James Healy gets to the point
What motivated you to join the wine industry and to subsequently become a winemaker?
“Every winemaker reaches a stage where they want to make their own wine from scratch.” – James Healy
“My father was an early collector of NZ Wine, notably Nobilo and Matawhero, from the early 70’s until his death in 1994 and so was aware of wine in my late teenage years but not really interested. At University I had a genetics lecturer who was mad on wine and I caught it from him. I caught it quite badly.”
“Our children had all left home and I was ready for an adventure I suppose. Every winemaker reaches a stage where they want to make their own wine from scratch. I was flattered when Ivan asked if I was interested in forming a partnership company to start anew.”
Dog Point specialises in three varieties (sauvignon blanc, chardonnay and pinot noir) are you ever tempted to expand the portfolio?
“This is a simple one. All three of these grapes are ones that we both believe, given appropriate site consideration, demonstrably grow well in Marlborough. Most historically famous wine producing areas in the world are known for very few different wines. I’m not saying that these three are the last word in what could be produced in Marlborough, but we really enjoy the wines and it does allow us to focus on what we are making at Dog Point. So that’s a long way of saying no.”
Dog Point is the country’s biggest producer of organic wines (or does it have the largest single organic vineyard) and yet you don’t seem to play the organic card in your marketing. Why?
“I don’t know if Dog Point has the largest area of organically certified vines but that is what the BioGro guy told us, so I suppose that it’s true. The driving reason to go organic was never about putting it on the label as it’s been years since the vineyard was certified. It was more about appreciating the Marlborough climate and working towards managing the vineyard using more environmentally friendly methods. Incidentally, we have been asked by several countries to include this on our labels and are working on this.”
Do you think that organic grape growing makes a contribution to wine quality?
“If you had asked me that two-three years after Dog Point was in conversion I would not have been able to tell. But now yes definitely. The vines are more resistant to disease, the soil is much healthier, and the wines show it.”
Vineyard site, viticulture and winemaking all contribute to quality. What order of importance would you put them in?
“Without getting bogged down in detail, for me it’s site first, viticulture second, winemaking third without a doubt! A competent winemaker, and there are plenty of them, can make wine out of pretty much anything. Great or poor viticulture will naturally have its part to play, but the limiting quality parameter of what a winemaker is capable of making is ultimately set by the site.”
What’s the best part of your job?
“Quite simply seeing what we have made get safely bottled. Such a relief. That and travelling to exotic places and persuading locals to buy it.”
I’ve got to ask, how did the 2018 vintage treat you?
“The chardonnay is a star. Sauvignon blanc has great flavour and came into the winery with very good balance – something that doesn’t always happen – and the pinot has good ripe red flavours. We were pushed towards the end with rapidly ripening sauvignon, but the result is that we’re very happy with what we have made.”