Despite a certain air of doom and gloom in the wine industry right now, there are still some hardy souls willing to chance their hand.
Until 2008, Brett Murdoch’s vineyard supplied grapes to a larger winery. But keen to have a go at making wine under his own label he created William Murdoch Wines. His Gimblett Gravels vineyard is planted with a number of varieties and has been converted over organic practices meaning that no pesticides, herbicides or insecticides are used. Winemaker Hayden Penny’s philosophy is to do as little as possible to the grapes and where possible to use the indigenous yeasts, found in the vineyard and winery for fermentation. This approach, which Penny refers to as ‘hands off’, is done with the aim of making wines that are the best expression of their terroir.
As you’d expect from a vineyard in the heart of Hawke’s Bay, the focus is on red wine. In addition to a peppery syrah, there are three reds; merlot dominant, cabernet dominant and a premium wine, Guardsman. I was impressed by all three wines, which showed plenty of concentrated ripe fruit yet retained a freshness and elegance. Penny also makes that rarest of wines, a properly dry delicious rosé.
In the slightly surprising location of Stillwater, north of Auckland, Messenger Wines also produces a blended red wine from merlot, malbec and cabernet franc which goes under the name Ménage a Trois. The first vintage released was 2008 and initially priced at a rather ambitious $95 a bottle, firmly positioning it at the premium end of the market. But the 2009 was offered at $60, highlighting the problems for new wineries entering the market, especially if they are not in an area reknown for fine wine production.
There is an old joke “how do you make a small fortune in the wine industry? Start with a big one” which has more than a whiff of truth about it. But, despite a number of obstacles, it seems there are still those keen to try and beat the odds and the consumer is better for it.
Fast Fact : In 2003 there were 634 grape growers registered with NZ WineGrowers. By 2009 that figure had increased to 1128.
2009 William Murdoch Cabernet Merlot Malbec 4.5 stars $31.95
I liked this wine a lot; cabernet, when done well, provides a structured, elegant wine. Ripe, with plenty of cassis and ripe plum and though drinking well now, will cellar 3-5 years.
2009 William Murdoch The Guardsman 5.0 stars $65.00
This is exactly the kind of wine I like. The nose has the richness and fruit intensity typical of Gimblett Gravels, plenty of plum, blackberry and damson but also with an appealing touch of fresh blackcurrant. There is a little leafiness too. The palate is rich but not overwhelming, a good core of fruit sweetness balanced by finely grained tannin. The oak is perhaps just a wee bit noticeable right now – an almost cocoa powder note but the finish is long and sustained. The label reads 13.0% alcohol, proof that you don’t need to hit 14.5% to get a wine of power. Really lovely.
2009 Messenger Wines Ménage a Trois 4.0 stars $60.00
A dense, full bodied red with lots of damson, liquorice and sweet spice flavours. Rich and powerful, new oak adds another layer of complexity. A long sustained finish.