Is single vineyard something to shout about?
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.