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Breaking the ‘Rules’ in Marlborough

There is usually a consensus among wine professionals that there are certain aspects of viticulture and viniculture that make for a better wine.  We speak with gusto of single-vineyard wines made from old vines that are sustainably farmed, have a low volume of production, and are hand-harvested to protect the quality of the fruit.  We swoon over the precise definition of Cru vineyards in Burgundy that are the envy of the world.  Everyone ‘knows’ that these qualities are best, and a premium is charged for wines produced in such fashion—everyone that is except the producers of Sauvignon Blanc in Marlborough, New Zealand!

Most of the vineyards in Marlborough sit on flat plains between two mountain ranges that have a North-South orientation.  Without the benefit of multiple aspects and exposures found in other of the world’s finest vineyards, blending from among different regions is a must to establish complexity.  Mechanical harvesting is required due to a shortage of labor so the slopes are not practical for planting—and the machine harvesting is where the magic of Marlborough happens!  The grapes at harvest are treated roughly on purpose so the fruit breaks and fermentation begins in the vineyards, increasing thiol production.  Thiols are the compound found in wine that give grapefruit, gooseberry, and passion fruit flavors, which are increased five to ten times when machine harvesting is employed.

While the style of Sauvignon Blanc produced in New Zealand may be debated by lovers of French, Californian, or even Chilean versions of the varietal, its success and influence in the world may not.  The gooseberry and grapefruit of Marlborough does not come by accident, and a visit to the region will leave even a Francophile impressed!  (Guess what country’s table wines imported to the United States have the highest average cost?)