Wine tome tracks changing times

By Yvonne Lorkin

It's been called "the absolute bible of New Zealand wines" and "totally indispensable" by critics and consumers , and over the past 20 years I've watched Michael Cooper's Buyer's Guide to New Zealand Wines grow from a pocket-sized paperback to a tome so heavy SAS troops are made to complete torturous 10km training runs with volumes stuffed into their backpacks.

From Albarino to Zweigelt, over 3000 wines have been assessed by Cooper, covering close to 50 different grape varieties and wine categories. Always value-focused, Cooper has revealed his Best Red Wine Buy of the Year to be the Wild South Marlborough Pinot Noir 2010, which at $18 or less offers unbeatable value. "It's just as impressive as most pinot noirs in the $25-$30 price bracket."

His White Wine Buy of the Year is the Whitehaven Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2011.

In addition to comprehensive updates on national vineyard areas, highly accurate vintage reports from every wine-growing region and the absolutely essential Classic Wines of New Zealand list, Cooper always writes an insightful essay on the state of the industry. The 2012 edition focuses on the way our wine industry had changed so dramatically over the past two decades.

In 1991, when his first book came out, Cooper tasted just 1000 wines, these days he says you need to taste about 10 wines every day to keep up with industry developments. He can't just "open a couple of bottles a night at home" any more. "Back then, a national vineyard tour could be completed in a month, taking in about 100 wineries and tasting around 1000 wines" says Cooper. "These days you'd be gone forever, trying to visit 700 producers and taste 4000 wines."

Easily New Zealand's most acclaimed wine writer, with 35 books and several major literary awards to his credit, Cooper was appointed an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit in 2004 for services to wine writing. He was also awarded the Sir George Fistonich Medal in recognition of services to New Zealand wine in 2009.

The 20th anniversary edition of Cooper's Buyer's Guide to New Zealand Wines 2011 (Hodder Moa, $39.99 RRP) is on sale now.

* Blenheim's MacDonald family has launched a new wine from its property on the Wairau Bar. The family - which affiliates with Rangitane, Ngati Rarua and Ngai Tahu - has lived at Wairau Bar since 1350, and its wine is called te Pa in recognition of its home. Te Pa has launched with a 2011 sauvignon blanc, and pinot noir is being trialled.

There is evidence the Wairau Bar was the very first settlement of Polynesian people close to 800 years ago.

"We have always cultivated our land - whether it's been crops, dairy, beef, or fishing in the river or ocean on either side of the bar," says Haysley MacDonald. "Te Pa captures a long family heritage of living off our land, and sharing our bountiful resources with other people."

According to the www.wairaubar.wordpress blog, "The Bar" is an 8km stretch of gravel bank formed where the mighty Wairau River collides with the turbulent waters of Cloudy Bay and the Pacific Ocean, dragging gravel and boulders into a long thin arc that divides ocean from lagoon. It's flat, windswept and at the mercy of the elements, but for the first people who reached these shores it was a perfect place to live. On one side the ocean was full of fish, while the massive lagoons that shelter behind the bar teemed with shellfish, eels, waterfowl and whitebait.

I'm also told the MacDonalds' 500ha farm once provided the Marlborough region with potatoes, complete with its own chip factory. Now a 150ha chunk of that land is under vine. The first vines were planted on the property in 2004 and the vineyard sits between the Wairau River and Cloudy Bay. The rich topsoil of the lower Wairau Valley, combined with the Rarangi alluvial deposits, help produce fruit with a complex flavour profile, according to MacDonald. The wine won a silver medal at the Christchurch International Aromatic Competition last month, "which, in its first vintage, bodes well for future success", says marketing manager Scott Wilson. The MacDonalds have run a contract harvesting business in Marlborough for seven years. "We've had enormous local support making our start in the wine industry," says MacDonald.

"That's what I love about this area. It's our family home, but the whole community is a family, too. We all want the same thing - to make great wine."

- The Aucklander

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