Sunday, 17 December 2023 15:25

Black Estate - a seasoned offering

Written by  Stephanie McIntyre

Nicholas Brown has long had a penchant for sparkling wine.

“It was always my intention to make a methodé traditional one day but an ancestral or pét nat seemed like a good first step because of its lesser requirement of additives and equipment.”

The change of tack aligned well with Black Estate’s minimal intervention ethos, and they’d soon developed a suite of pétillant naturel (pét nat) wines, with consumer demand outweighing production. Pét nat – French for ‘natural sparkling’ – is made with a single fermentation in one continuous process; winemakers bottle a partially fermented base wine which continues to ferment in the bottle to create bubbles.

The New Zealand appetite for sparkling wine has always been healthy, Nicholas says. “People were interested in our pét nat right away. The wine isn’t too technical, and consumers seemed to appreciate that it’s early drinking and fun. A friend and local artist designed our label and it reflects the wine’s playful style well.”

While a pét nat with no additives or sulphur continues the winery’s pursuit of minimal input wines, the sparklers do see plenty of human interaction. Initial vintages were hand riddled and disgorged in-house to ensure freshness and stability at time of enjoyment. “By the time we reached our third release in 2018 we’d begun to refine our approach, and actually continue to do so,” Nicholas says. “Like all our wines, it’s an evolution, a progression. Refining our picking dates, pressing decisions, varieties. Everything is accentuated in sparkling wine, so it’s a delicate balance.”

Grapes destined for sparkling wine are typically harvested a few weeks ahead of table wine, as winemakers seek higher levels of acidity and more modest sugar levels. As the ancestral method used for pét nat requires wine to be bottled partially fermented, Nicholas often finds himself managing the transfer process as his still wine fruit is arriving at the winery. “It adds to the vintage to-do list as the wine is made during harvest, but it has also given me amazing insights into ripeness and acidity. It is a fascinating process and I have even greater respect now for high quality méthode producers such as Huia and Quartz Reef.”

Pét nat has a reputation for bottle variation, but Nicholas says the winemaker can easily control this. “We minimise sediment through riddling and gentle disgorgement to produce wines of elegance, refinement and effervescence – as well as stability.”

Today, Black Estate produces three pét nat wines. Each is unique in its makeup and taste profile and is released according to season. “Damsteep matches the freshness of spring, Home Block’s dry and bright palate is ideal for summer,” Nicholas says. “Netherwood is a blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. It is left on lees longer, has more complexity and suits an autumnal release.”

Nicholas was encouraged by the success of Black Estate’s first pét nat. “The overwhelmingly positive feedback we received led us to explore, and now make, a sparkling wine from each of our blocks. This correlates with our philosophy of producing single vineyard wines.”

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