Getting to grips with gruner veltliner


Six years ago Cooper's Creek produced New Zealand's first gruner veltliner (grooner felt- leener), an Austrian white wine which had recently caught on in the United States, where it became known as gru-vee.

The question was then, as it is now: Would it catch on or would it suffer the same fate as gewurztraminer and other varieties with names that are difficult to pronounce? Perhaps the best indicator of its popularity at this stage is the number of producers who have since taken a punt on gruner veltliner - about 20 at this stage, with plantings of fruit-bearing vines now covering a total of 36 hectares, most of them around Marlborough and Nelson. This is about the same as for arneis, the Italian white which Cooper's Creek first introduced in commercial quantities two years earlier than the gruner.

So it could be said that the Austrian is doing marginally better at this stage than arneis and some of the other new varieties which have been planted over the past few years.

But still not good enough to cause the excitement and interest generated by pinot gris, for instance. And there, it seems for the forseeable future, it is likely to remain.

Cooper's general manager Dave Nicholas reckons that the name, gruner veltliner, is definitely part of the problem. The other is that it's not the kind of wine that Kiwi white wine drinkers in general have come to like and expect.

For the moment he believes it remains one of those fascinating wines that people with an interest in wine seek out - one of those conversation starters which sometimes generate enough interest to drive development.

Which is why he is delighted to announce that Cooper's has just hooked up with an outfit that has a big reputation for getting wines into restaurants, where, thanks to sommeliers who know their stuff, wines like this get attention.

As gruner did when it first arrived in the United States. It became the darling of sommeliers then, as one American columnist noted recently, suffered consumer fatigue after too many trite references to "gru-vee" reduced it to a marketing fad.

Now, however, its adherents believe it should be ranked with the top white wines of the world as much because of its longevity as its quality; that it will take its place as a classic instead of "floating around in the constellation of things that are trendy" is how one of them puts it. He is talking, of course, about Austrian-made gruner, which he says can age as well as riesling, or even chardonnay, and therefore deserves to be ranked among the world's great whites.

Cooper's Creek winemaker Simon Nunns, who has championed the variety in this country, has no argument with that, though, like most Austrians, he prefers to drink it fresh.

The biggest concern, he says, is finding the most appropriate home for the variety (Coopers' gruner is grown in Gisborne) which he suspects is in the Nelson area, not in Marlborough, where the bulk of it is planted.

He believes that Marlborough gruners are too close to sauvignon blanc; that they are appealling to the Kiwi palate but are not truly representative of the wine you should expect.

This doesn't mean he's given up on the stuff. "You have to keep trying," he says.

"But the jury's still out."

Gruners to try:

Waimea 2012 Nelson Gruner Veltliner, $29
One of the best defined examples of this variety in the country. A richly scented and generous, almost unctuous mouthful of stonefruit, trademark white pepper and spice. Lives up to the variety's reputation as a good, all-purpose wine. Dry.

Seifried 2012 Nelson Gruner Veltliner, $25
If anyone should know how to make this wine it's Hermann Seifried, an Austrian by birth. And he does. Peaches and pepper on the nose with a body built around the stonefruit, tropicals, florals and just a hint of spice - and sweetness.

Coopers Creek 2011 The Groover Gisborne Gruner Veltliner, $24
A fresher style of gruner but still with trademark stone and white pepper characters. An easy-drinker which is about to be released.

The Southland Times