Winemaker Mike Paterson of Jackson Estate in Marlborough, New Zealand likes to talk about
his wines in the same way I speak about my granddaughter: with limitless enthusiasm. New
Zealand exported 88.6 million liters of wine in 2008, more than ten times the level of 1995.
Still a small player by world standards, the country is nevertheless on a major upswing. The
Kiwis produce a range of wines of course, but when Americans say they enjoy New
Zealand wine they are most often talking about Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc.
“While we produce our wines at a winery just next door,” Mike tells me,
“we use only fruit grown on the vineyards we own.” I remark that this is about
the opposite of the usual case, in which a winery buys in whatever fruit is can get, leading to
good or mediocre quality wine, as the case may be. Paterson wants greater control over his
raw material. He depends on viticulturist Geoff Woolcombe for this, and uses the
sustainably-farmed grapes to produce some stylish cool-climate wines. They keep it simple,
as one would expect: Sauvignon Blanc of course, Pinot Noir to no one's surprise, and a
concession toward the world primacy of Chardonnay. All wines are 100% single varietals,
The Jackson Estate 2008 Stich Sauvignon Blanc, at $22, is the wine you are most likely to
track down, with 10,000 cases imported. The Stich is the namesake of Managing Director
John Stichbury. Light lemon in color with a “great nose” (I quote my notes
directly) of melon, peach and honeysuckle. The dry wine has good acidity but other
dimensions, with tropical flavors of banana and ripe mango. “Our aim here was to
showcase the fruit in a food-friendly wine,” Paterson relates. “We allowed five
months lees aging in tank for the sake of palate texture and rounder acidity.” The
Stich is a blend of four separate vineyard sites, fined-tuned by Paterson into an excellent
package for the price.
The Jackson Estate 2007 Grey Ghost Sauvignon Blanc, $25 with only 150 cases imported,
makes another statement entirely. The “Grey Ghost” refers to the giant gum
tree planted by a family ancestor in 1867 whose image appears on all Jackson Estate bottles.
Here grapes derive from a single vineyard, the Homestead. Paterson uses indigenous yeast to
get this one started, fermenting in old (and hence neutral) oak and giving five months lees
contact, followed by a year of bottle aging. Medium lemon in color, the nose is more intense
than that of the Stich. I enjoyed aromas of clove and acacia among the rich citrus and tropical
fruit. The wine is dry, giving palate delights of lychee, angelica, candied fruit, and peach,
blended with a savory and floral side. A Pouilly-Fumé feel. A generous wine.
The Jackson Estate 2007 Shelter Belt Chardonnay, $22, sees a production of only 1,000 cases,
of which we enjoy a mere 150. The vines used for two clones (Mendoza and B95) of
Chardonnay are ten years old, middle-aged for Marlborough. “With these two
particular clones,” Paterson says, “we reduce the effects of malolactic
fermentation and hence limit the buttery notes that are so often overdone in many New World
Chardonnays.” This is a wine with layers, a medium lemon in color, with grapefruit,
pineapple, mango and lemon on the nose. A dry wine with structure, not fruit forward, with
tasteful bits of creaminess and chewy notes of brioche. The finish is long, fruity, with echoes
of the restrained French oak regime (25% new oak) offering sweet and fragrant vanilla. I
would enjoy this elegant wine on its own.
The Jackson Estate 2008 Vintage Widow Pinot Noir, $32, with 3,200 cases imported, is the
product of two select vineyards with ten-year-old vines. Soils here are clay-based rather than
alluvial. The hand-picked fruit is pre-soaked in open top fermenters, given ten days
maceration on the skins after fermentation, then matured in French oak, 20% new. Bottled
unfined and unfiltered. I am not constitutionally constructed to readily enjoy Pinot, but this
one brought a smile: cherry, cedar, and tickly nutmeg on the nose, pomegranate, cherry and
licorice on the palate, chocolate and cocoa on the finish. The specifications list no residual
sugar, but you wouldn't know it from the ripe warmth of this wine. The mouthfeel is smooth,
with tannins and acidity working admirably in the background. Paterson suggests cellaring
10-15 years, but I suggest enjoying it right now.