On September 25, 1819, the Reverend Samuel Marsden, chaplain to New South Wales in Australia, planted a grape vine in the soils of Stone Store, KeriKeri in the Bay of Islands at the top of New Zealand’s North Island. This date is considered the birth of New Zealand viticulture, though Marsden didn’t initially get very far: he planted hundreds of different varietals, and hungry goats make short work of every last one. His journal observations have proven more durable:  “New Zealand promises to be very favorable to the vine”, Marsden wrote; “should the vine succeed, it will prove of vast importance in this part of the globe." 

     This prediction was, if anything, too provincial; today New Zealand is arguably the wine world’s greatest recent success story. In 1990, there were 130 wineries in the country; today there are 670, making 2.85 million hectoliters of wine per year,  90% of which is exported. You are no doubt familiar with the local take on Sauvignon Blanc, a staple of grocery store shelves worldwide. Prized or avoided for its highly distinctive gooseberry-and-grass flavor profiles, it constitutes 70% of total production (and an incredible 85% of exports.) 

     But that is a fairly recent phenomenon - the first Sauvignon Blanc vines were planted in the  1970s. The New Zealand wine scene is capacious, unique and diverse enough to shepherd more than one flock. There are ten major wine regions in New Zealand, equally divided among the country’s two islands, each featuring its own distinctive terroir. Most of them on the eastern coast in the rain shadow of the mountains, with no vineyard more than 120km from the ocean. Kiwi winemakers have wide latitude to employ a range of techniques - irrigation, chaptalisation, acidification, deacidification -  to address their extremely variable climates, but with a clear national emphasis on sustainability: 98% of the wineries in the country are so certified. New Zealand is also the pioneer in replacing cork with screw-cap bottle closures to eliminate cork taint; 90% of all wine from New Zealand is now sealed by screw-caps, including our two selections this month. 

The red is a Syrah from the Te Mata estate, in Hawkes Bay, on the North Island, which dates back in 1854, making it one of the oldest wineries in New Zealand. The white is a Pinot Gris from Loveblock in Marlborough, est. 2004, though it is the passion project of the first couple of Kiwi wine: Kim and Erica Crawford. Having  sold their iconic label to Constellations Brands, Erica located a relatively untamed and obscure plot of land, and asked her husband, “the best winemaker I know” to farm it.  


PlumpJack Wine Team 

Loveblock Marlborough Pinot Gris 2021

Region / Country of Origin: Awatere Valley, Marlborough, NZ

About the winery: “The grapes come from our family-owned Loveblock Farm in Lower Dashwood and were sourced entirely from our certified organic Triangle vineyard. Here on the valley floor, the vineyard soils are aged alluvial loams containing some silt loam over stone. Organic management decreases the vigour of the vines, reducing berry size and hence overall yields. The grapes were harvested in late March yielding nine tonnes per hectare. 

About the winemaking: In making a dry style of Pinot Gris, we have to manage the vine to give physiological ripeness at low Brix, so that the wine is not overly alcoholic. Organic management does this for us, with the competition from the wild flowers and grasses forcing the vine to struggle. Once the grapes were deemed ripe, the fruit was machine harvested and membrane pressed immediately (no preservatives were added in the field to reduce the grape phenolics). The juice was then floated and inoculated with certified organic Saccharomyces cerevisiae yeast in stainless steel tank. At 8 Brix, 10% of the juice was fermented in neutral French oak barrels and another 10% was transferred to a concrete egg for fermentation. These portions underwent malolactic fermentation to add complexity and mouthfeel to the finished wine. The wine was stabilized and bottled in October 2021. Certified organic.”

Tasting Notes:  Color: Pale with golden touches. Aroma: Elegant aromas of rockmelon yield to layers of chamomile and citrus. Palate: Beautiful prosciutto-wrapped melon, Nashi pear and fruit notes are underscored with lingering texture, mouthfeel and linear acidity. The palate is complex, finishing with hints of wet stone minerality.

Winemaker: Kim Crawford

Price: $26.99 btl/ $291.50 case

Suggested Food Pairing:

 A wine to enjoy with delicate Asian flavors, seafood of all sorts or just simply by itself.

Te Mata Estate Syrah 2021

Region / Country of Origin: Hawkes Bay, New Zealand 

About the winery: Te Mata Estate was originally part of Te Mata Station, a large pastoral land-holding established by English immigrant, John Chambers, in 1854. A homestead and stables were built on the property in the early 1870’s.

After returning from France, John Chamber’s third son, Bernard, had the idea to plant vineyards on the north-facing hills around Havelock North. In 1892, Bernard Chambers planted vines on three parcels of hillside land above the homestead and began converting the original stables to ferment and mature these first Te Mata Estate Wines. Today, Te Mata Estate still uses those same three vineyards.

The Chambers family sold the property in 1919. Te Mata Vineyards (TMV) was established and the property had two other owners until it was acquired by the Buck and Morris families in 1974 – the two families behind the modern interpretation of this historic New Zealand estate.

About the winemaking: Hawke’s Bay is a very special place for making wine. Its range of slopes, plains and climatic differences, coupled with low humidity and ample ultra-violet light, give winemakers a comprehensive toolkit to showcase their skills. Soils are young and derived from the gravels, silt and sands left behind as the three main rivers of Hawke’s Bay changed course over thousands of years.

Tasting Notes: Dark and brooding in the glass, Estate Syrah ’21 is ink-black with a vivid magenta edge. The lifted aromatics of concentrated raspberry and crushed violets quickly become layer upon layer of exotic spices, fruit cake, pancetta, vanilla, and cocoa running the length of this wine’s luscious palate. 

Winemaker: Phil Brodie 

Price:  $26.99 btl/$291.50 case

Suggested Food Pairing: 

Venison Steaks with a Chilli Plum Sauce or Spicy Beef Koftas.

 Syrah is also a great match for sausage, ribs, grilled lamb and rib-eye steak – meaning a tasty New Zealand syrah is a must-have for backyard dinners from the BBQ.

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