Vegan-friendly and full of character

Daniel and Ursula in the storeroom at the Nelson winery
Daniel and Ursula in the storeroom at the Nelson winery

"Nelson" and "interesting" – the two words go together, and never more so than in the Nelson wine scene.

Blackenbrook Vineyard currently leads the charge with the release of its vegan white wines.

For those unfamiliar with the vegan diet, it precludes the consumption of all meat, fish, poultry, dairy, egg and honey products. One of the challenges for a vegan wine buyer is the fining process, which commonly uses agents derived from egg white, fish bladder or milk.

Blackenbrook owners, Daniel and Ursula Schwarzenbach, were aware of a growing demand for vegan wines and this knowledge coupled with exacting standards made the move to vegan wine production a good choice.

At Blackenbrook, wine sediment is left to settle before gentle filtering. To date, the winery is one of barely 5 per cent of producers making vegan wine with accredited sustainable practices.

Blackenbrook is the realisation of a dream for Swiss-born Daniel Schwarzenbach, who arrived in New Zealand aged nine.

As an adult, his first career was as a medical chemist and microbiologist in new Zealand and in Britain. By the early 1990s, he had decided to return to New Zealand to study viticulture and winemaking at Lincoln University.

Driven to attain more hands-on experience, Daniel looked to Europe and worked for Austrian, German and Swiss producers.

One of those Swiss winemakers was Georg Fromm, whose Marlborough vineyards and winery produce excellent pinot noir and syrah.

Arguably the most influential winemaker Daniel met was Olivier Humbrecht, owner of Domaine Zind-Humbrecht, the highly regarded winery in Alsace.

"Olivier doesn't follow conventions," says Daniel. "He always tries to get back to the basic principles of grape-growing and winemaking. Questioning every step of vineyard practice and winemaking, he looks for the sense of each procedure."

Olivier's open sharing of his vast knowledge proved immensely valuable, "He believes it's the terroir that makes his wines so outstanding, unique and unable to be copied."

While Daniel was learning about European winemaking he met his wife, Ursula, in Switzerland. That was in 1996, and by 1998 the couple had moved to Nelson and begun a search for land. It took two years before they found the ideal block – 20 hectares on the coastal highway. In the interim, Daniel worked as chief winemaker at Seifried Estate.

Blackenbrook was established in 2000. That winter the couple grafted their own vines to plant the first four hectares of sauvignon blanc, chardonnay, pinot gris and pinot noir the following winter.

Since then they have added riesling, gewurztraminer, muscat and montepulciano into the mix.

Today, Daniel works in the vineyard or winery, while Ursula juggles caring for their two young children, Thomas and Isabelle, with sales, marketing, administration and finances.

This hands-on family vineyard is one we classify as truly boutique – it has its own gravity-fed winery on site and all the decisions are made by the Schwarzenbachs, so they have complete control over the wine quality.

The relatively small 600-square-metre winery has a 150-tonne capacity, but it is processing only about half that amount, leaving room for expansion.

For those with sulphur intolerance, Daniel has more good news. "Because all our fruit is hand-picked and hand-selected, we can miss out two steps – destemming and pumping the must. That minimises oxidation and we can cut out one sulphur addition."

Blackenbrook vineyard still has bare land to expand production, but the couple's aim is to remain reasonably small so they can be true to themselves.

"We want to stay physically in control and put our own stamp on every bottle of Blackenbrook wine."

We think these wines have tonnes of character and, as such, will provide plenty of drinking pleasure.

Blackenbrook Nelson Gewurztraminer 2008 ($26)

Gentle rose petal and Turkish delight notes combine with mineral and richer marmalade citrus, creating a gentle yet complex aroma.

The palate is rich and smoothly textured, with some undeniably juicy pear and melon flavours.

Spicy, fragrant with underlying crispness, this wine is obviously a gewurztraminer, but there is something in its complexity that makes it stylistically different.

Delicate, but with plenty of body, it is a very enjoyable wine.

Blackenbrook Nelson Muscat 2010 ($23)

This is the first commercially produced muscat in the South Island. Its aroma is delicate, perfumed and fruity, with tropical and ripe citrus notes.

The palate has refreshing tingly acids, while the lightly perfumed, musky aromatics sit well with juicy sweet white sultana, mandarin and spice flavours.

Light bodied, this muscat is off dry and lip-smacking.

The spicy, fruity length and finish don't linger long as an aftertaste, but that is of little consequence. This is, quite simply a delicious wine.


The Marlborough Express