Two years ago a small group of wine writers in New Zealand decided it was time to establish a semi-formal group of writers with the aim of encouraging excellence in wine writing and to agree some standards so those who read our scribblings can have confidence that what we say about wines is each individuals independent opinion. If we are hosted by a winery or regional marketing group we will tell you, just like travel writers tell you who provided their airfares and accommodation, and we don’t get paid by wineries for reviews.
I think it is fair to say that it doesn’t matter what field you work in you never stop learning and that is certainly true in the wine industry so one important thing Wine Writers of New Zealand (www.winewriters.org.nz) does is encourage its members to learn about winemaking trends and to make sure we understand the unique things wine regions from around the world have to offer. Sometimes wine importers will host a tasting of products they sell, sometimes we visit a wine region as a group and sometimes we organise a specialty tasting to help us understand a particular subject in more detail.
A very good example was a tasting of natural wines, a term that is starting to gain a lot of traction, which was organised by the group. Unfortunately other commitments meant I wasn’t able to attend this tasting in Auckland or the group visit to Martinborough in March.
A couple of weeks ago we held the organisation’s AGM in Christchurch and took the opportunity to taste some wines from Waipara. The chairman of the organisation, Jo Burzynska, has opened a very cool and very small wine and music venue called the Auricle in New Regent St in Christchurch’s CBD and that was the venue for the AGM and a tasting of Waipara Valley Rieslings. The next day four of us were hosted by Black Estate for lunch at their stunning new tasting and restaurant facility overlooking the Waipara valley.
I have been a fan of Black Estate wines since their first vintage in 1999 and even though the business has changed hands since then the passion of its current owners, the Naish family, shows in the quality of the wines they produce. Winemaker Nicholas Brown is married to Penelope Naish who along the rest of the Naish family, has a role in the business too, she manages the tasting room and eatery.
The Naish’s fully understand the influence the locations of their vineyards has on each wine and Nicholas uses innovative thinking to ensure the wines he produces are not only very good but also have a very real sense of place. One recent innovation is to harvest yeast spores that occur naturally in the vineyard and to cultivate these so they can be used to make wines rather than relying on natural yeasts in the winery or other cultivated yeasts to ferment wines. That means each wine has been made using a cultivated yeast specific to the vineyard the fruit comes from.
While it may be impossible to detect this detail when you taste the wine it is an important detail that adds to the sense of place Black Estate wines have and it points to the extraordinary effort the Naish family put in to every bottle of wine they produce; it is the small details that make a very good wine an outstanding wine.
By the way, the food gets the same attention as the wine and is simply beautiful. Black Estate’s location at the northern end of Waipara makes it a great place to stop for lunch if you are travelling to Christchurch.