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Wine of the Week for week ending 17 April 2005
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Churton Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2004
Marlborough, New Zealand

Cothercott upon the hill
Wilderley down in the dale
Churton for pretty girls
and Pulverbatch for good ale.
             Folk Rhyme, Anon, c. 1770

If Churton in Shropshire County in England was known for pretty girls in 1770, the genes of those ancestors that gave that hamlet its name have reproduced the beauty in Morrinsville in the North Island of New Zealand. The beauty was evident on Saturday in three pretty Churton girls, my nieces in fact, Andrea, who was the blushing bride and her two younger sisters, Rebecca and Sarah, the bridesmaids.

So at a Churton wedding, why not have a personalised wine? And so the Churton Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2004 graced the tables at the wedding breakfast, which was in fact a dinner.

Churton Sauvignon Blanc, photo by Sue Courtney

"You don't drink sauvignon blanc at a wedding," said a good friend, who is a wine retailer and a chardonnay fan. But sauvignon blanc is a terrific wine to accompany the fare at a country wedding where tasty sauvignon-blanc friendly food, like mussels and oysters as well as ham and salads, is on the menu. Not that the guests only had sauvignon blanc to choose from for their drinks. There was plenty of the country's most popular fizz in its 'special reserve' blending, a tasty gold medal winning chardonnay and a soft, juicy merlot. But the Churton Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2004 was popular among the guests who wondered what the connection between the wine and the family was.

"Are you a relation?" I once asked Sam Weaver, the English-born Marlborough producer of the Churton brand. After all, why would he be using my father's family name on his wine? I thought, perhaps, he could be a rellie from somewhere back in history, or perhaps the connection came from his wife, Mandy. But Sam explained that he originally came from Shropshire and Churton was the name of the farm he lived on. There was a connection, but not a blood one.

The first few vintages of Churton Wines - there is a pinot noir as well as a sauvignon blanc - went to England (apart from the cases I bought and Sam's library stock). Despite the wine's popularity in England - especially in Shropshire restaurants - the increasing production meant Sam and Mandy could keep some in New Zealand for the local market and in 2004 production increased sufficently for national distribution. Now, with Negociants as distributor, you'll find the Churton brand in the fine wine retail sector and restaurants.

Sam Weaver, winemaker, is no new kid on the block. With a background in fine wine retailing, he started his winemaking career with Hunters Wines in Marlborough before joining Corbans as chief winemaker for the Stoneleigh brand. After the Montana takeover of Corbans, the Stoneleigh Winery was decommissioned and Sam went out on his own, consulting for other brands and producing gold medal winning wines while beavering away at producing very small quantities of Churton using grapes from contract growers.

Sam and Mandy have now established their own 12-hectare vineyard, high in the Waihopai Hills, 150 metres above sea-level, one of the highest in the region with a view over the valley floor where the bulk of the Marlborough's grapes are grown.

The 'home' vineyard will be for the production of a serious pinot noir. Meanwhile grapes for the sauvignon blanc are still sourced from their established growers.

The crisp, fresh, Churton Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2004 with its buckets of aromas and flavours is definitely one of the best I have tried from the Marlborough region this vintage. Probably bone dry, with a gorgeous silky texture and terrific fruit weight, the grassy, gooseberry, citrus aromas epitomise the region. Crisp green gooseberry and lime/grapefruit flavours engulf the palate then tropical fruit takes over. There's a rounded toastiness and delicious spicy herbaceous, like pan-fried fennel seeds, on the finish. The aftertaste is long, just as it should be with Marlborough sauvignon blanc. A very powerful wine on its own but excellent with food.

Churton Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2004 carries 13% by alcohol, is closed with a cork and costs in the vicinity of $21 per bottle.

The website is

© Sue Courtney
10 April 2005

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