Last year at the Air New Zealand Wine Awards (our nation's most prestigious wine competition), 1367 wines were entered into 17 different classes.
For the fifth year running, pinot noir reigned supreme, earning the highest gold medal tally of any variety. Central Otago has, since decades ago, cemented itself as a region paramount for its pinosity, but lately little old Marlborough has been doing an damn decent job of etching its moniker into more of the metal inside the national trophy cabinet.
Marlborough now produces half of our entire pinot noir harvest and is home to increasing amounts of pinot noir considered to be "Classic Wines of New Zealand" according to Michael Cooper's annual Buyer's Guide to NZ Wines.
One of the wines to take out a prestigious Pure Elite Gold medal at this year's Air New Zealand Wine awards was Steve Bird's Big Barrel pinot noir 2011. Pure Elite Gold medals are awarded to wines that score 19 points or higher out of 20 and have been 100 per cent sustainably grown and produced.
Steve firmly believes it's not only the superb fruit he's able to source from Marlborough that helped his wine edge ahead of the rest, but the innovative process known as Big Barrel Roll has added extra allure.
"I'm able to preserve the delicate flavours and aromas of our grapes by using 900-litre oak barrels and gently rolling them by hand instead of fermenting the wine in a tank - which is the traditional method used elsewhere," says Steve.
"We were looking for a way to get finer control of extraction during fermentation and to get better integration of oak.
"This way the juice, and later the wine, never spends more than a day outside the barrel from crushing to bottling, resulting in a pinot noir with great finesse, complexity and beautifully focused fruit flavours and aromas," he says.
Having tasted the wine myself (see review below) I think he's definitely on to something - there was an other-worldly silkiness and elegance to the wine which is so refreshing.
"Wine judges and consumers are growing to appreciate a more elegant style of pinot and are looking for the mark of individual winemakers rather than big blockbuster flavours," Bird says. This is reflected in wines that he's particularly fond of himself.
"Nautilus has always impressed me, along with Terravin and Fromm. I was a great fan of Clay Ridge too."
From December to February, at his home up north in Mt Maunganui, he's never far from the beach. His two kids are heavily involved in surf lifesaving and yet the minute March sneaks up, Bird will be Blenheim-bound, checking on that fruit and oiling the wheels on those big barrel rollers ready for another vintage.
Waste of grapesThe skins and seeds of grapes left over from the winemaking process (otherwise known as "grape pomace" or "marc") are really useful and have been used in all sorts of products, ranging from oils, soaps and cosmetics to grappa, skincare, vitamins, compost and feed for dairy cows. But a breaking news report from Dairyreporter.com has detailed how two Oregon State University researchers have shown that pinot noir grape pomace may be used as an alternative source of antioxidant dietary fibre to strengthen yoghurt and salad dressings' fibre content and to boost their shelf life in the fridge. And, more importantly, the flavours were appealing to consumer taste-testers. For the full article visit www.dairyreporter.com
Wine biography at book fair
Late last year, as part of the 50th anniversary of Villa Maria, founder Sir George Fistonich released a book, The Winemaker, the amazing story of how the company was founded. What I really enjoyed about the book was that it opened my eyes to how Sir George's unwavering vision carried the company through crisis, triumph and all sorts of craziness on the way.
For years I'd been guilty of thinking that Villa Maria had always been around and that because the company appeared large and prosperous, that it had always been that way; an ever-growing, award-winning fixture in our Kiwi winescape. I couldn't have been more wrong.
I mean, hell's bells, the wine industry is a scary business at the best of times, but some of the obstacles Villa Maria had to hurdle back in the bad old days make for nail-biting stuff.
It's a good, romping read. Sure, it's geared toward Sir George's achievements (but where would the company be without those?) yet he also celebrates and gives their due to all his past (and present) winemakers, colourful members of staff loyal over the decades and, of course, to his wife and family, who've been lovingly dealing with Sir George's visions and ambitions since that very first harvest back in 1962.
The book has also just been named as a finalist in the prestigious Gourmand World Awards for Wine and Drinks Books (part of the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards). With five finalists in the category "Drink History" at Gourmand, Sir George's book will be up against publications from France, China, the UK and the US and it will be judged later this month.
All finalist books will also be featured at the Paris Cookbook Fair held in conjunction with this event - very flash indeed.