It’s New Zealand’s success with Sauvignon Blanc that really gave the tiny country it’s winemaking “gravitas.” Nearly 70% of New Zealand’s vines are planted to the white grape, totaling about 200,000 tons harvested each year. And the Wairau Valley in Marlborough, home to Wairau River’s estate vineyards is no exception. “Its a very popular wine here – our number wine is Sauvignon Blanc followed by Pinot Gris and Rose,” says Lindsay from Wairau River. Let’s find out why…
This week I’m showcasing the “perfect pairings” or “great wine couples.” For California wine lovers, we know that, oftentimes (though not all the time), if a winemaker finds a great region for Pinot Noir, they’ve also found a place to source Chardonnay — and vice versa. Despite the great wine grape diversity in our Golden State, it seems that these two varieties are the most popular and tend to go hand-in-hand. But when it comes to New Zealand, the great white grape is, without a doubt, Sauvignon Blanc. And so it is with this varietal that we will take our romantic journey to the kiwi isles.
A few months ago I did a story for the paper featuring the under-appreciated Lake County. For much of its grape-growing history, this not-so-little wine region simply sold off its produce to its well-known neighbors, Napa and Sonoma Counties. But just within the last few years, there’s been somewhat of a boom in Lake County boutique wineries. The land here is more affordable — as are the grapes; the terroir and climate markedly different; and the people — well you’ll have to visit yourself to experience just how open and inviting they are to the few tourists who, admittedly, just seem to drive through on their way to Clear Lake camping.
One such pop-up is Gregory Graham, who’s probably best known for his years as head winemaker for Rombauer. Though he calls his decision to establish his vineyard and winery in Lake County “a lark” (indeed, he was one of the many who only visited Lake County on his way toward somewhere else), he now enjoys the land’s volcanic, rocky soils and Mediterranean-dry climate. Perfect conditions for growing one of the county’s heritage grapes, Sauvignon Blanc.
Speaking with Bill, Andy, and David — the trio behind Ammunition Wine — one thing became immediately clear to me: Their main goal is to produce focused, refined, small-batch wines — for the average punter. “Wine doesn’t have to be a luxury item,” says David Dees, Director of Sales for Ammunition Wine. Beyond an affordable price point, what Dees means, and what Whal (head winemaker) produces, are approachable wines of notable quality that any wine lover — whether novice or expert — will enjoy. Not just for special occasions, not only in front of your wine-snobby friends, but on any day of the week during any time of day — as long as the mood suits you.
I want to put New Zealand on the map as New World wines to watch. Previous to engaging with te Pa, I was sorely mistaken about the wines produced in this tiny country. Like many, I lumped NZ wines with neighboring Australian wines; like many, I assumed that overly fruit-forward white wines without body or texture were the norm; and like many, I came to these assumptions because of what the mass market puts in front of us on shelves and in restaurants. Let this not be the case and let te Pa make the case for New Zealand.