The grapes are in, the wine is in the tank and within a few weeks the very first releases of…
The French connection is new, even if the winery’s name pays homage to Vanneron’s home base in Bordeaux, where his business, Oenosmart, is based – in Saint-Emilion.
The small Chateau Waimarama winery is housed in a modest sized brick building on a six hectare vineyard at Tuki, two minutes drive from the Bay’s iconic Te Mata Estate. It was founded by John Loughlin (owner of Askerne) and is now owned by a Japanese businessman who is based off shore, says general manager Chase Arquette.
“The appointment of Ludwig is all about taking Chateau Waimarama to the next level, which is why he wanted to use an international consultant with a broad international overview. I was looking for someone to take us to a new level because nearly all our wine is exported and most of it to Japan, a market that is highly competitive, so I wanted to see how we could achieve our best there.”
Enter Vanneron, who was appointed in 2015 and is a graduate of Bordeaux’s University’s Wine Faculty.
“A lot of people think a French person will come and tell them what to do,” Vanneron says, “but I am a part of the team and am not here to tell everyone how it will be, because this is New Zealand. We are not Bordeaux, even though the grape varieties we have originate there.”
He believes strongly in regional and national identity rather than affixing French labels to wines made in other places.
“I am not a fan of calling these wines Bordeaux blends. We don’t import grapes or wine from Bordeaux so we are making Hawke’s Bay wine and this is a great region so we focus on what it offers, its challenges and how to overcome these.”
This begins in the vineyard for Vanneron, who sees the biggest challenge in matching each of the five grape varieties to the best place for them on the six hectare hillside site.
It is a small but extremely varied site where temperature differences vary by up to two degrees, due to east and north east aspects. The slope of the site also provides a slight altitudinal change and a low lying dip on one part of it can create a frost risk, if spring is cold.
The best way to achieve ripeness in these mid to late ripening grape varieties on this site is to prune judiciously at the most advantageous time of year. This is often earlier than traditionally thought prudent, says Vanneron.
“It is important to prune early for Cabernet Sauvignon in order to eliminate the pyrazine flavours that can come through in this variety,” he says, adding that green aromas in Cabernet are not only a potential problem in Hawke’s Bay but everywhere this grape is grown.
Based in Bordeaux but with regular wine consultancy in New Zealand, Italy (Tuscany), Turkey, Armenia and other countries, his frequent travels provide him with an extensive international overview of the world’s wine industry today. Chateau Waimarama was one of the first vineyards in New Zealand to become a member of Sustainable Winegrowing New Zealand (SWNZ) in the 1990s, but has yet to become organically certified.
“When looking at organics, I think it should be in the brain of everyone to spray as little as possible, but we also need to save the crops and I am not a fan of copper, which is permitted in organics. It kills the life in the soil so I don’t want to use it.”
He views Hawke’s Bay’s climate as significantly different to Bordeaux’, due to the more variable weather patterns.
“You can easily have four seasons in one day here in the Bay, whereas in Bordeaux if we get good weather, it lasts for weeks but if we get rain, it can also last for a while. We don’t tend to have weather that changes as quickly and I think it’s a very different climate and weather.”
Vanneron views the upside to Hawke’s Bay and New Zealand as being the relatively long ripening season, which accentuates the all-important key ingredient in wines – both reds and whites - the acidity.
“I am a big fan of the fresh taste of New Zealand wines, it’s one of the most appealing factors and one that should be maximised.”