Growing grapes

For the past two decades Cloudy Bay has been producing some of New Zealand’s best wines, and is steadily growing its business by planting and managing more vineyards with every year

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By  Laura Barnes Published  August 1, 2006

|~||~||~|Established in 1985 by Cape Mentelle Vineyards, Cloudy Bay is one of the most recognised wine companies in New Zealand. With over 170 hectares of estate vineyards across three sites, as well as five contract growers, the winery was one of the first companies to establish itself in Marlborough. Now the largest vineyard growing area in New Zealand, Marlborough was estimated to have had 8000 hectares under vine in 2003. “The company is growing at a steady rate, but we will always remain committed to producing top tier wines. Cloudy Bay has one tier, and one brand, so we are constantly striving to develop a recognisable estate wine style,” says Siobán Harnett, viticulturist, Cloudy Bay Vineyards. Now part of the Moët Hennessy Wine Estate group, Cloudy Bay’s main grape varieties are Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, with smaller quantities of Riesling and Gewurztraminer also produced. “We have a self-contained vineyard with a nursery, and we grow just over half of the fruit ourselves, the rest coming from our contract growers,” comments Harnett. As viticulturist for Cloudy Bay, Harnett is responsible for the management of the company’s three sites, as well as the vineyards of the contract grower’s. She also oversees the plant propagation programme, and is currently directing the development of a new site in the Omaka Valley, which will be dedicated to Pinot Noir. Joining the company in 2003, Harnett studied agriculture and viticulture at university before taking up the post as viticulturist for Villa Maria, managing the company’s Seddon Vineyards in Marlborough. It was here that she developed a greater understanding of the region’s sub-climates and soils, which benefits from a cool, maritime climate. “As far as planting goes it is a free market, so it is up to you to make the product unique. However, we have three carefully selected sites, and of course, the most famous wine from Cloudy Bay is the Sauvignon Blanc,” comments Harnett. With initial plantings made around the winery in the Wairau Valley at Rapaura in 1986, the company grew its base to include plantings in nearby Renwick, and the Brancott Valley. Located in the north of New Zealand’s south island, the Rapaura site covers 40 hectares, with the majority of the site dedicated to Sauvignon Blanc, with small amounts of Chardonnay first planted in 1986. The Widow Block vineyard in Renwick is also predominantly Sauvignon Blanc, while the Brancott Valley’s Mustang vineyard grows Sauvignon Blanc, as well as Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and some mixed Germanic varieties, with plantings at Brancott first made in 1995 and completed in 2002. The recent addition of the Barracks Block in the Omaka Valley, however, will be solely dedicated to the production of Pinot Noir, with 15 hectares to be planted each year over a three-year period.||**|||~||~||~|Although the Sauvignon Blanc is the more famous wine from Cloudy Bay — citied as the inspiration for establishing the company — the wine grower now has a number of wines in its collection. Still using the Sauvignon Blanc grape however, the company now produces Te Koko. “The name, Te Koko, is the indigenous Maori name for Cloudy Bay. This wine is only made in small amounts and it is left to ferment naturally. It is not inoculated so it takes longer to produce, as such, it is released as a three-year old wine,” comments Harnett. Despite the Te Koko, Cloudy Bay also produces a Chardonnay, which is now in line with the Sauvignon Blanc, a premium quality sparkling wine and a Pinot Noir. “Crop levels are carefully controlled with the Pinot Noir to ensure a greater concentration of flavour. It is also matured in French oak casks, so it has a rich flavour,” says Harnett. However, understanding the soil and climate is a key part to the success of the company, and is imperative to Harnett’s job. But due to the location of the vineyards, the climate is changeable. “Predicting the weather is difficult because of our location, which means the climate varies. The flood plain of the Wairau River is 14km wide at its eastern point and heads inland for 26km. The region is also bordered by the Richmond Ranges, whose main peak, Mount Riley, features on the Cloudy Bay label. As such, we have great variations in the weather,” comments Harnett. “The maritime influence also ensures relatively cool conditions during the growing season, but saying that, the weather can sometimes be unpredictable; especially the rainfall,” she adds. With an average annual rainfall of 740mm, the region also experiences more sunlight hours than any other region in New Zealand, as such, the soils have a very good nutrient status, with high quality irrigation water sourced from the higher ranges. With over 85% of the company’s produce made for export, the largest markets for Cloudy Bay are Australia, the US, UK, Europe and Japan, but the Dubai market is also playing an important role for Cloudy Bay. “It seems that people here are very knowledgeable about wines,” observes Harnett. “It is my first time here, but I am really impressed. The growth rate is unreal and people from all over the world are coming here, so there is a large pool of knowledge and interest; which can only be a good sign.”||**||

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