Integrity threat to NZ sub-regional message7th March, 2013 by Gabriel Savage
New Zealand’s Sauvignon Blanc producers need to protect the credibility of their growing sub-regional message, as UK merchants warned against a “cynical” approach to this popular style.
Welcoming the proliferation of sub-regional and single vineyard expressions of the country’s Sauvignon Blanc, especially from its flagship Marlborough region, David Gleave MW, managing director of Liberty Wines, insisted: “There’s a huge difference from the various sub-regions. Perhaps its too complex for some people but it’s really important for others from the point of view of diversity.”
However, he suggested that some producers were using the sub-regional message as more of a marketing tool, while failing to express these differences in site.
“A lot of them think that Sauvignon Blanc is easy and are dialing up a blend they think the market needs,” Gleave told the drinks business. “They’re being cynical and not doing what they should be doing.”
On the other hand, he highlighted: “There are some who do a great job of that, like the Pioneer Block wines at St Clair. More people should be doing things like that.”
Setting New Zealand’s sub-regional message within a broader context, Joe Gilmour, manager at London-based merchant Roberson Wine, observed: “Every New World country is keen to push the terroir narrative because it’s really valuable for selling more expensive wine, but it needs to be credible.”
As for Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, Gilmour remarked: “There sometimes is a credibility problem with some of these single vineyard wines. When we taste them at Roberson, we want a credible argument for why they are a unique expression of an individual place.”
Instead, he suggested that New Zealand’s style was more obviously influenced by the signature of individual winemakers, commenting: “I can maybe identify 10 different producer styles of Sauvignon in New Zealand, but I don’t know about doing that for regions. Sauvignon Blanc doesn’t have the transparency with terroir that Riesling has.”
Despite this challenge of conveying the sub-regional message, Gleave stressed the “very varied” soils within Marlborough. “In the south of the valley you have clay, which is much more difficult for Sauvignon Blanc,” he outlined. “Then in the Wairau you have this stoney, glacial soil and at Dillons Point there are the richer, loam soils.
“On top of that you have the climate. The Awatere flavours bring an accentuation to Sauvignon Blanc.” However, Gleave concluded of the influence from these twin factors, “Soil is more important.”
This view contrasts with the opinion expressed last month by Brancott Estate chief winemaker, Patrick Materman, as he unveiled the brand’s £35 expression of Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, Chosen Rows.
Tasting the new wine alongside a line-up of ambitious examples of the variety from around the world, Materman drew a comparison between the Loire and Marlborough terroir, claiming: “In the Loire it comes down to the age of the soils and diversity – I would love to see some of those in Marlborough, but there it comes down to climate.”
An in-depth examination of the different styles of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc that are currently emerging will appear in April’s issue of the drinks business.