A chat with Dog Point, Framingham and Craggy Range…
We recently held a live stream with our producers over the border, where we asked them quick fire questions in regards to the incredible bottles of Sauvignon Blanc that they have produced. If you’re keen to learn a bit more about the behind-the-scenes of winemaking in New Zealand, and what makes this white grape so well-known and award winning, then have a scroll. (P.S: Make sure you’ve got a glass to hand)
A brief introduction:
Over the past year we have tempted our fate with technology, holding numerous live tastings with our pals over the border via our Instagram. It’s been a great way to connect with our followers far and wide, and it’s something we will have to continue to do until our winemaker’s can travel back to the UK again. This year, we’re celebrating International Sauvignon Blanc Day virtually and in person through our wine bar and shop and the excellent platform that is Google hangouts.
We held a virtual get-together with Dog Point, Framingham and Craggy Range, where we chatted about each vintner’s bottle of Sauvignon Blanc and their story behind the winemaking process
Mel to Brownie: What evolution have you seen since your first vintage of Sauvignon Blanc?
Brownie: Our Framingham Sauvignon Blanc‘s are generally very fruit driven, but when we did a tasting a couple of days ago which showed different vintages from 5 years ago to now, we have seen a growth in the texture of the wine, whilst incorporating ferments with seasoned oak that has been fermenting in stainless steel. That has evolved over the years to now be 10%, with the 2020 vintage being at 20%. We’re not looking for an oak signature within that, but just trying to pull apart some textural qualities into the wine.
Mel to Brownie: What’s your opinion on the over-saturated climate of Marlborough Sauvignon?
Brownie: That’s our house style evolution, and I guess as a region producing Sauvignon, we all have our higher price point wine that we push to consumers. What we’re seeing, is a little bit of traction in that part of the market, where people are seeing a different between that fruit forward style and potentially a style with a bit more subtly and texture. And that’s really encouraging for us, because that’s the kind of Sauvignon we love to make. Don’t get me wrong we love the mothership and expressing fruit forwardness, but we quite like the potential of Sauvignon and how it’s tracking within those higher tiers of the market, then we can start talking about age-ability rather than it needing to be drunk quite quickly.
Mel: From my point of view, and what I’ve seen in the last 5 years of the evolution of Sauvignon over here is that the styles have become slightly more restrained I think. There is definitely a large portion of consumers over here who favour the less intense, restrained sort of style of Sauvignon Blanc. The likes of Section 94, and Greywacke Wild – the more textural and fuller bodied Sauvignons, that are perhaps more food worthy, are really exciting to watch and explore.
Quick fire round…
Mel: Which rootstocks do you think are best for Sauvignon Blanc and why? Do you use different rootstocks in different plots?
Murray: Oooh yes good question, we do use rootstocks and it’s quite an important thing when it comes to wine, because our soils are varied. All our soils have different needs and different expressions of those soils too, so yes we do. We probably have a good six, seven, eight rootstocks that we use. They all offer different attributes and of course from the earliest plantings that we’ve got back in the 80s, right through to the more modern plantings that we’re doing currently, the rootstocks have changed with the approach to organics coming into play. Diversity is key.
Mel: Jules, What are your biggest hazards in the vineyard with Sauvignon Blanc? And how do you deal with these hazards?
Julian: Definitely birds. But the biggest thing for us at the moment has been virus: it has affected the longevity of our vines and we’ve seen a lot of slow decline in stock across the country, but this has been a really great opportunity to address how we’ve been pruning vines. There’s definitely been a huge drive her to adhere to new principals and practises, carefully pruning, research on different clones.
Mel: Are you seeing any particular impact of climate change particularly on Sauvignon Blanc in New Zealand, and if so, what practically changes are you doing to prevent long term climate change in your vineyards?
Brownie: Woh. It’s on the top of our minds really. The only thing normal about vintages these days, is that nothing is really ‘normal’. I’ve been in the industry for a relatively long time, and it seems that the last 5 vintages have had as much variation as the past 10 years. You never really know what the harvest is going to throw at you, but luckily the last two vintages from 20 and 21 – the weather conditions from Autumn – have been pretty good. We’ve been able to pick at will, lower crops this year but their still in immaculate condition. The greater concern, is will climate change affect the essence of what New Zealand or Marlborough Sauvignon is about, if we get warmer temperatures… The other thing is water shortages, around Wairau Valley in particular; that affects the vine and the lifeblood of the canopy and fruit zone. We are planting in the valley’s that no-one expected us to. Vineyards are going further and past what we thought were extremes 20 years ago.
Mel: Have you had to alter anything in light of climate change?
Brownie: Yeah, it’s probably more based on a vintage by vintage basis, and alluding back to vine age. We’re losing a bit of vigor, and it threatens our productivity. You have to have a healthy canopy, but we just need to manage this by block.
Mel: Talk us through the labour aspect of the winemaking process…
Murray: Well it’s getting harder and harder to find people to handpick the grapes, with the situation occurring in the world right now. With machine harvesting, you have a machine that straddles the vines and basically shakes the fruit from the vine, then catches it and it’s brought to the winemaking area. There is a period there where it could be minutes, or hours, where there’s contact with the juice and the skins. Modern technology is amazing now, where it removes any material that isn’t grapes, but you do have the period of skin contact and juice. There is potential there then, to have really aromatic styles of Sauvignon. The skins are where the massive portions of aromatic compounds in the Sauvignon is coming from, it’s that contact of the juice with the skins that really elevates those potential levels in the wines. In terms of Dog Point we’ve chosen to go the other way with the handpicking. It costs a small fortune to handpick everything, but we see it as an important part of what we do – to tone down the aromatics.
Mel: Julian, do you deliberately restrict yields to reduce quality, and if so how? Or do you consider that yield restrictions are not necessarily required to make high quality wine?
Julian: Yeah, so the CFO is not actually on the call, so we can say that we do restrict yields. But it goes hand in hand, with where we go with yields in comparison to the quality produced. For us, we can really see it where there’s a higher yield and the wines produced from that section. We kind of have a number in mind that we’re targeting. It’s so windy during flowering, that we get a lot of yield manipulation done for us from Mother Nature.
Mel: Frost wise, how do you manage or deal with that?
Julian: Yeah there was about 15 frosts last year, which was a record for us. Not as extreme as you’ve had in mainland Europe last couple of weeks, but definitely ticking over. We manage this by using fans, and overhead frost protection that we’ve had in our vineyards from inception.
Mel: Murray, weed management. What kind of methods do you use to manage weeds?
Murray: It’s definitely the biggest challenge for organics for us, and it’s a large conversation we have regularly. Undermined cultivation is what we do, and that happens a couple of passes each season with Spring being the main part of the season where we are cultivating underneath each vines. We do do cover crops over the summer and winter months to attract insects and boost soil health. We’re cultivating quite a lot of our vineyards, every second row in some blocks which didn’t yield particularly well for us. A lot of work goes into maintaining soil health. Sauvignon in particular is really vigorous, and thirsty as well, so competition for water can prove detrimental.
Mel: Murray, are you only using screw caps on Sauvignon Blanc and do you use any particular lining in order to promote the ingressive oxygen?
Murray: No they’re the standard screw-cap that a large portion of the world are using as well. It’s about no oxygen really, so for our classic style of Sauvignon it’s always been a bottle and a screw-cap, and an important part of keeping that oxygen out of a bottle that hasn’t really been exposed to any. It refreshes freshness and consistency.