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New Zealand may have made its name and achieved remarkable vineyard and export growth thanks to Sauvignon Blanc but it has so much more to offer, as Jancis discussed recently in New Zealand's future.
A tasting this week with Kevin Judd, long-time head winemaker at Cloudy Bay but now making wine under his own Greywacke label, was an inspiring reminder of this. His straight Sauvignon Blanc is very good, the Wild Sauvignon even better and more complex, but it was the Chardonnay that gave the greatest and most persistent pleasure.
Greywacke (pronounced 'graywacky') is a soil type found throughout much of New Zealand consisting of grey sandstone with a high clay content and plenty of coarse-grained particles giving stony, free-draining soils. As Judd explains on his website, he and his wife Kimberley adopted the name for their first Marlborough vineyard located in Rapaura 'in recognition of the high prevalence of rounded greywacke river stones in the soils of the vineyard'. He registered the name in 1993 'with the vague notion that he might one day want to use it on a wine label of his own'. His first vintage under this label was 2009, and he started as he meant to go on, with a wide range of varieties to complement the Sauvignon Blancs, including Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Riesling and Pinot Noir.
Compared with what has become the well-built corporate edifice of LVMH-owned Cloudy Bay, Greywacke is a lean operation. Judd buys his fruit mainly from Ivan Sutherland, the former viticulturist of Cloudy Bay who set up Dog Point with one-time Cloudy Bay oenologist James Healy a few years before Judd left, and he makes the wines at the Dog Point winery.
The fruit for this Chardonnay 2011 comes primarily from the lower reaches of Brancott Valley (see photos below) and from Fairhall, both from the southern side of the Marlborough wine region in the north of New Zealand's South Island, with the rest from Rapaura, on the northern side of Marlborough. The vines are mostly the low-yielding Mendoza clone, which typically produces so-called hen and chicken berries within the bunches (also known as millerandage), resulting in much more concentrated fruit than, for example, UC Davis clone 6, which is also common in New Zealand. Judd said he would love to increase production of this wine - currently little more than a thousand cases - but that good fruit was very hard to come by.
The grapes are harvested by hand at high ripeness levels and whole-bunch pressed. After settling, the juice is racked to Mercurey French barrels, including 20% new oak, where it ferments slowly without yeast inoculation and goes through full (spontaneous) malolactic fermentation. The wine spends 18 months in the barrel in total. Judd explains that the 'zoo' of microbial life that is in the juice, not just the so-called 'wild' yeasts that start the fermentation, and the retention of quite a lot of solids, are key to the complexity and texture of this wine.
It has now been in bottle just over a year and has those delicious struck-match characteristics derived from 'prior reduction' (ie the wine is not reduced now but did go through reductive phases in barrel, creating certain sulphur-related compounds) entwined with full-flavoured, pure citrus fruit - not just lemon but also zesty clementine. It has a wonderful creamy, mealy texture and aroma. This may sound like other top-quality barrel-fermented Chardonnays from around the world but what really marks this out is the terrific freshness that shines vibrantly through all the complex and full flavours. Vital statistics are 14.5% alcohol, pH 3.23 and total acidity of 6.9 g/l.
Although total production is low, the wine is available in an impressive number of markets, including New Zealand, Australia, the US, Canada (BC and Alberta only), Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia, Philippines, UAE, Denmark, Germany, Norway, the Netherlands, Malta and Poland.
Wine-searcher.com lists many different stockists but only one for the US. Napa importer Old Bridge Cellars indicate, however, that JJ Buckley Fine Wines (Oakland, CA), Woodland Hills Wine Co (Los Angeles), Southern Hemisphere Wine Center (Huntington Beach, CA) and Sherry-Lehmann (NY) currently have the 2010 and are likely to move on to, or be able to get hold of, the 2011.
Greywacke's importer in the UK, Liberty Wines, provided this list of key British stockists: The Colchester Wine Company, Cambridge Wine Merchants, Latitude Wine (Leeds), Fullaloves Wines (Ribble Valley), South Downs Cellars and The Fine Wine Company (Edinburgh; by the case only).
Kevin Judd is also an excellent (and published) photographer and has created the images for each of his wine labels as well as taking the photos above and below of the Yarrum Vineyard in the Brancott Valley. For more on Judd the photographer, see here.