Thursday, 30 July 2015 12:53

Winemaker returns down-under

Written by 
Wendy Stuckey. Wendy Stuckey.

Last year Wendy Stuckey was named as one of the 20 most admired winemakers in North America.

The previous year she was named as one of the top 100 most influential winemakers. Her recent appointment as Chief Winemaker for Constellation Brands NZ is a coup for both the company and the New Zealand wine industry as a whole.

Stuckey will take up her new role in early July replacing long-term winemaker Darryl Woolley, who is retiring after 30 years in the industry.

With a long list of credentials behind her, Stuckey comes directly from Chateau Ste. Michelle, in Washington State, where she has worked for more than seven years. Prior to that she was winemaker at Wolf Blass Wines in Australia. 

She is renowned as a white wine maker, with Riesling in particular helping to forge her career. Given Chateau Ste. Michelle is the world’s largest producer of Riesling at more than 1 million cases a year, Stuckey has had plenty of experience with this variety. But Sauvignon Blanc is no stranger to her.

 “I have been making Sauvignon Blanc in the industry for many years,” she says. “When I was at Wolf Blass, we sourced fruit from many regions, including the Adelaide Hills, Mount Gambier and the Yarra. And here in Washington I make two Sauvignon Blancs. One is a single vineyard wine and the other is a blend of different AVA’s (American Viticultural Areas). They are at two different price points. We also have a small 200 case blend of Sauvignon Blanc for our Wine Club. So I have plenty of experience with the varietal, although no experience in making New Zealand Sauvignon. 

“That will be a great learning curve for me.”

She says while she has good knowledge of New Zealand wines and Marlborough in particular, she is by no means intimate with it, which to her is perhaps a positive.

“When I came here to Washington State, I didn’t know a great deal about the region. So in some respects, the move to New Zealand is a little bit the same. There will be a lot for me to learn and that in itself is very exciting. I think in some ways the most important thing is to come with an open mind.”

Her strongest creed when it comes to winemaking is the wines must show a sense of place.

“Whether that be a single vineyard wine or a regional wine or even a New Zealand wine.”

Sauvignon Blanc, just like Riesling Stuckey says, is very much a wine that clearly shows that sense of place. Both are varietals that require very little interference from the winemaker.

“Riesling is one of those varieties that what you taste in the vineyard is what you get in the bottle,” she says. “As a winemaker you are almost a custodian of that varietal. You have to capture it at the right time in the vineyard and then really as a winemaker you don’t need to do that much with it. It has the purity of fruit, and the acidity. It’s a great food wine and also a wine that you can drink on its own. Sauvignon Blanc like Riesling, if you are not doing much barrel or malolactic fermentation, is also about the vineyards and expressing their flavor profiles. Constellation has some very good vineyards and that is a key part of the quality we have to capture.”

While she may have missed out on the vintage – which she has only heard good things about - Stuckey is looking forward to being involved in the blending of the 2015 wines. She is also looking forward to being part of a team that has years of experience in terms of winemaking skills.

“I know a lot of the winemakers have been there for many years and so I will be learning a lot from them. I want it to be a team effort for all of us and I enjoy that part of the wine industry. I like working with people – so it won’t be so much of a challenge, but more about continuing to make great New Zealand wines.”

Oh and there is one other thing she can’t wait to get her hands on – hokey pokey ice-cream – something that has been lacking in her diet since moving to Washington State in 2007.

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