Marlborough, where big can be good: Brancott Estate, Deutz and Stoneleigh

The Brancott Estate: view from the tasting room and restaurant

Global drinks giant Pernod Ricard are major players in the New Zealand wine scene, but as this tasting showed, in Marlborough, big can be good. They have a few Marlborough brands. The most famous is Brancott Estate, which used to be Montana. Montana were the first to plant in the region in 1973, and the first to plant Sauvignon Blanc, in 1975. Also in the mix are Stoneleigh and Deutz. Deutz is the sparkling wine brand that they have been making since 1990, and now they are collaborating with Mumm, one of the Champagne houses in the Pernod Ricard portfolio.

I tasted through these wines with chief winemaker Patrick Materman, who has been working for Montana/Brancott since 1990. His first job at the firm was hand riddling Deutz.

The Deutz winese come from the Brancott Vineyard and Renwick Vineyard next to the airport. Some vines are spur pruned, but most are 3 or 4 cane pruned. Interestingly, 100% of the grapes are hand harvested across the sparkling program, so they hand pick 1500 tons, which is unusual in a region where machine harvesters are the norm. They have done trials comparing hand and machine picked fruit: colour and phenolic pick up are the issues with machine picking sparkling.

They have a Cocquard champagne press, the only one in the southern hemisphere. They also use bag presses with a long, slow 4 hour cycle. For the cuvee (the top quality first pressing) the yield is just 500 litres per ton, as opposed to normal Sauvignon yields of 750 litres per ton.

Hand picking is more expensive, costing $300-350 ton. Machine picking costs $380 per row kilometre, which works out at $40-50 a ton.

One of the advances in winemaking that Pernod have adopted for Sauvignon is called continuous flotation. Typical white winemaking involves pressing the grapes then sending the juice to tank to settle for one or two days at low temperature, before sending the clear juice to the fermentation tank. Flotation is a different approach, which involves using nitrogen gas and usually a flotation agent such as gelatin to get all the solids to the top. Pernod use continuous flotation and then the floats go through centrifuges to get any remaining juice out. The advantage is that within 24 hours everything is inoculated and ready to ferment. This is the key to getting clean wines in vintages like 2017 when there was quite a bit of botrytis about.

Deutz Blanc de Blancs 2014 Marlborough, New Zealand
Quite tight and focused with nice citrus and apple notes, as well as a bit of pear. Really tight and focused with nice freshness and detail, and a juicy finish. Tight citrus here. 89/100

Deutz Prestige Cuvée 2015 Marlborough, New Zealand
I was nicely surprised by this, a blend of Chardonnay 55% and Pinot 45%, 8 g/l dosage. Using some cuves (large oak) and also harvesting slightly riper. Lovely finesse: really expressive with bright, delicate citrus notes. Lemon and a bit of grapefruit with subtle toast. Has lovely, well-integrated acidity and a hint of cherry and pear ripeness. 91/100

Petit Cordon by Maison Mumm
This is a collaboration with Mumm. Didier Mariotti, Mumm’s chef de cave, comes out to New Zealand a couple of times a year. This wine is based on the 2014, and at the moment is specifically for the Australian market. Patrick says that it’s one of the most interesting projects he’s been involved with, especially the collaboration with Mumm. He’s been over to get involved in the blending in Champagne. 8 g/l dosage, Pinot Noir dominant (60%, has a little Pinot Meunier in here), with 20% reserve wines. Really fine and expressive with nice lemon and pear notes. Very fine with delicate fruitiness and real elegance. There’s an effortless elegance here, with nice purity. 92/100

Generally, Marlborough Sauvignon has just a little bit of sugar added to balance it at blending, especially in a year such as 2017. In the past this would have been a straight sugar addition, but this isn’t allowed for the EU, where grape derived sugar is needed. So some companies will use sugar for non-EU wines and grape juice concentrate for the EU wines. Pernod don’t use grape juice concentrate to sweeten their wines. Instead, they stop some ferments, and also hold some unfermented juice and sterile filter it.

For Brancott Estate Sauvignon, which is a large production (the UK takes 800 000 cases, for example) the wine is bottled several times a year, which means more than one blend. In 2017, for example, Brancott had to ferment on seven different sites because they lost a lot of tank capacity in the earthquake. But the blend is pretty consistent, and the wine is kept at 5 C, which preserves the exotic polyfunctional thiols that add so much to the aroma of Marlborough Sauvignon. Patrick noted, though, that the price for the Brancott Sauvignon hasn’t really changed since he started in 1990. Some of the profitability has gone, especially in more price sensitive and discount driven markets.

But Pernod Ricard’s approach is to play a long-term game, with a view to protecting brands and building them, rather than selling lots of wine as private label or soft brands. For this reason, they have been overtaken by many competitors, particularly in the USA, who are prepared to sell cheaper.

Brancott Estate Sauvignon Blanc 2017 Marlborough, New Zealand
Pure, delicate and quite pretty with nice citrus core complemented by some tropical notes. Has lovely weight and freshness. Clean and pure. Not the most expressive ever version of this wine, but considering the vintage it’s really good. 88/100

Brancott Estate Letter Series ‘B’ Sauvignon Blanc 2016 Marlborough, New Zealand
The Brancott vineyard in the Southern Valleys. Some cuve fermentation and the odd puncheon. This has more palate weight: it’s quite dense and focused with nice pear and apple notes as well as some citrus. There’s a bit of tropical fruit richness, but there’s quite a solid, almost mineral core, and some stuffing to this. 91/100

Chosen Rows Vertical

These are the only vintages made so far of this super-premium Sauvignon that was a long time in the planning (see here and here). It is 100% off Brancott Vineyard, and the grapes are hand harvested. Vines are pruned to two canes and shoot thinned to one bunch per shoot. Whole bunch pressed and wild ferment, all either in cuve/foudre (2000/4000 litre) plus some puncheons. Remains on gross lees for 10-11 months before blending. 5000 litres made a year, so harvest a lot more than is needed. Retail is NZ$80.

Brancott Estate Chosen Rows Sauvignon Blanc 2010 Marlborough, New Zealand
No malolactic, low pH (3.05) and 8.3 g/l acid. Complex nose of wax and citrus pith with fennel and some fine green herbs. This is still south youthful and linear with complex citrus and pear fruit with some sweeter fruitiness (cherry and ripe apple), but also lovely acidity that integrates perfectly, and a saline, mineral streak, too. Just a bit of green, but it’s really well integrated. This is developing beautifully but there’s no hurry to drink it up. 95/100

Brancott Estate Chosen Rows Sauvignon Blanc 2013 Marlborough, New Zealand
pH 3.1 and TA 7.9 g/l. Compact, taut nose of crystalline citrus fruits. Fine, pure and direct on the palate with a lovely citrus core to the fruit, and fringing with fine green herby notes. There’s a long, spicy finish with nice complexity and weight. Very pure and fine, and with lots of potential. Not at all showy, but beautifully toned. 94/100

Brancott Estate Chosen Rows Sauvignon Blanc 2015 Marlborough, New Zealand
Some malolactic happened here. Has a distinctive dried hay and seaweed edge to the nose, and there’s some cabbage complexity on the palate. Nice ripe pear and citrus fruit. There’s some lime oil character on the palate, too. Lots going on here: really complex, but needs time to settle. Currently in a bit of an odd state. 91/100

Brancott Estate Chosen Rows Sauvignon Blanc 2016 Marlborough, New Zealand
Not released yet (probably early 2019). Fresh, slightly floral citrus fruits nose. Refined. Dense and fine on the palate with concentrated, compact citrus fruits with lovely presence and weight. Has a bright, fresh lemony finish. This is just a baby, but all the elements are here for it to develop beautifully. Very fine. 94/100

Brancott Estate Reflection Limited Edition Sauvignon Blanc Sauvignon Gris 2016
Reflection is cellar door only, in conjunction with the new Brancott sculpture, located in the vineyard. Made about 5000 litres, but bottled 1400 litres. 52% Sauvignon Blanc, 48% Sauvignon Gris, wild ferment, in barrel. 14.5% alcohol. This is rich and textural with great concentration and purity. Crystalline citrus fruits and a hint of white peach, with some well integrated vanilla and spice from the oak. Broad, tending towards fatness in places, but with lovely palate weight and a fresh, finely spiced finish. 93/100

Brancott Estate Letter Series O Chardonnay 2016 Marlborough, New Zealand
The O used to stand for Ormond in Gisborne, but now this wine is from the Brancott Vineyard, but ‘honouring the Omaka vineyard’. There’s a lovely freshness here, but also depth of flavour. Rich, slightly peachy fruit, but also with some toast and crystalline citrus character. Has lovely weight and balance. A serious effort. 93/100

Brancott Estate Letter Series T Pinot Noir 2016 Marlborough, New Zealand
T stands for Terraces, and it’s a hillside vineyard at the southeastern corner of the Brancott vineyard. Lovely texture here with density to the bright raspberry and cherry fruit. Very appealing with some density and weight to the palate. Has a fine spiciness and some subtle meaty notes. Lovely stuff. 92/100

Brancott Estate Classic Pinot Noir 2015 Marlborough, New Zealand
100% oak alternatives. Juicy, sweet and spicy. Nice cherry and plum fruit. Supple and drinkable with no nasty edges. 86/100

Brancott Estate Showcase Series Pinot Noir 2015 Marlborough, New Zealand
14% alcohol. Cellar door only. Sweetly aromatic with enticing berry and cherry fruit aromas. Sweet with a hint of raspberry jam and fine spices. Concentrated on the palate with a lovely silky texture, showing ripe, seductive fruit, hemmed in by some spicy structure. Nice depth and weight: there’s a real substance to this ripe, enticing wine. 93/100

Brancott Estate Reflection Pinot Noir 2015 Marlborough, New Zealand
14.5% alcohol. Cellar door only. Enticing, aromatic nose with ripe fruit and some toasty, spicy oak character. Dense, bold and ripe with lots of fruit and oak, meshing sort of harmoniously to create a real statement Pinot. It’s complex, bold and quite delicious, finishing grippy and spicy. 92/100

Brancott Estate Chosen Rows Pinot Noir 2015 Marlborough, New Zealand
14.5% alcohol. Debut vintage. This wine is all about texture. It shows ripe raspberry fruit with some floral cherry hints, but it’s in the mouth that it comes alive, with layered, finely spice fruit and good structure. Ripe, generous and broad but still possessing some elegance and freshness. Very appealing and fine, with some sappy notes as well as a warm, rounded, textured mouthfeel. 94/100


Stoneleigh Lighter Sauvignon Blanc 2017 Marlborough, New Zealand
9.5% alcohol. 7 g/l sugar. If any country is going to do lighter style wines, says Patrick, New Zealand is the country to do it. This lighter style wine is impressive. It is made using a yeast that reduces malic acid levels significantly (from Lallemand). They are looking for big thiols with this wine. Really aromatic with lovely passionfruit character, Subtle and expressive with a delicate, pretty personality. A really expressive, delicious wine. 88/100

Stoneleigh Wild Valley Sauvignon Blanc 2016 Marlborough, New Zealand
100% wild ferment, 25-30 000 cases of wild ferment. Majority is tank fermented but some goes through four five year old barriques in the Stoneleigh Chardonnay program. Lovely palate weight and texture here with refined pear, white peach and citrus fruit. There’s even a hint of melon here. Broad and ripe with lovely fruit expression. This is really appealing and stylish: a different expression of Marlborough Sauvignon. 90/100

Stoneleigh Latitude Sauvignon Blanc 2017 Marlborough, New Zealand
From Rapaura. Stainless steel, two-caned pruned. Really pretty and expressive with bright, delicate tropical fruit tones and also some fresh citrus. Quite an elegant style with a nice mid-palate and a fresh finish. Harmonious and pretty, and very pure, especially considering the vintage. 92/100

Stoneleigh Rapaura Series Chardonnay 2016 Marlborough, New Zealand
Machine harvested. Beautifully expressive nose with a nice reductive edge to the ripe pear and peach fruit. The palate is quite ripe and generous with bold, peachy fruit and some soft, almost buttery texture. Very broad and appealing with lovely weight in the mouth. A ripe style. 90/100

Stoneleigh Rapaura Series Pinot Noir 2016 Marlborough, New Zealand
From Rapaura. Juicy, fresh and bright with some vivid cherry and berry fruits, a bit of grip, and nice purity. Juicy and sappy with nice pure, bright fruit. 89/100

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