Wine: The Auburn Affair

I love the first line on the Auburn Wines' website: "We grow Riesling. We craft Riesling. We love Riesling. A lot." First, because it intrinsically explains why they chose to become New Zealand's only riesling-exclusive winery. Second, as they used the words "A lot" instead of "Bigtime", "Totally" or "Fully", which they easily could have because with their wrap-around shades, beanies and cargo pants, the Auburn crew (with the exception of the girls) all look like bewhiskered Gen-Y snowboarders.

Part of the recent Summer of Riesling celebrations involved spending a good few hours tasting my way through 67 of the nation's finest examples: region by region, from driest to sweetest.

Normally at events like this wine writers methodically swirl, sniff, sip, spit, then scribble a few notes before moving on, within a minute or two, to the next wine. However, by the time I got to the Central Otago table there was a crowd of local and international writers stalled at one wine - the Auburn Bendigo Riesling 2011. I'd never tasted an Auburn wine before and it was, in a word, sublime.

"I think, in a previous life, I may have been a riesling grape," says 29-year-old vigneron Max Marriot, who joined forces with overseas-based Kiwi riesling fanatics Dave Paterson and Andrew Burge to form Auburn back in 2008.

How they make the risky, one-variety model work is that they produce only small volumes off unique sites from subregions such as Bannockburn, Alexandra, Lowburn and the aforementioned Bendigo.

"Riesling has the uncanny ability to coax individuality and expression from its chosen site, whether it's heavier clay soils, wind-blown loess or weathered schist gravels," adds Max, whose passion for riesling "tumbled over me like a recurring wave" as his winemaking career developed.

The more he tasted, he says, the further enamoured he became with the versatility, balance, longevity, purity and loyalty to its origins of riesling. "No other grape expresses the shoes it wears like riesling. And with its vastly contrasting landscape, higher altitude and southern latitude, Central Otago was a natural fit."

Central Otago is also seriously dry, notching up the lowest rainfall figures in the country and the 2012 summer here was one of the driest on record.

"Ideal conditions for grapes, really" says Max. "The bunches (this year) are a little larger than average and I worry that, perhaps after the dry summer, we might see more autumn rain, but we only have a month to hold out before we begin harvesting. I think the grapes tell us more about the season as they're fermenting, rather than what we see from the weather."

The company takes its name from the core colour of the landscape and also from the region's gold rush history and the classic subregion and station names, such as Lowburn, Northburn, Parkburn, Bannockburn, etc, ... This "burn" suffix refers to a stream or creek in Gaelic.

The Auburn lads decided to partner it with Au, the chemical symbol for gold which, incidentally, is the colour of the medal they deserve for doing such great things with riesling.

Dry Humour

Some wine-loving men have taken umbrage at the new DB Export Dry television and newspaper ads which began appearing a few weeks ago. The ads are "nonsense" and "juvenile", said Ken Sheldrick, a 79-year-old Cambridge-based cellarmaster for the Wine and Food Society of Auckland on earlier this month.

"It's so out of date and so old-fashioned, but I know every generation keep trying these silly ads on the new generation that comes along."

In the newspaper advert, a man looks dismally into a glass of red wine with the headline: "Sean notes the complex mix of both shame and regret."

It goes on to say: "One of the main problems with wine is that it isn't beer ... so the next time Sean finds himself socialising with his wife's friends, he'll have a choice. Drink wine and swallow his pride. Or drink Export Dry and swallow some beer." In the television commercial, the narrator says something like: "It was 1987 and New Zealand was going off (millennial-speak for things were rather flash) ... but there was a problem; wine was in and beer was out ... while men pretended to enjoy wine, they never forgot about beer. But thanks to "hero" Morton Coutts, who created Export Dry, men could finally say no to wine ..."

Sheldrick said in the NZ Herald website article that the macho, age-old phrase that real men drink beer was juvenile. "It's so childish it doesn't even bear commenting on because everyone knows people have been drinking wine since Roman times. New Zealand has become much more sophisticated and for adverts like that to appear just puts us back in the dark ages."

I personally feel that's an overreaction - the ads are hilarious because of the superb acting, the mullet hairstyles, the power-suits, shoulder pads, goofy ties, and cheesy soundtrack. That the ad is about men being "rescued" by beer is no big deal to me - it pokes fun at the way we were and I like that.

Besides, it's no surprise men may have been yearning for good beer back then because many of the wines on offer were hardly fabulous. Blue Nun, anyone?

- Hamilton News

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