Tasting the future and honouring the past

If you were a visitor to Marlborough and the wine scene was a bit of a mystery, then a trip to the Brancott Estate Heritage Centre would be a great place to begin to sample the delights of the region.

Overlooking the vast Brancott estate, the heritage centre offers vistas as far as the south Wellington coast to the Richmond ranges and across to the Wither Hills. We were recently invited to a "vintage experience" at Brancott Estate and Peter took up the invitation on our behalf.

His visit was part of a varied day's activities which included a tour of Brancott Estate, sampling nearly ripe berries on the way, a visit to the Kaituna wetlands (formed by one of the many faultlines that traverse the Wairau Valley) and some hand-picking experience in the Woodbourne vineyard. Peter takes up the story . . .

This last activity provided some humour as we were issued with gloves and an extremely sharp pair of snips then instructed to fill a bin which held about 10 kilograms of grapes.

Being used to vineyard work, I applied myself diligently and easily beat the soft hands and inexperience of my Auckland colleagues to complete the task.

All the while we were aware of a large contingent of Vanuatuan pickers bearing down on us at a great rate of knots. Working in village groups, they pick about a tonne a day.

After this surprisingly physical and perhaps trying experience, lunch and refreshments were called for so it was back to the heritage centre.

It's probably about now that I would normally talk about the wine and food matches we were offered and while they were delightful, it was another aspect of the Pernod Ricard organisation that piqued my interest.

Pernod Ricard is the owner of what was originally Montana Wines. It has spent some time re-inventing the company, its wine brands, styles and the viticultural philosophies that underpin its products.

So while some of the day was spent looking back to the first plantings in the valley, it is the future that chief winemaker Patrick Materman and national viticulture manager Mike Insley have firmly set their sights on as we close in on the 40th anniversary of the first sauvignon blanc being produced in Marlborough.

This future includes new wine varieties and specialised sauvignon blanc crafted from carefully selected parcels of fruit, all backed up by serious research into thiols, crop loadings, wine making techniques, vine balance, clone choice and site selection.

It's not surprising that Marlborough finds itself at this juncture because, as the experiences of 2008 to 2012 proved, we have to work smarter to revitalise the industry.

Some would say that New Zealand's wine industry is dominated by a few large companies and that this can be detrimental to a vibrant boutique-medium size wine sector creating individual styles.

I am not so sure, for there can be no doubt that if a sea change is required then the clout a large multi-national can provide is essential.

And because of this I found myself tasting the future while contemplating the past. Suffice to say I was struck by the commitment to the future while honouring the past.

I wonder if our local industry is at a crossroads and it's time to strike out in a more nuanced direction.

Brancott Estate Special Reserve Marlborough Sauvignon Gris 2013

The aroma has floral intensity, stone fruit characters dominate while hints of pear and melon flesh out the detail. On the palate the textural nature of the wine comes to the fore coupled with intensely juicy, ripe pear and very ripe grapefruit flavours. Typical Marlborough grassiness and some herbal notes maintain the wine's balance. The moreish, soft acid finish is lovely and it's hard to resist a second glass.

A new wine from very young vines - if this is the future then we're in.

Brancott Estate Special Reserve Marlborough Fume Blanc 2013

Sauvignon blanc softened by oak; the complex aroma is slightly sweaty, savoury and prickly with sweet capsicum, ripe apple, vanilla and nectarine notes.

We enjoyed the soft texture and gentle peachy creaminess of this wine.

Juicy stone fruit and cream flavours combine with plenty of classic sauvignon blanc freshness.

A full bodied wine, rich. Lightly spicy with incredible depth and range of flavours. Enjoy with food.

Both wines will team up well with smoked or barbecued salmon.

The flavours found in the fume blanc will certainly be amplified by richer food.

Brancott Estate recommends hot smoked Marlborough salmon with radish, baby capers and preserved lemon.

The Marlborough Express