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Wednesday 17 February 2016

Will Marlborough sauvignon blanc continue to grow and grow?

Patrick Materman from Bancott Estate at Sauvignon 2016
Sauvignon blanc from Marlborough has been probably the greatest global wine success story of the past 25 years, perhaps alongside Prosecco. 

The first Sauvignon Blanc Celebration, a conference held earlier this month in Blenheim, now the world capital of savvy blanc, attempted to address the future.

While there is no doubt there is a massive worldwide audience for the grassy, herbaceous and tropical fruit notes of the Marlborough version of the Loire variety, many producers are looking to produce more textural, or cerebral, if you like, styles.

When I posed the question of several producers, including Dog Point and Greywacke, of whether this ran the risk of alienating or confusing supermarket customers used to the status quo, the shuffling was uncomfortable.

There is no doubt, however, that New Zealand sauvignon blanc is at something of a crossroads with producers wary of repeating endlessly the same style that has been so widely acclaimed. Everyone wants to make something different. Boredom perhaps?

Matt Kramer, the erudite American columnist for Wine Spectator magazine, and a long-time fan of the style, told delegates: “There’s some sense of a mid-life crisis here in Marlborough… a sense that somehow you’ve missed something,” he said. 

The erudite Matt Kramer 
"Get over it – you are one of the world’s most successful wine regions, you have created a wine style that is recognised everywhere, and something that no-one else has, so what the hell do you want? Mermaids?”

Kramer suggested the region was “going from the general to the particular”, and needed to “create site-specific wines that identify a particular flavour.”

He also said there was a need to “lower yields”, and to “start looking at the land through the lens of the soil, rather than the climate”.

“I think some of you need to lower your yields: sauvignon blanc – like riesling – can handle a higher level, but can it handle 16 tonnes per hectare? We know it’s being done."

The first sauvignon blanc vines were planted in Marlborough in 1973 by Montana, now called Brancott Estate, and the style was made globally popular by Cloudy Bay, quickly followed by several others.

Savvy blancs from around the globe at Sauvignon 2016
Kramer clearly believes local producers don't know how good they have it right now.

“Sauvignon Blanc is the world’s most reliably good dry white wine – full stop. Is it the world’s greatest grape? Hell no, chardonnay scales that in Burgundy, and also here [in New Zealand], but day in, day out, country in, country out, sauvignon blanc is the most reliably good wine.” 

It is my belief that many drinkers love Marlborough sauvignon blanc because of its immediate "drink now" appeal and they know exactly what they will get when they hand over their $20. Will changing the style, even in only a small percentage of releases, alienate consumers? 

At one tasting during Sauvignon 2016 a couple of South African interlopers from Klein Zalzie and Cederberg starred - so there can be no room for complacency. 

Hold on. It might be quite a ride.

# The writer was a guest of New Zealand Winegrowers 

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1 comment:

  1. Great article. Difficult to read with the background image.