edited by Sue Courtney
A Retrospective of Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc
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
Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc 2002
Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc 2000
Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc 1998
Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc 1996
Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc 1994