Mapping Marlborough's subregions as a new way forward

The winemakers from Blank Canvas, Kim Crawford and Greywacke share their thoughts on Marlborough's subregions...

With over 20,000 hectares of vines, Marlborough is New Zealand's largest and most famous winemaking region. New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc has established itself as a unique and recognisable wine style among consumers, however, with this popularity comes the need to both protect and further entrench Marlborough’s reputation as a high-quality wine region. New developments in Marlborough to tackle the image of bulk market Sauvignon Blanc, has led top producers to focus on mapping and highlighting Marlborough’s subregions to maintain consumer interest.

Matt Thomson & Sophie Parker-Thomson, Blank Canvas:

“The next step for us has to be mapping the distinct subregions so we can start to build awareness of their individual characteristics. There is a tendency for the trade always to be looking for the next big thing to replace Marlborough Sauvignon, but when consumers are happy with the quality, style and consistency of our wines why would they look elsewhere? There is so much to explore within the region, you can’t tell me it’s boring!”

Dillons Point in Marlborough is forging an iconic status for itself as a Sauvignon Blanc subregion. Its young, nutrient-rich alluvial soils are perfect for sustaining large canopies and therefore fruit that can hang and develop flavour for the entire length of the growing season. Its proximity to the Pacific Ocean provides a moderating influence with cooler nights during the ripening period giving fresh acidity and aromatic intensity. Typical characteristics from Dillons Point Sauvignon are thiol-driven passion-fruit, blackcurrant and gooseberry flavours as well as a chalky saline quality and texture on the palate."

Kim Crawford Wines:

“We have the greatest vineyard resource in Marlborough of any wine company, across the greatest breadth of subregions. These vineyards are dissected down into individual blocks based on specific microclimate, topography and soil. Each block is harvested and fermented separately in the winery, providing us with over 240 different parcels from which to blend.

Each of these small parcels is very different, so we select about 120 for Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc via a rigorous tasting process over the course of a week in June. Our criteria are the intense aromatics and palate weight that we look for in Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc. The subregion aroma profiles do vary by vintage, which is the challenge of blending."

Kevin Judd, Greywacke:

"On the southern side of the Wairau plains is a series of tributary valleys collectively known as the Southern Valleys. Running perpendicular to the Wairau with a north-south orientation, they become progressively cooler with altitude and distance from the coast. From the East, the Ben Morven, Brancott, Omaka and Waihopai are picturesque and widely planted valleys, separated by rolling hills that sweep away from the Wairau towards the Blairich and Black Birch Ranges.

Unlike the very young, silty, free-draining alluvial soils of much of the Wairau, the Southern Valleys contain soils that are much older, and are typically layers of loess and claybound gravels that are said to have been deposited as outwash during the last glacial maxima about 20,000 years ago. The early Pinot Noir plantings showed real promise and the establishment of the Southern Valleys Irrigation Scheme in 2004 provided sufficient water to be able to more extensively develop the hillsides and the water-scarce localities in the upper reaches of the valleys. This and the introduction of the Dijon clones created a more widespread interest and enthusiasm for the cultivation of Pinot Noir in Marlborough. Now that these vineyards are maturing, Marlborough Pinot Noir is coming of age and the Southern Valleys is emerging as one of the finest Pinot Noir-producing subregions of Marlborough."

The 2017 Vintage:

The 2017 vintage in Marlborough was a difficult one with heavy rain at harvest. Good vineyard and canopy management made a large difference. Nevertheless, the harvest is down 6% in tonnage this year and several subregions were badly hit and suffered from heavy botrytis (rot). Quality-minded producers who also were flexible and responsive at picking were able to produce better wine than much of what was sold to the bulk market.