Sunday, 21 April 2019 10:26

The path to premiumisation

Written by  Tessa Nicholson
Sam Harrop MW. Sam Harrop MW.

The first two speakers at Sauvignon 19 both agreed that premiumisation of Sauvignon Blanc was the way forward.

But Matt Kramer and Sam Harrop MW outlined very different pathways, as Tessa Nicholson reports.

For Wine Spectator’s Matt Kramer the answer may lie in Marlborough following the Champagne model, of blending different sites.

For Sam Harrop however, wines of site may well be the way forward if we want to change the image of Sauvignon Blanc as being “a one trick pony”.

Let’s start with Kramer’s opinion. 

Firstly, he decried the lack of culture surrounding Sauvignon Blanc as a wine variety and claimed that in itself was one of the reasons Sauvignon was not commanding a premium in world markets

Kramer said other varieties, such as Pinot Noir, Riesling, Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon have a culture that has been passed down through history.

“We know where it comes from and where it exists. But there is no culture for Sauvignon Blanc. Only when a culture of Sauvignon Blanc emerges will you then be able to get a premium.”

Admitting that the cultures of other varieties tend to rest on the laurels of site specificity, Kramer said he had seen a similar focus while in Marlborough.

“These days you hear about Burgundian site specificity, the Burgundian vision of the beauty of wine. I am seeing the same Burgundian vision here in Marlborough. But is it really the right one?

“Should the concept of Sauvignon Blanc be better served by a Champagne model? In Champagne they blend.”

Relaying how many Champagne houses utilise the fruit from dozens of sites to ensure certain traits are enhanced, he said it allows them to make the best of wine.

“They know what each vineyard can and cannot do and they create the most complete (wine).”

While extolling just how young New Zealand is in terms of the wine world – “you only started last week”, he said by the time we were two or three weeks old, we would be in the same situation Champagne is in now. We would have identified all the various vineyards and their individual distinctions. We would know what each vineyard provides in terms of the overall wine.

“Then say, just maybe, it is not the safer Burgundian model, the answer may be the blend. And that in turn may be the vehicle that a culture of Sauvignon Blanc can be created here.”

Once that culture is established, he believes “everyone will be singing from the same hymn book, on both sides of the church aisle.”

Sam Harrop however had other ideas of how to achieve premiumisation. He believed having a sense of place is what helps define a great wine.

“There are two categories of wine that can express a sense of place; wines of site and wines of style.”

In terms of wines of site, Harrop said there were a number of facets that were required. The mix between plant and rootstock, vine age, crop load – which he added a warning to Marlborough growers; “It must be managed accordingly. A balanced crop load is vital to expressing the site.” 

And one vital thing he added; “Something that we often lose sight of with Sauvignon – great wines of site reveal more of their sense of place with time in the bottle.”

When it comes to wines of style, Harrop said this was a very important category for Sauvignon producers, especially in Marlborough. He described wines of style as usually blends of vineyards, sub regions or even regions.

“The goal being consistently reproduced in the same style, year on year. The customer loves them. Wines of style are usually market led and commercially priced. This requires winegrowers and winemaking strategies that maximise bang for buck. But they aren’t necessarily aligned with maximising site expression.”

Heading into the future, the role for Sauvignon producers the world over is to “embrace the idea of Sauvignon as a chameleon.”

That Harrop said, means showing the world that Sauvignon is not just a “homogenised style with a generic sense of place. At some point consumers need and want to see evolution.”

He believed that Marlborough, which has already established a global reputation is perfectly positioned to do just that. 

He used Rioja as an example of how Marlborough could achieve that.

“It is a region like Marlborough that has built its success on an entry level, commercial price point product that is generic in style – and I don’t mean that in a negative sense. One of the reasons Rioja has succeeded is the same reason as Marlborough. It’s a style that the market can understand.”

With that achievement already under the belt, Harrop said Rioja has looked to wines of site as the natural step forward towards premiumisation. They are now actively seeking out the best vineyards, by age, altitude or certain soil types, with the aim of making small vineyard lots.

“They understand that that sense of place can be achieved through wines of style and wines of site. 

“They have already got the wines of style in the bag and have had for many decades. They have taken the consumers on a journey and now to trade those consumers up to the higher price points, to the more sympathetic wines with more fruit expression, more balance, more harmony, they are exploring special sites and releasing very special wines that are very different from the norm. 

“That is what Marlborough has to do.” 

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