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Exciting innovations in New Zealand wine.

8 April 2020

New Zealand winemakers live and work in one of the youngest wine regions in the world, which gives them an open book when it comes to innovation. We meet three Kiwis who are leading the charge right now.

Explore


Exciting innovations in New Zealand wine.

8 April 2020

New Zealand winemakers live and work in one of the youngest wine regions in the world, which gives them an open book when it comes to innovation. We meet three Kiwis who are leading the charge right now.

A man crouching to inspect grape vines

Ollie Powrie, chief viticulturist at Villa Maria, inspects his albariño vines. Image: Supplied.

Why albariño is New Zealand’s hot new varietal

Ollie Powrie, chief viticulturist at Villa Maria, New Zealand’s most awarded winery, likens the growth in popularity of albariño to the early popularity of sauvignon blanc: “Back in the ’80s winemakers were excited to try something new, and that’s what’s happening now with albariño.”

The aromatic white grape, which is native to Spain and Portugal, has been picking up speed in New Zealand since 2011. It’s still early days, but Powrie says it could be the next big thing.

“It has that X factor – you get amazing citrus flavours and a delicious peachy character as well, but the thing that stands it apart is an amazing natural acidity in the grape, which makes a wine that comes across as really zappy and zingy.”

There are also environmental benefits. Powrie says he doesn’t have to use as much water as he would for sauvignon blanc (albariño grapes at Villa Maria’s Gisborne winery are dry grown) and that it naturally copes really well with rising temperatures.

A dedicated research winery for Marlborough

The newly opened Bragato Research Institute has just one job – to make sure that the country’s winemakers are kept up to date with the latest methods, sustainability tools and processes.

Based in Marlborough, New Zealand’s largest wine region, it works with winemakers either in their own vineyards or in the lab’s custom-built facility, which has 90 research-sized tanks (200 litres instead of the usual 2000 litres) in place.

While it works exactly like a winery, it doesn’t make any wine you can buy. Instead, Bragato CEO MJ Loza says the facilities afford Bragato’s scientists the chance to put every part of the winemaking process under the microscope. “It might be something simple like improving the overall quality of a wine or working with a winery that has had problems and wants to find where that problem is coming from.”

The institute is also aiming to hit a sustainability benchmark for the industry at large, targeting a 5 Green Star rating. If awarded, it will be the first such NZ Green Building Council certified building in Marlborough, under the Green Star green building certification program.

Pioneering lower-in-alcohol wines

A man posing with bottles of wine

Winemaker John Forrest is gaining attention for his lower-in-alcohol wines. Image: Supplied.
 

John Forrest would have you know that he’s not a “doctor”, doctor – he’s a neurobiologist turned winemaker. That’s probably a good thing, as he’s not making health claims about his range of lower-in-alcohol wines. He just wants to make sure you’ve got options.

Forrest’s wines are naturally lower-in-alcohol thanks to vineyard management and crafty winemaking, but they are not alcohol-free. “If you take away its affects in the central nervous system, aka getting drunk, alcohol has 101 benefits – it adds sweetness without sugar, a roundness and richness without glycol… it has a stabilising effect on flavour,” he says.

The Doctors’ pinot noir, riesling, sauvignon blanc and rosè have just been released in Australia, although Forrest has been making them since 2006. They’re all around 8 or 9 per cent ABV, which is around 30 to 40 per cent less than a full-strength bottle of wine.

Forrest says that people’s tastes have changed in the 30 years he’s been winemaking, with drinkers looking for more flavour, but not necessarily more alcohol. And, he says, “they love the idea that it’s sustainably grown and there’s no chemical trickery.”  

*Mercedes-Benz Australia/Pacific Pty Ltd at all times promotes the responsible service and consumption of alcohol.

By Nola James