2015 marks the 25th anniversary of Phil and Sheryl Jones’ purchase of land in the Moutere Hills to establish Spencer Hill Wines. The most well-known wine from this producer is the Tasman Bay label, gaining this recognition after the very first chardonnay produced at Spence Hill in 1994 was named Champion Chardonnay, Champion White Wine and Reserve Wine of Show at the Air New Zealand Wine Awards in 1995. This put the Tasman Bay brand on the map even though it was only meant to be an interim label for the first vintage from the young vineyard.
As Spencer Hill expanded production other labels appeared for different markets and the Spencer Hill name itself was positioned as the premium label in the stable.
As with any business times change and Spencer Hill is moving to focus on its higher value labels and only retaining the Tasman Bay brand in the local market making sure outlets that supported them in the early years can still have it available.
When I spent a couple of hours at Spencer Hill last week talking everything wine with Managing Director Matt Rutherford it became obvious these guys are always innovating but also focusing on quality. Part of the innovation was the commitment to start producing Kosher wines for the wealthy New York Jewish community. For non-Jewish Phil and Matt this wasn’t a simple business challenge, it was akin to climbing Aoraki Mount Cook, not insurmountable but definitely a tough assignment.
The difficulties and processes involved in making Kosher wines is worth a column of its own however rather than going down that road here let’s just say while it has been challenging it has also been a successful road for Spencer Hill to travel.
The success of the Goose Bay Kosher wines label has encouraged the owners of Spencer Hill to reassess the range of wines they produce, you won’t find their wines being discounted in supermarkets going forward, rather they are getting back to their roots, making more chardonnay on a smaller but more focused scale. They have moved to a more boutique style winery with a focus on producing restaurant quality wines and Kosher wines for their main United States export market.
Matt Rutherford has been with Spencer Hill since day one and has just completed his 23rd vintage for them, his first role was to help establish the vineyard with co-owner Phil Jones and over time they became a strong winemaking partnership, decisions about winemaking styles and everything else was made by both men. Matt progressed through every role in the business and is now the Managing Director and consulting winemaker.
Part of that joint decision making was to develop vineyards and a winemaking facility in Hood River, Washington State and Matt now spends time in both countries making wine. Back in New Zealand the winemaking team headed by Jules Randell has been working on refocussing Spencer Hill on what they have always done best, producing a wide range of Chardonnays, oak fermented and aged Sauvignon Blancs and sophisticated pinot noirs.
In 2014 Spencer Hill produced five different chardonnays; while all of them had oak treatment some were lightly oaked, others fully oaked, different oak variants were used (French and American) and there was is a wild yeast variant as well as the Kosher Chardonnay.
Just as with the Chardonnays every Sauvignon Blanc they produce also has has some oak, even if it is tiny amount of old oak to add structure components, right through to a fume style with full oak, lees stirring and secondary malo fermentation.
They started making this style of Sauvignon Blanc in 1993 and received some criticism for it because they were wines that people considered weren’t the typical Sauvignon Blancs New Zealand should be producing. Now many other wineries are producing oak fermented and aged style Sauvignon Blancs and Matt says Nelson fruit suits this style better than Marlborough fruit because the riper fruit profiles in Nelson Sauvignon Blanc work better with oak treatment.
The range of wines produced by Spencer Hill under the brands Latitude 41, Goose Bay, Tasman Bay and Spencer Hill are very good wines and worth searching out. I tasted about 15 of them last week and have put tasting notes for each one on my website – neilhodgson.nz