I’m hesitant to write about French wine — what is, in my eyes, the foundation for pretty much all wines. It has a bit of a celebrity status I suppose. One of the best ways to “unintimidate” myself is to focus on one specific region in reference to a few wines I’ve had opportunity to taste, putting this educational experience into context. So, please join me as we travel overseas to France’s Languedoc-Roussillon wine region.
Personally, I first learned about Picpoul from winemaker (and kindred spirit) Randall Grahm of Bonny Doon Vineyards. He told me that Picpoul literally translates “lip stinger” — and let’s just say that as a lover of lemons, limes, and all sour candies (remember Shockers?), I was immediately taken aback by the power and intensity of the light and lively wine this Santa Cruz winemaker had to offer. So I was more than delighted to dive right into a bottle from varietal’s namesake region, Picpoul-Pinet.
The Wairu Valley, another sub-region of New Zealand’s Marlborough wine country, is one the MacDonald family knows well, as their own little island of te Pa sits along the Wiaru Bar — where the Wairau River meets the sea. It’s a place the family has inhabited, land the family has cultivated, for the past 800 years.
Here, the land closest to the water is predominantly gravely riverbed soils, and the climate benefits from quite a bit of rainfall. Inland vineyards tend to be drier, and still cooler, and the soil quite stony, resulting in early-ripening grapes in some sites. The sub-region is known to produce fruit-forward wines. Of course that all depends on the vineyard and the vintner. te Pa Oke Sauvignon Blanc certainly takes a different approach.
The Maori have an expression for Marlborough: “Kei puta te Wairau,” or “The place with the hole in the cloud.” Indeed, it is one of the most sunny and warm-climates regions in New Zealand and, by no consequence, the country’s largest wine producing region with just about 5,000 acres planted to vines.
The larger Marlborough region is divided into three major sub-regions, and it is the Awatere Valley region, south of the Wairau Valley where te Pa has extended their vineyard property. This sub-region spans inland from the ocean and includes elevated areas as it reaches toward the Kaikoura mountain-scape. Here, with its cooler, drier climate and somewhat rocky terrain, the vines incur a lot of vigor, producing Pinot Noir with a noted strength of character. te Pa 2015 Pinot Noir is a beautiful expression of this New Zealand terroir.
Although New Zealand’s winemaking history dates back to the colonial days, during Brittain’s settlement and development of the area, it wasn’t until the 1960s and into the 1970s that New Zealand was put on the winemaking map. At this time there was an influx of New Zealanders traveling abroad to Europe, experiencing the wines and vines of that continent, and bringing home with them the knowledge and the passion to put their own “kiwi” twist on the Old World’s drink.
But it seems that it’s only within this new millennium, that the rest of the world has taken an interest in what this little pocket of terroir has to offer the wine industry.