It’s more than 30 years since New Zealand’s Cloudy Bay put Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc on the map. And today, its tangy, tropical Sauvignon boasts legions of die-hard fans. Among wine insiders, though, Cloudy Bay is often more admired for Te Wahi, its £65 Pinot Noir, whose grapes it grows further south in the spectacular region of Central Otago.
Blessed with dramatic glaciers, deep lakes, rainforests and wild beaches, Central Otago is a destination for adventurers. And its vineyards are now producing some of NZ’s most interesting wines, too, with the emphasis on Pinot Noir.
To help shine a light on this region, last year Cloudy Bay unveiled The Shed, a modernist barn among the vines where visitors can indulge in a slick programme of tastings, tours and dinners. No actual winemaking goes on here, but if you want to get granular about terroir, this is the place to start. “New Zealand Pinot Noir tends to be more fruit-forward, while Burgundy Pinot Noir is more about structure first, then fruit,” explains technical director Jim White as we climb into the Cloudy Bay Land Rover. “The Pinot Noir we grow up in Marlborough has lots of that classic New Zealand freshness and – it’s a wine for drinking young. But the Pinot we grow down here in Central Otago has more intensity and structure. It’s Pinot built for ageing.”
A hole in the ozone exposes the grapes here to exceptionally high levels of ultraviolet light. This, combined with the mica-rich soils, which reflect sun back onto the vines like millions of tiny mirrors, results in juice with concentrated cherry, plum and cranberry notes, and a dark colour. The big diurnal temperature variation – sometimes as much as 24ºC in 24 hours – is also key for developing tannins with definition and finesse.
Te Wahi is a blend of two vineyards: the supple, perfumed Calvert and the more peppery, robust Northburn. Standing in the windy Northburn vineyard, in a cloud of glittering dust, we taste the two wines separately before finishing with Te Wahi 2016 (the 2014 is currently available for £65 from Clos19). “None of these vines is older than 29, 30 years,” says White, “so we’ve got a lot of good things still to come.”
Cloudy Bay also offers some outrageously hedonistic adventures: yacht trips through the Marlborough Sounds; helicopter vineyard tours. I spent a jaw-dropping day helicoptering around Central Otago, stopping at a lake for a spot of trout fishing, landing on snow-topped glaciers and picnicking in the rainforest, before landing back at The Shed for a five-course wine dinner, hosted by a shoeless Jim White. It was five-star luxury antipodean-style.
Alice Lascelles is Fortum & Mason Drinks Writer of the Year 2019. @alicelascelles.