Scratch below the surface and there’s lots of interesting stuff going on in Marlborough. Here’s an example. Will and Rachel Hoare have just launched their new label, Novum, which focuses on Syrah, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay made from interesting sites in Marlborough. Will was previously general manager at Fromm, but he was travelling a lot and had three young children, so when Fromm had some ownership changes, he decided it was an opportunity to do something cool, making just a few thousand cases of high-end wine and selling it direct. ‘It was kind of like a midlife crisis,’ he says, ‘but the key is that I was getting back to what I wanted to do. As a winery you can get to the size that you have to spend all your time on a plane selling the wine.’
Will grew up in Marlborough. His parents had been living in Wellington where his dad, John Hoare, had a property company, but a house break-in prompted them to move to the rural quiet of Marlborough in 1978. The wine industry was just starting in the region, and with the capital they had they bought quite a bit of land on Jackson’s Road, at $700 per acre. At the time there were no vineyards on the Rapaura side of the Wairau Valley. Phil Rose of Wairau River was the first to plant vineyards here, but when he announced his plans to plant in 1978, he was met with 56 objections. In the end he won, and shortly after the Hoares planted their 40 hectares of vines, which these days provide grapes for Cloudy Bay. Interestingly, on this block there are six very old rows which were part of a rootstock trial for Montana (this was pre-Cloudy Bay), and which are among the oldest vines in the region.
‘The old man worked in the vineyard for two years and found it boring,’ says Will, so he started selling vineyards to wineries in the early 1980s. ‘He became the guy to go to to buy vineyards.’ As a result, Will learned a huge amount about soil and vineyards. When Will got kicked out of school for selling wine to students, he went to work for Cloudy Bay, and spent a year working on the bottling line. Eventually he was allowed into the cellar with James Healey. James was getting into Pinot Noir and did a vintage at Au Bon Climat with Jim Clenenden, and he recommended that Will should go over to California to do the same. So for five years Will went over to Au Bon Climat for vintage, spending a few months there at a time. When he came back to settle in Marlborough, because he was so interested in soil, Fromm was the place to go because it was the only winery at the time really focusing on single vineyards and respecting the soil. He came to Fromm for one vintage and ended up spending 19 years there.
The first two Novum wines have now been released, a Pinot Noir and a Syrah. The Pinot comes from three hillside sites all in the Southern Valleys. The first is organically farmed Yarrum, part of the large vineyard holding of Dog Point, and this site gives flesh to the wine. The second is the Settlement Vineyard in the Omaka Valley. We visited this vineyard, which again is organic and also owned by Dog Point; this gives lighter, crunchier fruit. And Will also got a ton of fruit from Churton, which is on the border of the Omaka and Waihopai Valleys.
The Syrah comes from four rows of vines in Takaki Okada’s Folium Vineyard, in the Brancott Valley. These are mass selection, were originally planted for Fromm, and are now 21 years old and dry farmed. There is a Novum Chardonnay, too, but this hasn’t yet been released.
The wines are cork-sealed with NDtech corks, which are individually tested for TCA, and the bottles are wax dipped: they look stunning. Both wines are excellent and are currently being sold direct. Will sold out of Syrah in 3.5 hours, but there is still some Pinot left. New Zealand retail is NZ$40.
Novum Pinot Noir 2016 Marlborough, New Zealand
13% alcohol. Pinot is 100% destemmed, wild ferment, aged in 30% new oak. Beautifully expressive and refined with sleek black cherry and blackberry fruit. It’s rich and seductive but also has freshness and detail. Great structure and harmony too. There’s some black fruit richness but also lovely red fruit crunch. Such a textural wine with real interest and detail, with opulence but also some seriousness. Beautiful stuff. 95/100
Novum Syrah 2016 Marlborough, New Zealand
12.5% alcohol. Two barrels (one year old). Beautifully perfumed with fresh black and white pepper, lovely red and black cherry fruit, with a seductive smoothness framed beautifully by the spicy pepper notes. It’s a very elegant, almost Burgundian expression of Syrah with some sweet fruit but real delicacy and elegance. Nicely bright and crunchy on the finish: a really pretty cool climate expression of Syrah. 94/100
Available from www.novumwines.co.nz