The final visit of my New Zealand adventure was at Kumeu River, a family-run estate a short drive from Auckland. This is close to where the New Zealand wine industry began in earnest, in west Auckland.
The Brajkovich family moved to New Zealand from Croatia, and the current property was bought by Mick, Katé, and son Maté in 1944. It was Maté and his wife Melba who drove the winery forwards, and in the late 1970s switched from hybrid vines used to make red wines and fortifieds towards more contemporary vinifera varieties.
The big change occurred in the mid-1980s when the winery changed its name to Kumeu River, and Maté’s sons Michael (winemaking), Milan (vineyards) and Paul (marketing) came on board. Soon, Chardonnay became the speciality here, and it now accounts for 70% of production.
I arrived early evening, and visited the vineyards with Michael and Milan, before tasting through the wines. We then had a lovely relaxed dinner with barbecued snapper, accompanied by some back-releases of the Chardonnays, along with Paul and Melba.
The wines here are excellent across the board, but the Chardonnays are just world class, and they also offer exceptional value: New Zealand Chardonnay is generally underrated.
The Village Chardonnay 2009 is a superb wine for the price (it’s around £12 in the UK, with the Estate Chardonnay £16, and the single vineyard Chardonnays around £21, with Mate’s Vineyard a bit higher), offering attractive pear, apple and peach fruit, as well as a hint of reduction. The Estate Chardonnay in both 2009 and 2010 is a superbly focused wine with subtle toasty notes as well as pear and apple fruit. Coddington Vineyard Chardonnay is a bit richer and riper, but still nicely focused, and 2010 just shades the excellent 2009.
The two most exciting wines are the Hunting Hill and Maté’s Vineyard, both of which are quite different in character, even though the vineyards are adjacent. Hunting Hill seems to show a nervy reductive edge in all vintages, and is really focused and structured. We tasted all the releases so far: 2006, 7, 8, 9 and 10. All were stunning, but if I were pushed, I’d say the 6, 9 and 10 were slightly ahead. 2006 was just beautiful.
Maté’s Vineyard is the top wine: we tried the 2006 and 2010. The wines show depth as well as precision, with a mineral undercurrent as well as great concentration. Worth seeking out if you can find it.