First stop on Friday was the eucalyptus-gum grey-green of the Cloudy Bay refinery. A beautiful frost-free patch of land in the Wairau valley of the Marlborough region of South Island, with several huge gum trees offering shade in the sunshine. Though we expected NZ to be colder than Oz, we happily wandered around in tee-shirts all day, and we were the first people through the Cloudy Bay doors.
We wandered in a darkened hall with hundreds of barrels stacked in long rows, and gazed at the pictures, legends and short documentary; glanced through the books on wine-making, bought an apron with the legend Cloudy Bay and admired the building and the grounds and finally got down to the tasting.
We tried five wines.
First a sparkling wine. Pelourus is named, oddly enough, after a dolphin and a dolphin features on their logo stickers. The locals like to drink Pelourus with their Christmas dinner, and I imagine it would go down well on a hot, sunny day but might prove somewhat lightweight on the equivalent day in the cold, icy UK.
Then the benchmark wine we have all come to love, the Sauvignon Blanc. The 2010 vintage is new, should have reached the UK in October, and is so pale as to be almost clear. We were assured that as the wine ages, it will darken in colour. The grapes are harvested in the cool of the night, which sounds romantic but probably isn’t, and the bright, sparkling fruit flavours are locked into the bottle for us to enjoy for the rest of 2010. Even the distinctive line of hills on the label is real. We looked out of the window, and there they are, fading into the distance just as they do on the label.
Next we tried the Te Koko: a complex, deliciously aromatic wine, much softer in flavour than the Sauvignon Blanc, and three years older. I spent a happy hour tasting and at the end my favourite was still the original award winning Sauvignon Blanc.
From Cloudy Bay we drove to Villa Maria, then on to Wither Hills, and finally Montana, where we were told that New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc has captured 81% of the world market. We had lunch in the Brandcott winery restaurant, and tried to get used to the idea that Montana is re-branding all its wine as Brandcott. Evidently Montana wine has always been sold in the US as Brandcott because of the confusion with Montana state, which does not grow wine. After lunch we drove by a very indirect route which involved heading in totally the opposite direction to the one we wanted and eventually came within sight of Cloudy Bay itself. I have to say it was a disappointment with its black, gritty sand and desolate air. Later the clouds rolled in off the sea, covered the flat valley floor and by the time we’d had dinner that evening, we had a hard time believing we were surrounded by mountains, for they’d all disappeared. No need to wonder why or how Cloudy Bay got its name.