Hamilton New Zealand Map

Hamilton New Zealand Map

Phil and Chris attended their first London Wine Fair in 1990 where they worked on the stand of their friends from Hunter’s Wines. The small Marlborough winegrowing community of the early 1990s was close-knit and co-operative. While in London, the Roses established contacts with distributors and settled on an agent to represent their wine in the United Kingdom. They exported their first two containers of Sauvignon Blanc to England in late 1990 and the wine sold extremely well. In 1991 they took out the trophy for best Sauvignon Blanc at the Air New Zealand Wine Awards. ‘We had to have a minimum of 50 cases to enter. And we had about 56, I think!’ The rest of the wine – which had been bottled at Matua Valley in West Auckland because at that time the Rapaura contract winery had no bottling line – was already on its way to the UK.

With their 300 acres of vines on a diverse set of sites the Roses have no intention of having contract growers. They pick all of their blocks separately, because even though almost all their vineyards are ‘on these Rapaura lighter soil types, there is a lot of variation within it. We keep them in separate batches and ferment them through.’ Although they have each batch analysed comprehensively they also rely heavily on tasting and discussion to decide their final blends: ‘We get those results every week. We do keep that in the back of our minds. But it’s very, very much on flavour and balance.’ Asked whether his education at Lincoln and experience on his parents’ property helped him move into viticulture, Phil Rose replies:

Yeah, very much so. I mean we’ve been growing things all our lives really. It was just something different. Vines are relatively easy things to grow once you understand the sort of philosophy of a vineyard.

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Marlborough’s Sauvignon Blanc is New Zealand’s Sauvignon Blanc

The Wairau Valley’s distinctive shape, its fine-grained variability in soils, and subtle differences in temperature with distance from the sea and changes in elevation made it the ideal territory to experiment with planting varieties of Vitis vinifera native to the cooler climates of Europe, including Sancerre in the Loire Valley. The Wairau River was less co-operative when it came to laying out vineyards. Its course, and those of most of its tributaries, is roughly west to east, meaning that the sedimentary deposits of gravels, sands and silts (deposited from floods before the river and its tributaries were contained by stopbanks) also roughly parallel the river. With rows of grapes preferably aligned north to south for maximum exposure to the sun, each row tends to cross the bands of sediments, with the result that the vigour of vines often varies along the row. There is no simple solution to this dilemma other than to be aware of it and fertilise the vines to even out their vigour and yields.

Two varieties of white grapes have been especially important in Marlborough’s evolution as the dominant winegrowing region of New Zealand. Muller Thurgau was the first, Sauvignon Blanc the second. For the fifteen years between 1975 and 1990, Muller Thurgau made up 27 per cent of all grapes grown in New Zealand. In quantity of grapes harvested each year, its dominance was even stronger, because its yields were higher than for most other vinifera varieties. From its inception, wine made from Muller Thurgau flaunted its accessible and fruity flavours that attracted a new generation of New Zealand and international wine drinkers, regardless of whether it was packaged in bottles or cardboard casks. Wine companies worked very hard to tweak their style of Muller Thurgau and increase their share of the market. For instance, Nobilo’s White Cloud, a version of Muller Thurgau with a small proportion of Muscat added late in the vinification, gathered an almost cult following. But Muller Thurgau’s prominence did not last and by 2000 it had fallen to 4 per cent of the national vineyard.

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