Jackson Estate, Marlborough, New Zealand
wine pixies

Jackson Estate, Marlborough, New Zealand

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, appellation Marlborough.

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.

Verdict: Carefully crafted.

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New Zealand wine is on the verge of breaking the billion dollar a year production level.

food writer Elliot Essman James Beard Foundation Journalism Award
James Beard Award Nominee Elliot Essman

food writer Elliot Essman James Beard Foundation Journalism Award

Mike Paterson Jackson Estates Winemaker

Jackson Estates Winemaker Mike Paterson.

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