The sparkling No 1 Family Estate

Left-Right: Virginie, Daniel, Adele and Remy Le Brun of No 1 Family Estate. (Photo: No 1 Family Estate website. Photo:Emma Allen/Marlborough Express.)

No 1 Family Estate is a Marlborough-based sparkling wine specialist. They claim to be,

“…the only winery in New Zealand committed exclusively to producing premium Méthode Traditionelle wine.”

Daniel Le Brun was born in Champagne where his family have been making wine for 12 generations.

I can’t argue with that. No 1 Family Estate was founded in 1997 by Daniel and Adele Le Brun after they sold their original Marlborough winery, called Cellier Le Brun, which was established in 1980, making it one of Marlborough’s earliest wineries. The original winery is now home to Mahi and the brand, now owned by Lion, continues as Daniel Le Brun.

Daniel Le Brun (the man, not the brand) was born in Champagne where his family have been making wine for 12 generations. Champagne is in his blood literally and figuratively. He graduated from the School of Viticulture and Oenology at Avize, but growing frustration on the restrictions of vineyard ownership led him to New Zealand where he met his future wife Adele. Together they planted vineyards and constructed a winery before beginning to make and market bottle-fermented sparkling wine.

From my perspective, the link with Champagne is both a blessing and a curse. Daniel’s experience and qualification must have been invaluable when he started making wine in New Zealand. It gave him authority and a useful marketing edge. But Champagne has created a glass ceiling for all sparkling wine producers outside the boundary of that northern French region. Champagne is generally perceived as being superior to all other forms of sparkling wine. While most of us would agree that not all champagne is better than all Méthode Traditionnelle wines, we must also acknowledge that there are often clear stylistic differences between each.

The New Zealand International Wine Show includes a sparkling wine section that’s a mix of Champagne and Méthode Traditionnelle wines from New Zealand, Australia and several other countries (No 1 Family do not enter their wines in this competition). The judges are required to score the wines on merit rather than origin. Most, but not all, of the gold medals go to wines from Champagne (the sparkling class in 2018 earned 23 gold medals, 17 of which were Champagne). Is that because the judges, unwittingly or wilfully, use Champagne as a benchmark, or is it because Champagne is generally superior to other sparkling wines? I think a bit of both.

No 1 Family Estate wines are made according to the traditional winemaking methods used in Champagne. They are generally richer and more concentrated wines with riper flavours than I would expect to find in Champagne, although the distinction between Champagne and No 1 Family Estate is less obvious with wines that have spent more time en tirage.

The 2013 No 1 Family Estate Adele Cuvée (NZD $240) has the pronounced yeast autolysis influence and ethereal texture that I would expect to find in good vintage Champagne. Similarly, the NV No 1 Family Estate Reserve Blanc de Blancs (NZD $96) has a Champagne-like lifted floral and brioche character combined with a weighty texture that gives it a slight Marlborough signature.

A favourite of mine is the recently released NV No 1 Family Estate Rosé (NZD $47), which exudes charm and offers delightful fresh fruit flavours that might not satisfy the classic definition of Champagne, but are deliciously Marlborough and all the better for it.

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