Tuesday, 10 August 2021 15:55

Naturally Smitten

Written by  Sophie Preece
Rose Menzies at Carrick. Photo by Vaughan Brookfield. Rose Menzies at Carrick. Photo by Vaughan Brookfield.

Wine doesn't have to be fruity and fresh and clean, says Rose Menzies, amidst barrels of bespoke ferments in a small Central Otago winery.

"It can be funky and weird and wonderful, and just as enjoyable," says Carrick's Winemaker, with a nod to natural wines.

Rosie was hooked by the natural wine movement around 2012, when working in London and visiting the Raw Wine Fair and the Real Wine Fair. They were unlike any trade events she’d ever been to, with wines that “pushed the envelope” in defining what wine could be. She loved the “huge creativity and intrigue and passion”, firing away in a convivial relaxed atmosphere, where a serious love of wine and place wasn’t taken too seriously. It was authentic and personal, connected with growers, and aligned the wine in the glass with the people and place ithad come from.

Naturally smitten, Rosie returned to New Zealand in late 2013 to work at Seresin Estate in Marlborough, where she made a natural Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc, and gained more understanding of the challenges and opportunities of making hands-off wine.

For her, natural wines are made with nothing added or taken away - “maybe a little bit of sulphur” - from fruit grown organically or biodynamically. The winemaker is left with few tricks up their sleeve with which to polish the wine, “and you are really relying on the raw product being very good quality,” she says. “And as such, I think growing organically and biodynamically is the way to achieve that.”

There was “a real following” for natural wines by the time she left London, but little interest in New Zealand on her return, with the movement “relatively unknown and considered quite weird”. Dan Gillett’s Scotch Bar in Blenheim was an exception to the rule, she says. “We were lucky to have that.”

A lot has changed in the past five years, and while Dan has launched two natural wine retail stores and a natural wine bar in Auckland, plenty of others have joined the push, with natural wines in many restaurants and bars, and plenty of consumers eager to try them. “It’s really growing in momentum in terms of knowledge and understanding, and for sales as well,” Rosie says.

In 2018 she moved to Central Otago, where she eventually became Carrick’s Chief Winemaker for the 2020 vintage. They produce two natural Pinot Noirs, a Riesling and a co-fermented red and white blend, and she still gets a “real buzz” out of making those wines, with a greater freedom for creativity. “You can play with them more and push the boundaries of what wine is.” There is no sulphur in Carrick’s natural wines, and she finds them more digestible. “They are wines I really enjoy drinking as well.”

Every vintage is an opportunity to improve the offering, she says. “You understand things more and tweak and make better wine… I think one of the most difficult parts of winemaking - whether natural or conventional - is that you have one chance per year to dial in to how you make your wines. It’s not like being a chef where you can practice making a cake five times a day until you’ve nailed it. You have one shot a year.”

Natural wines require absolute attention to detail, in the winery and the vineyard, where the team have to get the architecture of the canopy right to help the vine ward off disease. “It is more difficult and takes perhaps a more curated vine by vine management system.” That’s true in the winery as well, says Rosie, describing “diving in” to every wild ferment barrel “to make sure each one is ok”.

The results are worth the effort, she adds, delighted that more consumers are getting on board, and appreciating a broader idea of what wine should be.

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