Wednesday, 09 August 2023 15:25

NZSVO Workshop: Chardonnay, from vine to market

Written by  Sophie Preece
Dom Maxwell at Greystone Dom Maxwell at Greystone

From struck match aromas to "vexing" green characters, and from expert palates to crowded marketplaces, the science, viticulture, crafting, and consumer impressions of New Zealand Chardonnay is under the spotlight.

The New Zealand Society for Viticulture and Oenology (NZSVO) is running a jampacked Technical Workshop on 5 October, as part of the two-day Aotearoa New Zealand Chardonnay Symposium in Hawke's Bay.

Viticulturist Dr David Jordan, who is on the NZSVO workshop committee, says learnings from the international and New Zealand-based speakers will be enhanced by the high level of expertise in the audience, which is likely to include some of the country's most experienced Chardonnay viticulturists and winemakers.

Emma Jenkins MW will give an overview of the history of the variety in New Zealand, including developments and global perceptions, David says. "Many international commentators have said, 'your Sauvignon Blanc is great, but don't lose sight of how wonderful your Chardonnays are'... Emma will help bring that into focus."

The science behind the concept of struck match character is next on the agenda, with Dr Tracy Sherbert from the Australian Wine Research Institute speaking about sulphide elements that manifest in some modern-day Chardonnay styles. Rebecca Deed, a wine science lecturer at University of Auckland, will address the same subject with a biological/yeast slant before wines that demonstrate those notes are poured for the audience. That transition from science to glass is about bringing the research "to life", David says. "It marries the science with the wine in the bottle and ultimately in the glass."

From scientists to practitioners, the next speaker will be Steve Flamsteed, until recently the Chief Winemaker at Giant Steps, who is "hugely respected" in Australia for his winemaking, as well as his "major influence" on new winemakers coming through the company, David says. Steve will be paired with Craggy Range Winemaker Julian Grounds, who was mentored by Steve early in his career. "They are looking at a topic that vexes us in a production sense. The green ripe/unripe characters that come through in some of the Chardonnays we make in New Zealand," David says. "We're trying to get to the bottom of its origins. Is it because of our growing climate, or is it our longtime focus on Mendoza as a clone, which tends to have mixed ripeness in the bunches... or is it a function of our winemaking style in recent times?"

The lineup continues with three pairings from New Zealand wine companies, starting with Church Road winemaker Chris Scott and viticulturist Claire Pinker, who make a range of Chardonnays, from entry level to globally acclaimed. They're followed by Greystone winemaker Dom Maxwell and viticulturist Mike Saunders, giving a North Canterbury and organic perspective after their 2021 Chardonnay took Wine of the Show at the Aotearoa Organic Wine Awards, as well as three trophies at the International Wine Challenge 2023. Dom says Chardonnay clearly resembles its place and handling, "and therefore is beneficial in telling our site-specific stories". The best examples age "beautifully, elevating New Zealand wine's message to the world", he adds. "I love the fact that Chardonnay requires both a close understanding of site and patience to allow it to speak of place."

Brian Bicknell

Brian Bicknell with his son Max. Photo Credit: Jim Tannock

Brian Bicknell of Mahi Wine will bring Marlborough insights to the NZSVO workshop, discussing his experience and interest in site specific Chardonnay. "A real key is temperature and with cooler mean temperaturs through summer, but a long ripening period, the variety really suits a number of regions in New Zealand." When it comes to Marlborough, an open canopy and balanced crops results in consistently great wines, "especially on the lower vigour soils in cooler pockets", he says.

However, the current return for growers makes Sauvignon Blanc more attractive financially, so the region is losing vineyards as older blocks are being replanted to Sauvignon. New Zealand Winegrowers data shows the 3,202 hectares of Chardonnay planted across the country in 2013 (9% of the total hectarage) had dropped to 3.187ha in 2022 (about 5% of the pick). "It is thought that about 20% goes to sparkling base, and in Marlborough the Chardonnay pick accounts for just 2.5% of total intak," Brian says. He believes more blocks will be planted, "but predominantly smaller, quality-focused parcels owned by wine fanatics".

After Brian's presentation, Neudorf's Todd Stevens and Rosie Finn will speak from a consumer perspective, looking at how New Zealand's approach to Chardonnay sits in a global market. The team from Martinborough Vineyards - winemaker Paul Mason and viticulturist David Shepherd - then continue the market focus and discuss the evolution of Chardonnay. As with all the speaker segments, this will be followed by wine examples that "illuminate" their presentations, David says.

Wrapping the NZSVO Technical Workshop in the two-day Chardonnay Symposium has been a great opportunity, he adds, weloming the opportunity to work with Hawke's Bay Winegrowers to facilitate a comprehensive programme that moves from vines and wines to the science and market. "The synergies are fantastic."

Chardonnay Symposium

The Aotearoa New Zealand Chardonnay Symposium will be held in Te Matua-a-Māui Hawke's Bay on 5 and 6 October. Following a technical workshop on day one, day two will give an international perspective, including from wine writer Christina Pickard, who will shed light on the American market, and Elizabeth Kelly MW giving a British wine buyer's view of the competitive retail market.

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