An exclusive club
By Jo Burzynska, http://www.nzherald.co.nz/wine/news/article.cfm?c_id=365&objectid=10631595
A clutch of somewhat atypical winegrowers have clubbed together to promote their wines. Each is a rare breed, in specialising in just one grape variety or style. But perhaps the group's most surprising feature is that they don't make a single sauvignon between them.
This assemblage of high-end producers formed The Specialist Winegrowers of New Zealand (TSWNZ) this year, with a launch planned for May. Its impressive lineup of Destiny Bay, The Hay Paddock, Vinoptima, No1 Family Estate and Wooing Tree makes bubbles to Bordeaux blends and stretches from Waiheke Island to Central Otago.
"We've put all our eggs in one basket - we're crazy artists!" enthuses TSWNZ's Mike Spratt of Destiny Bay. "It's risky, but we feel that in order to make something unique and special, it doesn't permit our attention from straying - all of it goes into that one product." However, he adds: "This alliance is valuable in presenting ourselves collectively."
As well as their specialisation, TSWNZ's members are united by the fact that they're all small producers striving to make the best of their chosen style and are consequently working at the premium end of the market. "We had each come to the conclusion that focus and commitment to a single variety or style would lead us to our goals of making the finest possible wine," comments Vinoptima's Nick Nobilo.
What we didn't realise was how few of us had chosen that path."
The uniqueness of the group has already caused something of a stir both at home and abroad.
"We've been taken aback by the level of interest in the story," says Spratt. "It shows that what we're doing is of interest and that New Zealand is not just a big sauvignon blanc factory."
The group is keen to distance itself from the mainstream sauvignon that Spratt says has "typecast" the industry and now dominates the country's markets. Sauvignon now accounts for over 80 per cent of our total exports, and an even higher proportion to a market such as Britain, a figure described as "horrific" by Patrick McGrath of prominent British distributor, Hatch Mansfield.
Addressing delegates at the Pinot Noir 2010 conference held in Wellington last month, McGrath warned: "New Zealand has to diversify away from its over-reliance on sauvignon blanc," stating that there were amazing opportunities for varieties such as pinot noir, pinot gris and syrah.
So would TSWNZ consider allowing a sauvignon blanc producer into their fold? They're open to inviting other producers to join them but Spratt says: "We haven't got a sauvignon blanc producer as we haven't found one specialising in top sauvignon blanc."
It's a telling situation about the positioning of much NZ sauvignon blanc and worrying if the country is meant to be building its reputation as a premium producer.
However, for TSWNZ, spreading the gospel is one of its main aims. "Every place we succeed collectively helps to reinforce the perception of New Zealand as more than just a producer of sauvignon blanc," says Spratt. "The world knows New Zealand as a one-trick pony, but it's anything but true. The artisan producers just haven't spoken, and that's what we're trying to do."
A specialist selection
Harvest Man Waiheke Island Syrah 2007
This second label wine from syrah specialists The Hay Paddock is attractively supple and savoury, with a soft juicy palate of black plums seasoned with black pepper and roasted spice. (From Hillcrest Fine Wines, Scenic Cellars, Hauraki Corner Cellars, Waiheke Wine Centre, Liquorland, Newmarket and Parnell, The Village Winery, La Vino, Bacchus, Miller & Co.)
Wooing Tree Central Otago Pinot Noir 2008
Wooing Tree make pinot in many forms, from a rare white version through to rose and this classic red incarnation. It's seductively silky with rich and tangy cherry and plum fruit underpinned by complex notes of mineral and savoury spice. (From Caro's, Herne Bay Cellars, Milford Cellars, Millar & Co, Scenic Cellars, The Village Wine Trader, The Merchant of Taupo.)
No 1 Family Estate Cuvee Remy 2007
No 1 Family Estate's Daniel Le Brun made this stylish new pinot noir-dominant cuvee in honour son Remy's 21st birthday. It combines zesty notes of citrus, green apple and mineral water with weightier notes of yeast, vanilla and nut. (Upper North Island stockists are Fine Wine Delivery Company, Artisan Fine Wines and Glengarry.)
By Jo Burzynska