Perhaps I was getting too lazy and missed all of the good things going on in New Zealand wine growing regions. Yes, I’ve tasted many of the country’s top wines over the last two decades, but I did not absorb what I do now. This year is different. I was in New Zealand as a guest international judge in the Marlborough Wine Show; from second I arrived in Auckland and then onto Blenheim, the itinerary would be nonstop.
Marcus Pickens, General Manager of Wine Marlborough, designed an immersion program that few could survive… but in the end, it was the best thing to do for an over-trained, parochial California and Old World wine guy. I was in for the education of a lifetime. “Kia Ora, Wilfred.”
Our adventure started with a regional tour of the Awatere Valley, Southern Valley and Wairau Plains- three very distinct viticultural regions. A stop at Giesen, and a chance to taste some of the world’s most remarkable wines, proved memorable. Then a tour of Yealands Estate and its 2,400 acres of prime viticultural land was also awesome. It is the country’s single largest vineyard under private ownership. The visuals were simply magnificent. Wine Marlborough then put me through the paces with a speed tasting with seven wineries (Hunters, Highfield TerraVin, Framingham, Clos Henri, Greywacke, Forrest Estate and Spy Valley). It turned out to be a great learning experience. And to think, all of this happened before the actual wine judging!
Finally, I met my colleague wine judges, and turns out, I was the only judge from the United States. At the conclusion of the competition, can you imagine this? Marcus had planned more winery visits for this US boy; my visits to Astrolabe, Brancott, Staete Landt, Dog Point and Nautilus were so worth it, perhaps the most fun at any winery on any continent. By this time my Marlborough education was complete. I learned that I oversimplified my understanding of the area. After short air travel to Christchurch and Queenstown, I landed in Central Otago. I was promptly greeted with more than 50 Central Otago wines to be tasted and discussed. As I tasted through the wines, I quickly realized that Central Otago was not just about Pinot Noir. While it is the most notable varietal here, Rieslings, Sauvignon Blancs, Pinot Gris and sparkling wines are making their voices heard loud and clear. After that marathon tasting, I visited…yes, more wineries. Peregrine, Felton Road and Quartz Reef continued my re-education.
What did I learn from all of this? There is a lot of superior and unique wines produced from different parts of New Zealand. As imbibers of international wines, we can no longer put this country in the one trick pony Sauvignon Blanc page. Time is passing us by, if we don’t wake up to New Zealand and a new way of thinking.