Marlborough Home Vintage 2020
By: Christopher Cookson
Last Modified: 19-4-2020 20:36
The four weeks of Covid-19 lockdown here in Blenheim have been rushing past for me at quite a pace, as I've been very busy working, migrating IT systems to the cloud for clients to enable remote work. I know another group of people have also been working very hard over the last few weeks; those involved in the 2020 vintage. Fortunately for Marlborough, the wine industry has been classified as an essential industry, and measures have been put in place to enable people to maintain group isolation to keep people safe but also keep them working. Although I don't work directly in the wine industry, the work I have been doing over the past few weeks is for companies that are directly involved in the industry, and I feel incredibly fortunate to be in a region where such a major industry is able to continue operating and keeping people employed.
No matter how proud Marlburians are of our wine, we have to be honest and admit wine is not for everyone. I don't drink much myself, although when I do, I have a particular soft spot for Gewürztraminer, the wine that people struggle to pronounce. I tend to like highly aromatic wines that are not too acidic, so Pinot Gris and Riesling usually also are quite appealing. I have to confess Marlborough's famous Sauvignon blanc is a bit of a mixed bag for me. It does have a distinctive aromatic nature that I appreciate, however its acidity has led to me hear some people uncharitably refer to it as 'battery acid'. A good Sauvignon blanc that manages to be aromatic without being to harsh is actually something I can enjoy, but it's not something that even the best vineyards seem to be able to produce consistently every vintage, whereas I've yet to experience a Gewürztraminer I didn't like, even though it's produced in much lower volumes.
There is one person in my household on whom the subtleties of wine are totally lost. I have an eight year old daughter, and alcohol is definitely not appropriate for her. It is one of the reasons I don't drink wine often, as I don't like her to feel left out, although my wife and I can somewhat appease her by buying juice and serving it in a wine glass, although unfortunately most supermarket grape juice tastes more like sugar water than something with all the aromatic complexity of our local wines, minus the alcohol.
Today, we did something about that. It's an accident of fate that I live in the family home where I grew up. I can remember from my childhood the large black table grapes that grew along a fence on our quarter acre dividing the back lawn from the vegetable garden. In good years, I'd get to eat a few, but more often than not the birds ate most of them. I'm not sure whether my parents planted them or whether they were already here, but one way or another they'd date from the late sixties to early seventies. I think about four years ago I made some cuttings, which struck rather well, and I planted a couple along a boundary fence which no longer exists, as the wood rotted, and the neighbour took out the ancient wire fence as well. With nothing to attach to, the vines have sprawled out along the ground like a vineyard manager's worst nightmare, however one unexpected benefit of the lack of support is that birds apparently are not terribly keen to eat on the ground, and this year we had a bumper crop of large, black grapes. The birds got a few, but not nearly as many as I'd have expected.
Before the lockdown, I took a break from the home office twice a week to teach edible gardens at my daughter's school. I decided we could do some edible gardening at home, and got her to help me collect a couple of large bowls of grapes, and in our kitchen we set to work to convert them into juice. We found some assorted wildlife amongst the bunches which we were keen not to include in the finished product. All went well though, and after some teamwork, we now have some nicely sterilised grape juice in sealed glass jars, and with a little remaining in the pot for my daughter to toast our success. Compared to even 'premium' supermarket grape juice, our home product tastes far more 'grapey', and my daughter gave it a very positive seal of approval.
The Marlborough wine industry is incredibly innovative, with at least one company now producing alcohol free wine in response to demand. Kids may not necessarily enjoy the taste even of alcohol free wine, and some adults may frown on introducing kids to wine even if it is alcohol free, but I think there's room for further innovation. International tourists aren't going to be a happening thing for a while, but internal tourism is likely to pick up again if New Zealand stays on track, however there will be plenty of families like my own who wouldn't generally be keen on dragging their kids around wineries if there's nothing for their kids, and there are some people who choose not to drink for various reasons. I think there's a huge opportunity to open things up and treat the fruit of the vine as something that can be appreciated by everyone, without necessarily having to have an alcoholic product. My daughter loved processing her first home vintage, which I don't think would have been the case if the finished product were something she couldn't enjoy herself. I know a number of vineyards and local wine labels are family owned, but maybe it's time to innovate and ensure that the fruit of our vines are something that truly the whole family can enjoy.