True pioneers and industry catalyst
DEBORAH WALTON-DERRY AND PETER MORICE
When wine writer Michael Cooper says there's something reassuring about Babich he gets it just right; this long-established wine company is reassuring – it has been around since 1916, remains family-owned and produces some excellent wines.
It all began in 1910 when Josip (Joe) Babich, left Dalmatia at age 14 to join his brothers in the Northland gumfields. It was here that he made his first wine in 1916. He grew the grapes, trod the bunches and sold it to the gum diggers from his own wine shop. There's something particularly courageous about a 20-year-old travelling to the other side of the world and establishing a business in this manner.
The writing was on the wall and it wasn't long before Joe moved to the Henderson Valley, buying 59 acres (24 hectares) and establishing a mixed business producing milk, vegetables, fruit and, of course, wine grapes. The rest is, as they say, history. By the time of Joe's death in 1983 he and his wife Mara had created a business that has sustained the family through three generations (so far) and has established itself as one of New Zealand's premier wine producers.
It's important to remember that the arrival of Joe and many other Dalmatian immigrants provided the catalyst for the modern wine industry. Well before Marlborough (now the engine room of the wine industry) was established by brothers Frank and Mate Yukich in 1973, these pioneers were producing fortified and table wines that supplied the growing city of Auckland and other New Zealand centres. Joe's grandson, David, is now the general manager of Babich and the company owns 53 hectares in Hawke's Bay, 134 in Marlborough and has also added the Rongopai Wine Company to its stable. Production statistics are impressive, with a total of 200,000 cases per year of which 90 per cent is exported, mostly to the United States.
Fortunately, two of their wines were also exported to us and we are privileged to review them here. We say privileged because the wines really sell themselves.
Irongate is interesting in itself – it sprang from an industrial wasteland that was home to a drag strip, military range and refuse dump before it became one of New Zealand's most famous wines. When Keith Stewart wrote the Irongate story he made the point that even now it has a 27 vintage pedigree behind it; the stony land that delivers Irongate's special elegance is hardly what one would expect.
Words like "bare, mean stones" and "ground so hard there was no dirt at all" reflect the visionary nature of people like Joe Babich.
Like some of New Zealand's other flagship wines, the Babich Irongate range is under the Diam cork closure which has proven successful in avoiding cork taint and is ideal for allowing a fine wine to age just as it should.
Babich Irongate Hawke's Bay Gimblett Gravels Chardonnay 2011 ($35)
Powerful stone-fruit and spicy oak aromas complement soft buttery notes. Here we have a fine balance between delicacy, depth and complexity.
The silky smooth palate delivers finely integrated oak and stone-fruit flavours, rich, ripe and balanced.
A concentrated, complex and rewarding wine – New Zealand wine royalty.
Babich Irongate Hawke's Bay Gimblett Gravels Cabernet Merlot Franc 2010 ($35)
Good-looking in the glass – a dark, opaque red tending to garnet on a black background.
The aroma is a concentrated and rewarding blend of plums, tobacco, pepper, tar and smoky oak. Savoury, perfumed and attractive.
Drying, savoury tannins combine with leather, ripe plums and lifted blackberry notes on the palate.
This deeply flavoured and complex wine is already displaying seamless integration.
Dried Christmas cake fruit characters lead out to a lighter berry-fruit finish.
One of the few wines where new world and old world styles merge with precision which, upon reflection, sums up the philosophy, history, people and values behind Babich Wines.
We make no bones about it; these are excellent, well-priced wines so make sure you try them.
Seresin Momo Marlborough Pinot Noir 2009 ($26.95)
Light brick red, clear, and showing a little age.
The sweet, gentle aroma of cherries is supported by white pepper, spice, light earthy notes. The palate is smooth and quite concentrated; cherries, spice, and woody flavours predominate in this warming wine. Great value.
Rockburn Central Otago Pinot Noir 2010 ($45)
Deep, dark red with soft plum, violet, and gentle oak notes in the aroma. We also detected a slight meatiness, raising expectations.
The palate is smooth and silky, full of juicy plum, almond, warm spice and rich chocolate notes.
- The Marlborough Express