Part 3: Montana
Rapaura vineyard, Marlborough
Scale matters with wine. Usually, big companies
aren’t great. Wine tends to work better with smaller outfits.
But big companies are very important, because the shape of the
modern industry means that small-scale operations find it
difficult to reach the market.
For any national industry, it’s really good news
if the big companies are performing well. Look at Chile: their
biggest company is Concha y Toro, who are making some very smart
wines. Montana is New Zealand’s giant, part of the Pernod Ricard
group that includes other brands such as Stoneleigh. And it is
tremendously good news for New Zealand that Montana and associated
outfits are doing really well.
With just a day and a half in Marlborough, I made a
decision about how to spend my time. I could have crammed it full
with appointments, but instead I decided to spend half a day with
Winegrowers of Ara (reported on in the previous part of this
write-up) and then the second day with Montana, who were real
pioneers in the Marlborough region. I figured that this
concentration of time would give me a better overview of the
region than multiple small visits. And in retrospect, I think this
was the correct decision.
So, in the morning I toured around the different
sub-regions with Katie Speakman of Montana, and then lunched and
tasted with winemaker Patrick Materman. There's a short
film taken around the various bits of Marlborough below.
Let’s begin with some geography. There’s a really
good map of the region online at http://gis.marlborough.govt.nz/accept.cfm,
and you also get a nice view of the Marlborough region via the
satellite pictures on google maps.
Basically, the main bit of Marlborough is the Wairau
Valley, a long, broad plain heading west (inland) from the town of
Blenheim. This is pretty much back to back vineyards. To the north
are the Richmond Ranges; to the South the Wither Hills – these
frame the valley quite nicely. The north-western section of the
Wairau Valley is a subregion known as the Rapaura road. To the
west (inland), there’s a river called the Waihopai that joins
the Wairau. It’s here that the Winegrowers of Ara (first part of
this series) are located.
The Awatere Valley is a second river valley south of
the Wairau, over the Wither Hills. This also has a subregion,
called Seaview, which is to the east, nearer the coast. Awatere
influence and the grapes have a longer ripening season. The main
part of Awatere produces Sauvignon with a more herbaceous
character; Seaview is known for tomato leaf and mineral
Frost is a big problem in Marlborough in general, and
in particular in the Awatere Valley. We saw some evidence of frost
damage in Montana’s Seaview vineyard (above). The Friday
before I visited Marlborough had 100 helicopters out flying over
the vineyards in the dead of night, at NZ$1500–2000 per hour,
plus transit time. Ouch. The idea is that the helicopters get
warmer air from what is known as the inversion layer and send it
downwards. On a clear night – of the sort where frost is most
likely – the temperatures are lowest close to the ground and
there is some warmer air higher up, which is then used as a source
of heat for frost protection. Aside from helicopters, a popular
alternative for mixing the inversion layer is the use of giant
wind machines, which dot the landscape here. A further option is
to use sprinklers: if the buds are covered in water, this becomes
ice and this acts as an insulation protecting against more
damaging temperatures. In addition, some heat is released when the
ice forms (fusion).
A major new project in the Seaview area is Yealands,
which will be a 1000 hectare property when it is finished. It’s
owned by Peter Yealands, and the ambitious plan is to process 10
000 tons of its own grapes in its sparkling new winery by 2013.
Yealands is described on his own website as a ‘local legend’ (www.yealands.co.nz).
There are also 50 hectares of vineyards near Blenheim.
After visiting the Awatere, we headed for the Rapaura
road, where the Stoneleigh winery is located. The surface soil of
the vineyards here look quite different, with big river pebbles
evident – known as ‘sunstones’.
Then we looked at the Brancott Estate. Much
photographed, this is in the south-east of the Wairau Valley, and
it’s quite beautiful – spread over a huge area, with gentle
Then it was time for lunch and a tasting, which are