MARY-THERESE BLAIR meets three young winemakers spicing up the local wine industry.
Wine is an industry steeped in history, tradition and a pride in doing things the time-tested way. Even here in the New World emphasis is placed on the romantic mystery that is the craft of winemaking, which comes with a certain amount of prestige, polish and, dare I say, pretension? But in this modern age where an increasing focus on brand is coming to the fore, along with consumer demand for transparency and authenticity, are those who follow the status quo in danger of being left behind? There is a growing breed of winemakers daring to do it their way, not the way the industry says they ‘should’ and most certainly not compromising on who they are as individuals. They know that these days making great wine is no longer enough, so they are creating great wines and telling their unique stories in a compelling way and putting spice back into the New Zealand wine scene.
Renée Dale from Moi Wines is one such winemaker. Renée wants to make “epic delicious wines that force people to slow down, be present and have their wine moment of impact.”
Renée describes the Moment of Impact, or Moi, as that moment that lights a fire and jolts you into action, such as when she returned to her native Auckland from Napa, California in 2012 and realised that in order create great moments you have to be bold and sometimes you need to go it alone.
Go Renée did, releasing her first wine under the Moi brand in 2012. Since that first cabernet franc she hasn’t looked back. Moi produces a rosé annually with grapes grown in her home terroir of Auckland. The winemaker believes it’s a great place to grow and is ardent about the rarely told winegrowing story of the Auckland region.
Renée wants to create wine that is more than a fast-moving consumer good and believes that the luxury of being small is that you get to make the wine you want to make, not the wine that the market dictates. Not that she’s anti the big guys, not at all. In fact, Renée believes the future of wine is collaboration, with big and small learning from each other. Her view is that it’s how wine can remain resilient amid the ever-fickle public’s changing tastes. “It’s so hard to know if you’re doing the right thing. You win medals and trophies, yet that doesn’t mean people are going to buy your wine and everyone’s a critic.”
Sustainability is a topic the young winemaker is passionate about, so she screenprints rather than labelling her bottles. It just so happens that the method has the additional benefit of making her wine very visually appealing, essential to stand out on today’s crowded wine shelf.
The current release for Moi is a 2018 rosé blend of cabernet sauvignon/ cabernet franc/syrah/merlot all grown in Auckland. The wine is a beautiful light blush colour and is fresh and crisp with incredible texture that makes it a delight to drink. In Hawke’s Bay, Alex Hendry runs Saorsa Wines with his wife, Hana Montaperto-Hendry. The young couple look like they would be as comfortable on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine as they are among the vines. It seems wholly appropriate, as they make what can only be described as rockstar wines.
Alex is on a crusade for honesty and transparency in winemaking; for winemakers to be open about what goes on, and in, our wines. He feels we’ve forgotten what is really needed to make great wine – time and nature. That seems like a simple hypothesis but the truth is that wine is an industry. Consumer demand for better-quality wines at a lower price, means that modern processes have been introduced to increase efficiency. The ultimate aim is to get wine into the bottle and onto the shelf at the right price as soon as possible. One of Saorsa’s wines, a viognier, took 32 months to get from vine to bottle. The personal revolution Alex is leading is one to get it right, when it’s right. There is a great deal of bravery in no compromise.
But Alex finds the challenge liberating, hence why ‘saorsa’ – meaning freedom and liberty in Scottish Gaelic – spoke to him when he sought a name for his wines. He believes this project is his freedom from the requirements and expectations of the ‘wine industry’ – two words he feels shouldn’t go together.
Despite having a day job and a young family, Alex thrives on the crazy day-to-day that is his dream of making the wine he loves with one he loves.
“The entire [Saorsa] project is representative of our daily life. It’s manic, traditional, modern and everything in between. It’s all about love – love for what we do.” And boy, is that love reflected in how Saorsa make their wine, crafting a syrah and a viognier. The grapes are hand picked and treated very gently with the fewest possible interventions, no short cuts during winemaking and absolutely no industrial additives allowed.
The quality is obvious in the wine but this is definitely not one of the Hawke’s Bay powerhouse syrahs we have become accustomed to. Saorsa syrah is silky, soft and floral, yet at the same time earthy and savoury and it is undeniably good. The viognier – which is rich, but not overly aromatic, while being bone dry – is spectacularly moreish. mermaidmary.co.nz