Ferment, April 2008

There has been much discussion recently about the merits and motivation of those wineries submitting multiple single vineyard (or similar) bottlings to wine shows with the implication being that they are merely chasing medals (which is a bit disingenuous really as surely this is the very raison d’être of wine shows?).  However, there is a more interesting topic at the heart of this, which is the first tentative step towards the establishment and celebration of terroir in New Zealand.  Whether of course fifty different Sauvignon Blanc from one vineyard are actually an illustration of this is a moot point – Clos de Vougeot in Marlborough perhaps?  Nonetheless, the recognition of the effects of site on grapes and its expression in the resulting wine is at the heart of fine wine production and something the country must embrace if it is ever to cement a reputation for quality and longevity in matters vinous.  It would be a sign of growing maturity to see producers taking the serious step of matching their varieties to their sites and creating wines that express these; and would make a nice change from yet another Pinot Gris or Rosé made solely to cash in on the current fashion, without thought to whether the variety or style actually suited to the producer’s particular terroir.  With the recent moves towards legally establishing defined geographical wine regions along the lines of French appellation laws (though without their legal restrictions on viticulture and winemaking) this should be a natural progression for the industry. It would be heartening to see intelligent debate about this bourgeoning and potentially important trend that is more than just snippy comments about gold medal hunting…

Hihi Wines of Gisborne is perhaps not a producer that trips off the lips of fashionable wine drinkers, or critics for that matter, but I was struck by the likeability of both the wines and owner Andrew Nimmo when reviewing them for this month’s IWM.  The wines are unlikely to be seen receiving rave reviews in The Wine Spectator but they are a pretty agreeable and drinkable range as a whole and there is certainly something very appealing about the winemaker saying that he doesn’t charge too much for his wines as he wants people to drink them. Nimmo says that his express intention in choosing the varieties and styles that he makes (and let’s face it, the Chardonnay Gewurztraminer combo in the 2007 Sweet As isn’t exactly a commonly seen concoction) is that is what his customers tell him they want to drink. Proof of the pudding is that his wines sell out (admittedly off a small production volume) but it is refreshing indeed to meet a winemaker without pretence and who remembers that he is actually making wines for people to drink.

One has to wonder about how seriously wine writing is taken in New Zealand when one of the country’s major broadsheet’s wine-writer delivers an enthusiastic review about a delicious new rosé and bemoans the fact that the style struggles to be taken seriously. With rather unfortunate irony the paper for which he writes neatly illustrates the point by failing to put the accent in the ‘e’ in rosé, instead leaving one with the slightly sneaking suspicion that one is reading the gardening column, not the wine one. 

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