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A Retrospective of Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc
An icon celebrates its 20th birthday
© Sue Courtney
6 October 2004

Back in 1984 a group of young Auckland winemakers made a pilgrimage to Perth in Western Australia for a wine industry conference, among them Matua Valley's Ross Spence from Kumeu and from then Henderson-based wineries, Kerry Hitchcock from Corbans and John Hancock from Delegats.

After the conference winery visits were on the agenda for the lads and at the top of the list was Cape Mentelle, a fairly new producer from the Margaret River region and a two-time winner of a prestigious trophy for cabernet sauvignon.

They met the owner, David Hohnen, toured the winery and tasted the wines, among them a wine that Hohnen was excited about, a white wine blend made from sauvignon blanc and semillon grapes. The Kiwi lads thought the wine okay but knew they had something better so on departure, as a thank you gift, they presented Hohnen with a bottle of New Zealand sauvignon blanc.

Hohnen tasted the wine and blown away with the crisp, fresh, fruity flavours and immediately decided he had better head over to New Zealand to have a look around. After visiting Gisborne and Hawkes Bay he arrived in Marlborough where the wine industry was still in its kindergarten years. Just Montana, Te Whare Ra, Cellier Le Brun and Hunter's Wines made up the wine trail although there were other producers and several dedicated growers.

Hohnen instantly knew there was something very special about Marlborough and wanted to be part of it right away, even though he had no vineyards or winery. Though it was at a time when the New Zealand government was paying grapegrowers $5,000 an acre to pull out their grapevines, David Hohnen had a vision.

Back in Auckland he bumped into Kevin Judd, a young winemaker who was then working for Selaks in Kumeu. Kevin agreed to make David Hohnen's wine and became the sole New Zealand employee of Cape Mentelle Vineyards. For their first vintage in 1985, Marlborough grapes were purchased from Corbans, shipped to Gisborne for making into wine then tanked to Auckland for bottling.

They named the wine 'Cloudy Bay' after the bay at the eastern end of the Wairau Valley and featured a silhouetted landscape of the Richmond Range on the minimalist label.

Most of that first Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc made its way to Australia for sale. It was an instant success, capturing the imagination of wine writers who wrote glowingly about it while at the same time bringing Marlborough to the world's attention.

Today Cloudy Bay is a large company owned by the Moet Hennessey Wine Estates group and has 140 hectares of own vineyards and long term contracts with five growers. As well as sauvignon blanc, pinot noir, chardonnay, gewurztraminer, late harvest riesling and sparkling wines complement the range.

But Cloudy Bay's Sauvignon Blanc, still sporting that timeless label, is undoubtably the most iconic sauvignon blanc in the world.

Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc 2004, the twentieth vintage anniversary vintage, has just been released. It costs about NZ$27-$30.

At a Cloudy Bay retrospective tasting held in Auckland last week hosted by Kevin Judd together with senior winemaker Eveline Fraser and viticulturist Sioban Harnett, Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blancs from the even number years of the last decade were tasted.

From former tastings I knew these wines aged extrememely well. Today I saw that after an acidic and youthful beginning, the wine goes into a vegetal stage at two years then re-emerges with toasty mellow flavours that show some similarities to aged Semillon or Riesling.

Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc 2004
Bright and zesty with limes, grass and gooseberry that typifies Marlborough. Punchy and vibrant with lots of grassy acidity, the grass, gooseberry and limes build to a rich and juicy tropical fruit finish with passionfruit laced with citrus. Long and full with terrific length, a grainy texture and youthful acidity characterises the wine at this stage.

Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc 2002
Smelling of asparagus, this wine was the most developed smelling of the six. It has entered a toasty phase with plenty of pungency and richness with peas, asparagus, stonefruit and melon building to a citrussy finish. Quite grainy textured with lingering melon and stonefruit on the sweet fruited finish, this rounded, full-bodied wine has a tropical fruit youthfulness emerging on the aftertaste.

Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc 2000
Lightly toasty smelling with stonefruit-like aromas and hints of sweet pea, it has lost the exuberant pungency of youth. Showing some graininess to the texture, a little hard in fact, it seems to be in a closeted phase. The finish is grassy and mellow with aged Riesling-like lime juice and honey on the lifted finish, and no peasy characters at all as it lingers.

Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc 1998
Yellow gold in colour with slightly herbaceous and subtle lemon bread aromas, the wine has developed a mellow backbone with soft acidity, hints of liquorice / fennel, some well-defined citrus and a long bready finish. The full-bodied richness creeps up and there is a caramel, cream brulee, complexity and a long toasty, citrussy finish. While it seems there is little acid to start with, it is definitely there and carries the finish. It's a little chalky and in some respects it is a little Chablis-like.

Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc 1996
Characterised by a toasty, sweet pea fragrance, this beautifully balanced, yellow-gold coloured wine has lovely richness and ripeness with some hints of its former youthful zestiness. Chalky textured with pears, stonefruits, melon and a long citrus-influenced finish, this is still quite a punchy wine and has lots of interest. A top wine in this line-up.

Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc 1994
Lemon gold in colour with quite developed grass and peasy scents typical of aged sauvignon blanc, this soft textured, slightly chalky wine has a long full palate and well developed flavours of asparagus and peas with toasty stonefruit. Peasy flavours linger.

Copyright Sue Courtney
October 2004

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