On a fine and sunny mid-autumn day, Peter had the good fortune to be part of a Saint Clair field trip. I was away visiting family, so Peter tells the story ...
Marlborough is at its best in the autumn, the glorious colours of the turning leaves are made brighter by the blue of the skies. There's also a sense of relief as grapes ripen finally and the harvest is under way.
About 25 to 30 people, including retailers and wine reviewers, had gathered for Saint Clair's vineyard tour, a showcase of wines and vineyard sites.
A bus collected us from Neal and Judy Ibbotson's residence and did a couple of visits to the airport to meet the out-of-towners before the day really got under way.
Neal and Judy own Marlborough's largest family-owned wine company and, over the years, we've been invited to some very special events, allowing us to follow the growth and development of their brand. Saint Clair Family Estate has grown from a contract grape supplier to a category 1 (large winery) producing more than 4 million litres of wine, collecting numerous awards on the way.
The growth in volume is reflected in the change of winery facilities. In the early days, Saint Clair, along with many other young companies, used a contract winery, then a shared winery was established in Riverlands.
Eventually, there was a big push and the current stand-alone facility with its 350-tonnes-a-day processing capability was built in 2006.
The "family" in the company title is no hollow marketing ruse. Neal and Judy's children are now involved in various aspects of the business and it seems the next generation may make an appearance, if history repeats itself.
Back to our first stop, which was at John and Lynne Walsh's vineyard in New Renwick Rd, where we tasted gruner veltliner and viognier. The Walshes' fruit has made some weighty and much awarded gewurztraminer and riesling over the years.
A personal highlight of the day was sampling Saint Clair's Pioneer Block, Block 5 Bull Block Pinot Noir 2009, while actually in the Bull Block vineyard. This wine is made from fruit grown in a block originally planted in a pinot clone suitable for Lindauer sparkling wine.
The wine was no fruit bomb, but rather a perfectly balanced blend of spice, herbs and old fruit or raisins. It had some creamy characters and a delicious finish that wasn't too sweet.
Emma Jenkins, New Zealand's latest Master of Wine (MW), Belinda Jackson, Jo Burzynska and Yvonne Lorkin were among the better-known guests to whom I talked when we took a break for a delicious buffet lunch in the sunshine at Neal and Judy Ibbotson's home.
Lunch provided another highlight – the cheeseboard was fantastic, particularly the wheel of brie dripping with temptation, while some funky blue styles also demanded attention. These were a good match for the sticky wine on offer.
There really wasn't much time for chat during the day because the schedule was full. We visited five growers and tasted 32 wines. It was great fun, but exhausting because there was a lot of information, both sensory and spoken, to take on board.
There was only one aspect of the day that gave cause for indigestion – when Neal told us that for every tonne of grapes harvested, Saint Clair pays $2000 in excise tax to the government and about $1000 to the grower.
I sat there wondering why anyone bothers to go into business and tries to make a difference. It is little wonder people are becoming increasingly urbanised and prefer to take handouts. There's scant reward for doing your bit.
That gloomy observation aside, the lasting impression of the day was one of warmth and generosity of spirit. Despite the ongoing successes, it was palpably clear that the Saint Clair brand is first and foremost a family concern. Saint Clair Family Estate Pioneer Block, Bell Block 21, Sauvignon Blanc 2011 ($25.50) The soft, subdued tropical aroma is an appealing blend of grassiness, pineapple, blackcurrant and fig, with some prickly notes in the background. Soft and rounded, the smooth palate delivers gentle tingly acids and some delightful citrus flavour, gentle herbaceousness and melon to flesh out and broaden the palate. With its gentle, lingering finish, it is a charmer. Wild South Marlborough Chardonnay 2010 ($18.99)A soft, dusty, peaches and vanilla cream aroma is laced with gentle malo notes and a hint of ripe rock melon. The juicy palate is spicy, with light grapefruit and richer stonefruit flavours complemented by gentle creaminess and a clean apple-soda and citrus finish.
This is a good-value light-bodied, easy-drinking chardonnay.Cloudy Bay Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2011 ($29.90)The aroma is a powerful, lifted, tropical, prickly blend.
Commanding blackcurrant and gooseberry notes are backed by some gentle minerality. The palate is racy and generous.
We are talking classic Marlborough, with strident gooseberry, capsicum and nettle flavours teamed with some soft, tropical richness at finish.
The aftertaste is lingering and crisp.
A young wine with lots of class, it will become even better with age.
- The Marlborough Express