Is single vineyard something to shout about?

Neudorf vineyards (Photo: Neudorf Wines)

I recently received a press release headed “2017 Bragato Wine Awards to be a single vineyard wine competition”.

“We’ve worked hard in past few years to enable the Bragato Wine Awards to evolve into a single vineyard show”, says Ben Glover, Chair of Judges.

“The Bragato Awards are focused on recognising that exceptional grape growing is the foundation of making wines that express a true quality of place.”

“By making the shift to a single vineyard show we’re allowing our industry to express the Turangawaewae of their distinctive sites. This change highlights the Bragato Awards as being truly unique among New Zealand wine shows.”

I must confess that the concept of terroir does give me a touch of the warm fuzzies even if I am not always able to define or recognise the character of a particular vineyard. Acknowledging terroir is a bit like recognising the barista at my favourite café. It’s a comforting constant even if not a cast-iron guarantee of top quality wine or coffee.

Consider that famous multi-vineyard red, Penfold’s Grange. Careful selection of the best batches from a cast of thousands seems to be a more reliable way to craft consistent greatness than by simply relying on a single site.

Is the single vineyard concept too restrictive? Is the Bragato Wine Awards in danger of sacrificing wine quality by favouring Turangawaewae?

I sorted my database of wines tasted in the past year by score. Top wine was Ata Rangi Pinot Noir 2015. Ata Rangi winemaker, Helen Masters, explained that it was a multi-vineyard wine.

“All of the blocks that supply our pinot noir must be at least 20 years-old. Martinborough tends to be divided into smaller parcels than, for example, Marlborough. The vineyards are only separated by a few hundred yards and share identical soils and climate. But it is not a single vineyard wine.”

Next on my list was Trinity Hill Homage Syrah 2014. I asked Trinity Hill founder John Hancock if Homage was a single vineyard Syrah.

“The grapes come from three Gimblett Gravels vineyards, all of which share the same deep river shingle soils and were planted 19 years ago with the same selection of Syrah vine clones. But it’s not a single vineyard wine.”

My top Chardonnay reviewed in the past year is Neudorf Moutere Chardonnay 2015. Is this a single vineyard wine?

“Often, but not always”, said owner Judy Finn. “Traditionally it is made from our Home Block vineyard but we sometimes add a barrel of Rosie’s Block Chardonnay in smaller vintages. The quality gap between Home Block Chardonnay and Rosie’s Block Chardonnay has narrowed considerably as the vines get older. When the wine is all from a single vineyard we note that fact on the back label.”

These three exceptionally high-quality wines each show a strong sense of place. But they are not technically single-vineyard wines every year. The Bragato Wine Awards suffers by excluding them.

8 thoughts on “Is single vineyard something to shout about?”

  1. Jules van Cruysen says:

    Here are my two cents… yes, wines that come from multiple sites can be as interesting, complex and profound as single vineyard wines. As Dave said, Bragato is a show dedicated to celebrating the craft of grape growing. Also, every other show under the sun shows multi-site wines along side single vineyard, why can’t we have one show dedicated to single vineyard wines. To me SV wines give insight into terroir and place…

    As for Neudorf, Ata Rangi and Homage – these wines are rarely entered into competitions anyway so its a little hard to attack the competition for that. This is the case for many a top flight wine and for many reasons.

    And to John Phillips, Turangawaewae literally means ‘a place to stand’ and is a Maori word the NZ wine trade to acknowledge the importance of place in a Aotearoan context. It has analogies in terroir but is different, broader and is meaningful. Nick Mills spoke to it at the recent Pinot Noir 2017 conference. There is a video but this piece by Alder Yarrow is a good precis (http://www.vinography.com/archives/2017/02/turangawhaewhae_a_maori_expres.html)

    Special congrats to the team at Bone Line – that Champion Cab Franc is amazing!

  2. Dave Macdonald says:

    Well I Think you are all missing the point entirely with the Single Vineyard aspect of the Bragato Wine Awards. The awards were setup in 1995 to acknowledge the efforts of Grape Growers and award them for their valued efforts. By making the awards based on a Single Vineyard thereby acknowledges that grower, so you can award them individually and they can take huge pride in that acknowledgement.
    Well done Keven and Kerry Tilly for their superb site and husbandry that created the Bladen Marlborough Gewurztraminer 2016 – the second time they have won this award. I know they are personally thrilled to be acknowledge in this way.
    It takes a community to make a wine and the Growers are such an important part of this community.

    Dave Macdonald (Bladen Wines)

  3. John Phillips says:

    I agree wholeheartedly with Bob & Huon – there are many other examples of outstanding, carefully selected blends. What the hell is “Turangawaewae” though? Does it mean “terroir”? If so, why not use the term everyone understands? Maybe it is a term from traditional pre-European Maori wine making….

  4. John Hancock says:

    Hi Bob, justa slight clarification re Homage, potentially from 3 different Gimblett Gravels vineyards, but also from our hillside vineyard looking over the Gravels at more than 5% so cannot be called Gimblett Gravels. Hence it is labelled Hawkes Bay

  5. Tom says:

    85% rule would’ve been nice.

  6. Raymond Chan says:

    Hi Bob – In general agreement, though when some single vineyard wines can show exceptional character – and quality, then the site is worthy of highlighting. However, a site with modest terroir is not worth the effort of retaining and expressing.

  7. Huon Hooke
    Huon Hooke says:

    I agree Bob. Too much is made of the single-vineyard approach. Great wine can be found in both blends and single vineyards. The single-vineyard warm and fuzzy thing is largely sentimental, and not about quality or character.

    1. John says:

      Huon how can you say that history, culture and provenance have no value in the enjoyment of wine?

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