and the Makauri clay-loam east of Ormond. Nick’s deep knowledge of the place and the vine enables him to achieve his goal, ‘producing the world’s best Gewürztraminer’.
CJ Pask Winery
Chris Pask entered winegrowing in a quite different way to Nick Nobilo. As a topdressing pilot running his own company he knew the nooks and crannies of Hawke’s Bay’s land well, almost as well as the landowners.
Beginning in 1971, he used this knowledge to buy land for grapes – first on the heavier soils around Korokipo Road and then on the riverbed country that came to be called the Gimblett Gravels. ‘You don’t get such big berries as you do on the heavy clay land, thank God, so the wine quality is very good,’ Chris says. The Pask winery and the Gimblett Gravels are now renowned internationally.
New Zealand is at the coolest extremes for growing the vine, and nowhere is cooler than the Bendigo region of Central Otago. In 1996, Rudi Bauer – a vigneron with deep experience in Austria and Germany as well as at Mission, Rippon and Giesen vineyards in New Zealand – visited John and Heather Perriam to discuss the possibility of planting grapes on their Bendigo Station.
“He was looking at the Loop Road,” recounts John Perriam. “I told him to bugger off because I was running around the world at that stage setting up Merino New Zealand.” But Perriam relented and Bauer has established a highly successful vineyard in Central with two strings to its bow – Pinot Noir backed by a Méthode Traditionnelle developed in a partnership with Clotilde Chauvet of Champagne.
NEW ZEALAND WINE: THE LAND, THE VINES, THE PEOPLE
By Warren Moran
Auckland University Press,
Available from 7 November 2016, $70