Tohu Wines carves place in US market

Staying at one of the smartest spas in the United States is one thing, but affording the wines that it serves is quite another.

Hence my excursion from the red rock canyon, in which the resort is hidden, into nearby Sedona, Arizona, a centre of the New Age movement and at one time a sort of Hollywood of the West.

My first and only stop was at the Safeway Supermarket on Highway 89A and my mission was to find some drinkable wine I could afford.

Bingo, or whatever it is they say in red dirt country. Right inside the door was a stack of the stuff, all of it on special, including a range with labels that matched the logo on the shirt I just happened to be wearing - that of Tohu, in Marlborough.

To say I was surprised is an understatement, given the amount of New Zealand wine you see, or used to see, in places like this off the beaten track in the US.

I should not have been surprised.

Tohu Wines, our first Maori wine company, was conceived in the late 1990s by its founders, the Ngti Rarua Atiawa Iwi Trust (Motueka), Wakatu Incorporation (Nelson-Marlborough) and the Wi Pere Trust, (based in Gisborne) as a means of exporting Mori culture to the world by placing it on the tables of the world's finest restaurants. And of making money in the process.

One of the target markets was the US and the bloke who zeroed in on it was the founding chief executive James Wheeler, a go-getter who I knew as a kid and admired for his enthusiasm and his style.

The rest is history. Within five years Tohu was among the top 30 producers (by volume) in the country and is now part of a much bigger organisation, which combines Tohu and Wakatu's other wine, horticulture and seafood interests under the Kono banner.

The arrangement has already seen the introduction of the Kono label and now Aronui, a range of single vineyard wines from the Nelson area.

The name is inspired by the Maori mythological basket of knowledge associated with arts and crafts, and working with the land.

And the logo continues the distinctly Maori theme combining the kowhaiwhai patterns associated with the painting of traditional Maori meeting houses, within a motif representing the rolling hills of the Moutere Valley with the rising sun (the O in Aronui) above.

Two of the first four wines to be released were grown in the Whenua Matua (Significant Land ) in the Upper Moutere, the others at Brightwater.

Included in the launch are a sauvignon blanc, pinot gris, pinot noir and chardonnay, with a rose to follow, and next year a gruner veltliner and an Albarino.

Other wines that reflect their producers' Maori heritage and are also well worth seeking out are the Tiki and Maui brands and Te Pa, which launched a couple of years ago with a stunning sauvignon blanc.

The new Kono selection:

Kono 2012 Nelson Sauvignon Blanc, $21.95
A sauvignon that spares the sinuses, but still has a distinctly herbal streak entwined with the pip and passionfruit.

The bonus is the texture, which adds the weight and elegance to this very drinkable model of our favourite white wine.

Kono 2012 Single Vineyard Pinot Gris, $21.95
This is a pinot gris with attitude, plenty of pears and spicy apple pie to go with them - on the nose anyway.

The tropical fruit kicks in a little later as this weighty pear-driven wine glides effortlessly across the palate to finish with just a hint of sweetness.

Kono 2011 Nelson Chardonnay, $24.95
This is a wine that should appeal to those among us who mourn the loss, completely in some cases, of some of the characters associated with chardonnay.

Citrus and stonefruit with toast and nuts and creamy butterscotch lending support.

Kono 2011 Nelson Pinot Noir, $27.95
This pinot off the clay in the Upper Moutere is no shrinking violet, but one that overflows with blackberries and cherry, massaged with toasty, spicy oak.

A well-priced choice for the cellar.

The Southland Times