Martinborough, nestled in the bosom of the wine region known as Wairarapa, is home to a number of smallish but stellar producers. Ata Rangi, Dry River, Palliser Estate and Martinborough Vineyard are top of mind, but there are others who are fast gaining a reputation for excellent wines from a region that continues to prove that small can not only be beautiful but affordable as well. And frankly, in these perilous financial times, value for money is a godsend for those trying to balance the budget.
Murdoch James had been ticking along nicely, if not spectacularly, since the early 90s. But, as owner/commercial director Roger Fraser observes, "A few years back we weren't happy with the wines and set out to understand what needed to be done to improve quality."
A fresh winemaking approach was required along with a cash injection of new capital to upgrade and expand the existing tired winery and buy extra land for new plantings.
Fortuitously, a young investor with a liking for the wines of Martinborough, in particular Murdoch James, became a knight in the shining stuff. "We're in the process of building a new winery and increasing the size of the vineyard," says Fraser.
"This is helping us achieve all the goals we set for ourselves, we always want to deliver quality over price."
Murdoch James is named after Fraser's father, and his son Carl, after an apprenticeship with former Ata Rangi winemaker David Bloomfield, has now assumed full winemaking responsibilities.
Thus, wine flows through the family's veins and although initially he was a primary teacher, Carl served time at a wine shop in Wellington and as a sommelier at the Martinborough Hotel. Becoming a winemaker seemed inevitable, and attention to detail seems to be paying off.
Most of the wines come under the Blue Rock Range, the Blue Rock Vineyard being unique in Martinborough with its centuries-old soil, lime-rich and full of old marine deposits.
"Our site and soil tends to produce wines with minerality, and minerality is the key factor with a line of acid and vibrant fruit," says Fraser.
The Murdoch James Estate mantra is 'Where little things make a big difference.'
2010 Murdoch James Blue Rock Pinot Noir, $40
A lovely wine with haunting aromatics, waves of blackcurrant, cherry and forest floor. It has a soft, velvet and supple texture with gentle tannins.
2010 Murdoch James Blue Rock Chardonnay, $25
An un-oaked chardonnay from vines planted in 1985, it is very mellow with a seductive oily texture and integrated fruit with a multi-layered palate. Food friendly.