Cloudy Bay – The pride and the passion
(Pic: Cloudy Bay’s Tim Heath – fresh Wairau brown trout goes well with sauvignon blanc!)
Cloudy Bay winemaker Tim Heath is passionate about his job, and about his flagship white wine, Te Koko. Started in 1996, long before Heath joined the company (he arrived 11 years ago), Te Koko was always a big-statement wine: powerful, emphatic, pungent and oaky – an extreme example of the strengths of the Marlborough region and its flagship grape, sauvignon blanc.
For many drinkers, including myself, it was sometimes too much of a good thing. At the end of the day, wine has to be drunk, and sometimes you don’t want to listen to the 1812 Overture, with cannons and all: just a little solo piano with Erik Satie tickling the ivories is enough.
Heath recognized the problem in 2010 and set about re-modelling Te Koko in a new direction. “Hopefully, it’s a wine that has drinkability as well as tasteability!” He began making alterations to the winemaking from the 2011 vintage (“You can’t change a wine- style overnight: it takes three years or so”) and the 2014 is exactly what he is after. He’s used less malolactic, less oak, less solids in the fermentation, and the grapes are a little earlier picked, resulting in a wine with a shade less alcohol. The result: a wine that’s less in-your-face.
The 2011 (tasting) is a lovely wine and the ’14 (tasting), not due on the market for a year or two, will be even better, if the sample I tried is any indication. “I use the word evolution rather than change,” says Heath. “Change suggests you don’t like something and have to change it. Evolution is what happens normally in winemaking.”
With Heath, I recently tasted Te Koko back to 2001 (tasting), and most vintages were still in good drinking condition. 2001 was the last cork-sealed vintage, and the sample was suffering from its cork, while the ’02 (tasting) was in good nick but suffering from the asparagus characters the region sometimes imparts in very cool seasons. The wines before 2001 are too old now, but from ’03 (tasting) onwards they’re all still presentable. Precisely which vintages you prefer depends somewhat on style preference. Some of them, usually from the colder years, are a bit too green and vegetal for my likes. I found ’06 (tasting), ’08 (tasting), ’11 and ’14 were the peak vintages, with ’03, ‘05 (tasting), ‘09 (tasting), ’12 (tasting) and ’13 (tasting) also excellent.
Asked what he thought was the most important development in Marlborough sauvignon blanc over the years, not including the arrival of the screwcap, Heath replied: “Irrigation management – stopping the vines growing when they’re supposed to be ripening the fruit. And leaf/canopy management: avoiding having fruit inside the canopy which has never seen a sunbeam. That’s where your methoxy-pyrazines (the green aromas and flavours) come from.”
Cloudy Bay Te Koko is $55 retail and the 2011 vintage is still in the shops. My tasting notes are on the app now.