I have a more intimate acquaintance with Kumeu River (tastings) than any other winery on the planet. I visit the winery once every month or two with students attending my five-week wine course. It’s a perfect venue for a wine class. It’s the right size, the wines are great and winemaker, Michael Brajkovich MW is a brilliant tour guide.
I think it was Lord Rutherford who said,
“If a scientist can’t explain his science to a layman then he probably doesn’t understand it himself.”
Mike knows his stuff and is a natural teacher.
When Mike graduated with a degree in oenology from Roseworthy the Dean described him as the brightest student they had ever had. He was the first New Zealander to gain the Master of Wine qualification. I was second, although I claim to be the first New Zealander under six feet tall and over 40 (Mike is taller and younger than I am).
Kumeu River is a 40-minute drive north-west of Auckland’s CBD. The winery produces around 20,000 cases of wine each year from 30 hectares of its own vineyards and 10 hectares from local growers. For a while, they made a good Marlborough sauvignon blanc and they have just begun to buy chardonnay grapes to boost the volume of their entry-level Village Chardonnay, but otherwise they stick to local grapes.
Kumeu River produces pinot gris, pinot noir, merlot and recently released a classy bottle fermented sparkling wine but their unquestionable “star turn” is chardonnay, which is probably even more highly prized in Export markets such as the US and UK than it is domestically.
Many years ago I had a regular column on the New York Times website which allowed viewers to contact me direct if they had any questions about New Zealand wines. More than half the questions related to Kumeu River.
Featuring in the annual Top 100 list published in Wine Spectator is roughly equivalent to gaining 98 points or more from Robert Parker Jnr. Kumeu River has made the Top 100 list eight times, an extraordinary achievement.
At a tasting in the UK by Stephen Browett, chairman of Farr Vintners, last year four vintages of Kumeu River Chardonnay went head-to-head in a blind tasting, each with four distinguished and considerably more expensive white burgundies. The tasters, which included some of the UK’s highest profile wine critics, rated Kumeu River first in three flights and first equal in the fourth.
Why is Kumeu River chardonnay so good? I believe that although the vineyard sites in Kumeu cannot claim to be New Zealand’s best, they do give the wines a valuable point of difference. The rest is up to an uncompromising and very thoughtful approach to get the best results in both vineyard and winery.
It’s a team effort with four siblings splitting the work between them and their mother Melba as Matriarch. Michael makes the wine, Milan runs the vineyards while Paul and sister Marijana look after sales and marketing. Clearly a winning formula.