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Grape expectations

A group of visiting international sommeliers were treated to the best of Wairarapa wines last week. PHOTOS/PETE MONK

GIANINA SCHWANECKE

A group of overseas wine experts were surprised to discover the variety and quality of Wairarapa wines, after a tour through some of the regions 30 or so vineyards last week.

The group of nine northern hemisphere sommeliers visited vineyards in the region coming from as far away as Sweden, Ireland, Britain, the United States and even included an Italian sommelier from Dubai.

They got a real taste of what the region can produce and found out a bit about the history of what is now a key part of Wairarapa’s story.

Most wine producers in the Wairarapa are small, family-owned and boutique vineyards with the region contributing just one per cent of the country’s total production.

The region’s most common planted grape varieties are Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc, with small plantings of Riesling, Pinot Gris, Gewurztraminer and Syrah.

The first Wairarapa vines were planted near Masterton in the early 1890s by the French wife of early Wairarapa settler William Beetham.

The introduction of prohibition in 1909 saw the removal of these early vines and it was not until the late 1970s that locals once again thought about the region’s potential for winemaking.

Many of the region’s earliest vines are only now approaching 40 years in age.

But Luna Estate sales and marketing manager Rick Lindsay said Wairarapa’s vines were nevertheless some of the oldest in the country, including plantings in the Hawke’s Bay and Central Otago.

Nestled in the region’s winemaking capital of Martinborough, Luna Estate encompasses two vineyards.

“What we’re trying to highlight is the small boutique producers and the diversity of the region.

“We want to showcase our wines, our people, our produce, our climate.”

He said a lot of people were surprised by the quality of the wine, and the visitors were impressed.

“[We had] amazing feedback. Everyone really enjoyed it.

He said the region’s wine industry had grown over the years as flavour palate had changed.

“People are wanting more cool climate wines and wines with less alcohol.”

He attributed the region’s reputation for pinot noir production as part of this change.

“That’s why pinot noir is so popular. It doesn’t have that heavy tannin taste.

“We’re growing as we look at new streams of vine planting.”

Luna currently produces 10,000 cases of wine each year but is hoping to expand and had recently replaced many of their sauvignon blanc vines for pinot noir and chardonnay varieties.

Next week a group of eight Master winemakers will visit the region – the first time they’ve returned to New Zealand in 10 years.

Lindsay said it was a fantastic opportunity to showcase the region under the new Wellington Wine Country label to influential winemakers.

“For global reach it’s really good for the region.”

In 2017 Wairarapa winemakers opted to market themselves under the Wellington Wine Country label, operating in a similar manner to the collective label used to described wines produced by Central Otago vineyards.

The label brings together wine producers from Martinborough, Gladstone and Masterton.

The move was seen has moving towards a collective and more recognisable regional brand, while avoiding confusion with wine produced in Waipara.

Linking the region’s proximity to the capital also helps in promoting the Wellington Wine Country brand with overseas visitors and markets.

The sommeliers applied to visit the region through New Zealand Wine Growers and are selected to attend the ‘sommit’.

Also part of the tour was the region’s only organic vineyard, Urlar Estate.

Winemaker Jennine Rickards said regional winemakers had come together to give the visiting sommeliers a taste of local wines.

“We had really positive feedback on the wines.

“We’re really well known for our pinot noir but our whites are really strong in the region too.”

She said marketing under the Wellington Wine Country label had been beneficial and was especially helpful for smaller wine producers by giving them a more authoritative brand.

“Being such a small region, we often get overlooked.

“[The label] is building momentum. It’s great to have that connection to the capital.”

Next week the winery is set to welcome a further 25 visitors from overseas, including a range of sommeliers and lifestyle writers.

Each of the three subregions produced a slightly different quality and flavour of wine.

Matahiwi is one of the larger boutique wineries in Masterton, and still market their wines as being produced in the Wairarapa.

Winemaker Miles Dinneen said he was looking forward to showing the group of sommeliers and lifestyle writers around the estate next week.

“They get a really good tour of the whole region.”

He described the Wairarapa has a “hidden gem” and said many at last week’s tasting at _ were surprised by the quality of our white wines.

“New Zealand wine in general is doing really well largely thanks to Marlborough. There’s more recognition of what’s happening in other regions too though.”

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