new zealand wine

From Cloudy to Grey: It’s clear skies for NZ winemaker Kevin Judd

From Cloudy to Grey: It’s clear skies for NZ winemaker Kevin Judd

Post by Chuck Hayward | January 17th, 2012

JJ Buckley is proud to be the first retailer in America to sell the wines from Kevin Judd, the founding winemaker from Cloudy Bay. Named after a local soil type, Greywacke (pronounced gray-wack-y) represents Kevin’s effort to get back to the hands on, intuitive and personal approach to winemaking that had become difficult to pursue as the success of Cloudy Bay grew exponentially. Founded just three years ago, the wines have already received significant international acclaim for being some of the top produced in New Zealand.

In spite of the heaping critical praise and excellent ratings, Kevin was unable to secure an American importer…until now! Connecting with Old

Kevin Judd (c) with his dog and cellar assistant

Kevin Judd (c) with his dog Dixie and cellar assistant Fin

Bridge Cellars (known for their high-end Australian portfolio, including such wineries as d’Arenberg and John Duval Wines), Greywacke has become the first New Zealand wine in their portfolio. Thanks to our relationship with Kevin and Old Bridge, JJ Buckley has been selected to introduce his wines to the American market.

Greywacke’s portfolio resembles the wines he made at Cloudy Bay and, indeed, Kevin is working with particular blocks from the growers he came to prefer in his former job. The wines are made at Dog Point Vineyard, owned by best mates and Cloudy Bay alums, James Healy and Ivan Sutherland. During the time when he could not find an American importer, word about the quality of Kevin’s new venture washed ashore here in America, and a rare opportunity to taste a few sips of his sauvignon blanc a few years ago left me wanting more. Accordingly, I took the opportunity on a recent visit to NZ to catch up with Kevin and taste through his portfolio. It was clear to me that he has raised his game and is now well on the way to establishing one of Marlborough’s top wineries. (more…)

Winery Spotlight:Dry River Wines

Winery Spotlight:Dry River Wines

Post by Chuck Hayward | August 22th, 2010

Dry River is widely acknowledged to be one of New Zealand’s most monumental wineries. Without a doubt, Neil McCallum and his staff produce world-class wines across the board that represent the pinnacle of what’s coming out of the country. The wines from this property have always been scarce, as the 3000 case production is mainly sold to mailing list customers and fine restaurants, with only the most passionate promoters of New Zealand wines seeing any of their output.

map of New Zealand

map of New Zealand

Founded in 1979 during the beginnings of New Zealand’s modern wine industry, Neil McCallum set about planting pinot noir in the Martinborough area located about an hour east of Wellington, the country’s capital. Along with Clive Patton of Ata Rangi, Larry McKenna of Martinbourough Vineyards (and now at Escarpment) and Stan Chifney of the now defunct Chifney Estate, the four winemakers are credited with being amongst the first to make serious attempts towards the production of quality pinot noir in New Zealand. While pinot remains the core of Dry River’s production and its concurrent fame, the winery also excels in other varieties including riesling, syrah and gewurztraminer… with a total of 8-10 different wines produced each year.

Neil came to winemaking from a background in botany, in which he received a doctorate from Oxford. His scientific background led him to be an articulate spokesman on topics regarding the intersection of wine, terroir and viticulture. Nowhere does that fact appear so clearly as on the winery website which contains numerous essays by Neil that delve into these themes (e.g. “Where does the expression of terroir end and that of winemaking begin?,” “Tannins, palate structure and longevity in pinot noir,” or “Musings: The Brain is a blunt instrument.”  Click here to read these and more). They are more direct, detailed and serious writings compared to the sly humor often found in similar jottings from Randall Graham of Bonny Doon.

Dry River Vineyard

Dry River Vineyard

Pinot Noir makes up a majority of Dry River’s production (about a third of the total production) and given Neil’s passionate opinions about winemaking, his style is a personal one. Accordingly, Dry River pinots have become quite controversial compared to the classic burgundian model. As Neil Martin of Parker’s site declares about McCallum’s approach: “It is beautifully crafted in a style that is contradictory to what I believe pinot noir should be.”  The pinot noir of Dry River is devoted to finding the optimal colors and flavors that can be derived from its site. The gravelly soils of Martinborough, along with viticultural innovations from Neil, such as reflective mulch, have created pinots that are intensely dark and opaque in color with a similar density of fruit on the palate. He is devoted to understanding what New Zealand pinot noir is capable of becoming.  He knows, however, “it will take some time before the new styles are completely accepted because Burgundy has been centre stage for so long.”

Where Dry River’s pinot elicits much debate and discussion, the rest of the portfolio seems to garner more universal praise by the wine world. The aromatics (riesling, gewurztraminer and pinot gris) all share pure varietal expression with an initial sense of youthful restraint. It is with brief time in the cellar that the power of the wine reveals itself. Neil’s stickies are rare releases but always have a combination of pristine fruit flavors with botrytis. Meanwhile, the peppery syrah showcases why the grape is poised to become New Zealand’s new wine star.

Dry River Post

Dry River Post

I have been fortunate enough to have sold more than 10 vintages of Dry River pinot noir and have never been less than blown away by the intensity of this wine as well as its impact on those customers lucky enough to have tried it. But as is so often the case with wineries that make more than one iconic wine that captivates critics and consumers, it is tasting Dry River’s entire portfolio that makes one realize the strength of vision Neil McCallum has enshrined within his wines. His commitment to wines that require cellaring– the chance for them to unwind over time– is rare to find in a world of instant gratification. The ability to balance a wine’s flavors on a pinpoint shared equally between power and lightness is a rare skill in the wine world, and Dry River has done that again and again.

Regional Spotlight: Martinborough Sauvignon Blanc

Regional Spotlight: Martinborough Sauvignon Blanc

Post by Chuck Hayward | April 26th, 2010

The Martinborough region has gained worldwide acclaim for its pinot noir

Photo courtesy of

but few people realize that sauvignon blanc is an important aspect of the area’s wine production. In the last vintage, 47% of the grape production in the Wairarapa region (which includes Martinborough along with the Masterton and Gladstone subregions) was pinot noir while 35% was sauvignon blanc. Yet it is Marlborough that has established itself and gained international recognition for sauvignon.

Sauvignons from Martinborough are quite distinctive and different from the prevailing Marlborough style. The palate profile is typically elegant and restrained with a long, lingering mineral presence on the finish. Flavor-wise, there are the classic lime and lemon citrus elements that are tightly wound about the mineral laden spine. Most examples are tank-fermented with a small portion (usually 10-15%) of barrel fermented juice added to the final blend for complexity. There are some notes of herbs and spices that show the grape’s varietal characteristics, but you rarely see the more pungent, herbaceous aromas that are prevalent in Marlborough.

Photo courtesy of

The minerality that is so clearly evident in Martinborough sauvignons is probably a result of the soils of the region. The so-called “Martinborough Terraces” are considered the geological backbone of the area and are composed of deep layers of alluvial and gravel deposits. These soils are perfect for drainage, but also retard vegetative growth that can increase a grape’s grassy components.

There are relatively few Martinborough sauvignons in the American market despite their ability to offer a distinctively different style to what Marlborough produces. This is partially due to the fact that pinot remains Martinborough’s principal attraction. But it is also a very small region, only 3% of New Zealand’s grapes are planted there yet it only accounts for 1% of the country’s wine production to due consistently low yields. Nevertheless, brands like Ata Rangi, Palliser Estate, Craggy Range and Martinborough Vineyards are worth the search.

Regional Spotlight: Hawkes Bay, New Zealand

Regional Spotlight: Hawkes Bay, New Zealand

Post by Chuck Hayward | April 13th,2010

“One forgets just how fine New Zealand’s Cabernet Sauvignon and Bordeaux blends can be, particularly in Hawke’s Bay” -Neal Martin, Writer for Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate, May 2008.

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The relatively warm region of Hawkes Bay on New Zealand’s North Island has become the premier growing region for merlot and cabernet, with almost 80% of the country’s production for those grapes centered in the area. With a history of grape growing that goes back to late 19th century, it’s been just recently that Hawkes Bay has begun to make a name for itself internationally following on from the popularity of Marlborough sauvignon blanc and pinot noir from Central Otago and Martinborough.

The region’s first plantings were scattered along the coast where it is cooler and more exposed to weather from Hawkes Bay. Later on, plantings were focused on sites inland from the bay where the temperatures are warmer and become more conducive to varieties like cabernet and merlot. Although the Hawkes Bay region is somewhat compact, there can be a difference of five degrees Celsius between coastal and inland vineyard sites.

There are a number of subregions in Hawkes Bay that will become more defined in the near future and will become increasingly important as single site expressions of Bordeaux blends become more recognized. In the meantime, most Hawkes Bay designated Bordeaux blends will come from grapes throughout the appellation with an emphasis on areas that can ripen grapes on a consistent basis.

Esk River–North of Napier, the home of some historic wineries such as Glenvale (now Esk Valley).

Te Awanga–South of Napier, this coastal area is best suited to earlier ripening varieites becasue of the cool climate conditions.

Dartmoor Valley–A secluded valley north of the Hawkes Bay basin combined with calcareous, gravelly soils allows for more consistent growing conditions.

Havelock Hills–The north facing hills were among the first areas to be planted years ago and are home to famous wineries like Te Mata.

Gimblett Gravels–The most famous subregion of Hawkes Bay, gravelly soils left from an old river allow for exceptional drainage and slightly higher temperatures perfect for bordelais varieties as well as syrah and chardonnay.

Ngatarawa Triangle--Just west of the Gravels, this area makes reds that are slightly more elegant compared to what Gimblett can produce.

Hawkes Bay reds have been a consistent part of the US wine market for some time now but their success has been limited compared to other varietals like sauvignon blanc. Part of this is due to the style of wines that were first exported in the early 1990s. The prevailing model of the time was a lower alcohol merlot-cabernet blend grown from vineyards closer to the coast. These wines were more herbaceous and greener than the prevailing style of wine coming from California. As wineries experimented with grapes coming from warmer inland sites, the resulting wines had riper fruit flavors and the American market began to see less of the more severe weediness in Hawkes Bay reds. Nevertheless, consumers and the trade remained under the impression that Hawkes Bay reds were of a herbal nature.

With the arrival of the warm 1998 vintage, the American market began to see the qualities that grapes from warmer subregions could add to the traditional Hawkes Bay style. The wines became less vegetative in aromas and purer fruit expressions began to emerge. They still maintained, however, the sense of elegance and restraint that makes these wines quite similar to Bordeaux. The best examples from Gimblett Gravels also added a strong mineral component derived from the gravelly nature of the soil.

Two other factors have also contributed to the increased quality of Hawkes Bay bordelais varieties. For one thing, the vines are getting more mature. As vines enter their adolescence of 10-14 years, the greener, herbal notes give way to more pure fruit flavors. In addition, thanks to a relaxation of quarantine regulations for imported grape cuttings by the New Zealand government, growers have secured cabernet and merlot clones from Bordeaux that are more appropriate for the climate in Hawkes Bay.