New Zealand's Cloudy Bay

, one of the most successful brand names in Southern Hemisphere white wines, has been going for 20 years. To mark this 2004 anniversary, those who run this highly-praised wine group have been touring the world to show off its product range. Kevin Judd, Chief Winemaker and Managing Director, gave a seminar and tasting to the Circle of Wine Writers in London at the end of October.

He started us all off with its sparkling wine, a non-vintage , -based, and then followed with two vintage versions in which dominates. But it is, of course, Cloudy Bay's that established this brand and we seminarists — if that is an acceptable term — were talked through a range of these wines. Starting with a preview of the 2004, and this year's more generally released 2002, we tasted backwards at two-year intervals to the 1994.

But if people think of Cloudy Bay in terms of the basic Sauvignon Blanc version, the anniversary tasting at Kettners in Soho was designed to show a whole brand range of varietals including , , and lastly a tasty Late Harvest .

First of the specials was the barrel-fermented 2001, a matured wine (just released in 2004) and its 1998 predecessor, also Sauvignon Blanc, both marketed under the extra name of Te Koko. Kevin Judd fiercely emphasised that Te Koko was not a Reserve or maturer version of their regular Cloudy Bay so much as an alternative style of Sauvignon Blanc.

The , harvested after an exceptionally dry season, meant low yields but excellent concentration. The grapes were from the main Cloudy Bay estate and from two regular growers in the Wairau Valley, that major grape growing area of Marlborough. The grapes picked in the cool of the night were put into tank presses until the next October.

On hand to deal with more detail about the growing of Cloudy Bay grapes was Siobán Harnett, responsible at Cloudy Bay for managing 140 hectares of estate vineyards at three sites, as well as overseeing five of Cloudy Bay's contract grower's vineyards. Additionally, Siobán was in charge of the company's plant propagation programme, and a new development in the Omaka Valley — devoted mainly to Pinot Noir.

Most of those at the tasting were well aware of Cloudy Bay's sauvignons, but for some of us it was very useful to meet their Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs. Your correspondent was particularly impressed by the which has not yet been released in Britain, and its predecessor the .

These wines might yet prove to be a Down Under challenge to the classic Gewürztraminers of , which lead the way in Europe.

The 20th Anniversary Tasting was an excellent occasion to be reminded more about Cloudy Bay's history, and what this company did to promote Marlborough as the New Zealand wine area.

Cloudy Bay was established by , the West Australian winery, and its vineyards are mostly in the Wairau Valley, in the grape-growing area of at the northern tip of New Zealand's South Island. Well-protected by hills, the area benefits from a cool maritime climate, with little rain at the wrong moments, and a claim to have more sunlight hours than any other New Zealand region.

As recently at 1969 there was hardly a grape grown anywhere in the South Island, and yet by 1991 Marlborough was New Zealand's biggest vineyard area. Enjoy the Sauvignons, but keep an eye on the super Te Koko - and even be prepared to do some comparative tasting of the 2002 Cloudy Bay Gewürztraminers.

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