Brancott unveils upmarket push for Marlborough Sauvignon13th February, 2013 by Gabriel Stone
Brancott Estate is seeking to take Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc “to another level” with the launch of a more complex style designed to age.
The Pernod Ricard-owned brand officially unveiled Brancott Estate Chosen Rows 2010 in the UK yesterday and is showing the wine at today’s New Zealand Wine tasting in London.
The project started in 2008 with the selection of 14 different vineyard plots across the Marlborough region. Just 12 cases were produced in 2009, before further tweaks were made to produce 3,500 cases of 2010, Chosen Rows’ first commercially available vintage, which has an RRP of £35
Outlining the ambitions behind this project, Brancott Estate’s chief winemaker Patrick Materman observed: “If there’s been a criticism of Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, it’s been ageability. We’re trying to address that, but it’s also about making a wine that’s good with food.”
Having joined the brand, formerly known as Montana, in 1990, Materman suggested that the Marlborough region had shown a lack of ambition in capitalising on the international popularity of its flagship grape variety.
“Marlborough is a benchmark area for Sauvignon Blanc, but it hasn’t commanded high prices,” he remarked. “We questioned why we weren’t taking things to another level.” As a reaction to this perceived inertia, Materman claimed: “We’ve thrown out the rulebook of how we’ve made Sauvignon Blanc to-date.”
Outlining the changes involved in the Chosen Rows project, Materman spoke of adopting a “Pinot Noir philosophy” in the vineyard with a shift towards rigorous shoot thinning and manual harvesting.
In addition, he pointed to several areas of experimentation in the winery with the use of a Coquard Champagne basket press, indigenous yeast fermentation, large oak formats and extended lees contact.
“We’re not so much trying to preserve the fruit and aromatics, but more the mouthfeel and ageability,” he summarised as the end goal.
Expanding on this stylistic distinction from more typical, mainstream examples of Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, Materman observed: “If you machine harvest and press harder, you release a lot more of those precursors that convert to tropical fruit characters, but they don’t necessarily age very well. We’re trying to lock in a flavour that’s consistent over time.”
While describing the 2011 as “more of a fumé blanc style”, which will be sold predominantly at the cellar door, Materman described himself as “very happy” with the subsequent 2012 vintage, most of which is still on its lees and awaiting the final blending decision.
However, he anticipated that the final result would see about “70-80%” of the blend made using the 4,000 litre foudres which Brancott bought new three vintages ago.
As for 2013, Materman signalled further “fine-tuning” work in the vineyard, especially in terms of canopy management and fruit selection, with additional work on getting the best result possible from wild fermentation. “It’s about keeping them noisy but still clean – there’s a fine line,” he said of the latter approach.
Although Chosen Rows is currently focused entirely on Sauvignon Blanc, Materman confirmed that lessons learned from the project were being applied to other ranges and varieties.
“The Letter Series has moved on significantly out of what we’ve learned here,” he remarked, pointing to the gradual adoption here of “cuves, foudres and indigenous fermentation.”
As the 2010 Chosen Rows was tasted alongside a selection of high end Sauvignon Blanc examples from the same vintage, including Cloudy Bay’s Te Koko, Cape Point Vineyards Reserve, Domaine Didier Dagueneau Silex and Château Smith Haut Lafite, Materman admitted: “I can’t pretend we’re the first to try this sort of style.”
However, he stressed Brancott’s aim to secure a place at the forefront of this evolution in Marlborough. “It’s about keeping momentum up and showing we are leading the way,” he remarked.
Expressing a hope that projects such as Chosen Rows can help those who have lost their enthusiasm for Sauvignon Blanc to discover a different side to the variety, Materman pointed to his own experience. “If you’d asked me 10 years ago how much Sauvignon Blanc I drank, I enjoyed it but I didn’t love it, but it’s not just Pinot Noir that engenders that sort of love, Sauvignon Blanc can do it too.”
With the first shipment of Chosen Rows currently on its way to the UK, Adrian Atkinson, wine development director at Pernod Ricard UK, told the drinks business that his allocation for this market was just 80 cases, with most of the rest being targeted across New Zealand, Australia and the US.
Although saying it was too early to discuss listings, Atkinson confirmed that the company has “been talking to some customers” about the release and that independent retailers could provide a particularly suitable outlet for the wine.
Above all he noted: “It’s more to take a leadership role in Sauvignon Blanc and if it broadens our distribution then that’ll be an added benefit.”