By Rose Murray Brown MW Published in The Scotsman 15 May 2021
Lovers of New Zealand’s Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc should expect shortages of their favourite wine in the near future. The recent 2021 harvest is down in volume by up to 40%, which means price rises will be inevitable.
To get a clear idea of the situation, I asked winemaker Matt Sutherland of renowned Marlborough winery Dog Point Vineyard (pictured right) to explain.
“This shortage is due to a combination of factors coming after two very dry summers. Our two main problems in 2021 vintage were damaging frost as low as -4 degrees C followed by cool overcast spring weather through flowering in November”, says Sutherland.
“The frost was in Wairau Plains and Southern Valleys, and even close to the coast which is rare, and it struck Sauvignon Blanc in its woolly bud stage. Luckily our Section 94 Sauvignon vineyard was unaffected – but other varieties like Chardonnay and Pinot Noir were also affected with damaged burnt leaves”.
It was when the experienced Sutherland and Healy team at Dog Point came to harvest the 2021 Sauvignon Blanc that they realised the true extent of the shortage. “What surprised us was just how light our Sauvignon bunch weights were”, he says.
Matt’s father Ivan Sutherland (pictured below right) has been growing vines in Marlborough for over 30 years, he was previously chief viticulturist at Cloudy Bay. He reports that he has never seen such berry size variation as in 2021, which made picking difficult. It was also the earliest harvest on record starting 24 February, compared to 2020 vintage which began on 15 March.
‘Small and beautiful’ is how 2021 will be remembered. Quantity is right down (for example Dog Point will produce 28,000 cases rather than 48,000 cases of Sauvignon Blanc in 2021), but quality is looking good with vibrancy, lifted aromas and good natural ferments finishing well.
Supply of 2021 Sauvignon Blanc will be limited across the board in the Marlborough region, but Sutherland hopes companies will absorb price hikes, as the hospitality industry has had a difficult time.
With these impending shortages, Kiwi wine lovers would be well advised to snap up earlier vintages now on sale in the UK.
Dog Point’s 2020 Sauvignon Blanc comes from a cracking year with no rain or weather challenges. At our recent tasting, 2020 was showing stunningly well. It was a difficult year for the vignerons who had to keep to Covid restrictions, but the resulting grape quality is fabulous – it is one of Dog Point’s best yet with its citric core from their estate vineyard’s clay-influenced soils.
“Our hallmark style is about texture, with restrained aroma”, says Sutherland. “We love reduction, if it is done properly. Whilst our 2020 Sauvignon is still quite taut on the mid-palate it is clearly going to age well”.
The oak fermented and matured Section 94 comes from vines planted in 1992, originally used at Cloudy Bay. “We understand the vineyard more with controlling powdery mildew, which is becoming a big problem in Marlborough – and in winemaking we use no new oak for this wine to get a natural pure expression”.
Other Dog Point wines now in stock in the UK are Chardonnay and Pinot Noir both from difficult rainy 2018 vintage. Of these Chardonnay is particularly good.
“Our Chardonnay in 2018 was strong from vines at 26 years old. Our conversion to organics, started in 2009, is now well established with thicker skins enabling us to control disease. For this Chardonnay vintage we also pulled back to 10% new oak with 50% medium-toast barrels”, says Sutherland.
Rain affected Pinot Noir more in 2018, but Dog Point’s example is an attractive earlier-drinking vintage - compared to their more opulent riper denser 2015 and 2017.
DOG POINT SAUVIGNON BLANC 2020 (13%) ***STAR BUY***
£14.95-£18 The Wine Society; Bancroft Wines; Woodwinters; Luvians
Such a classic which Dog Point do so well. Enjoyable now for those who like Kiwi Sauvignon with grassy capsicum nose and tight flinty citric core – but it seems very tightly wound on the palate – still a baby. Give it a year and the ripe fruits of 2020 should blossom through.
DOG POINT SECTION 94 2018 (14.5%)
£21-£28 The Wine Society; Laithwaites; Bancroft Wines; NZ House of Wine; Hennings Wine; Hedonism Wine
The aroma is a tad overpowering with struck match notes dominating. On the palate it is well-made, well balanced, clean long flavours with flinty undertones which will benefit from time in bottle; tastes like a Sauvignon Blanc trying to be a Chardonnay.
DOG POINT CHARDONNAY 2018 (13%) ***STAR BUY***
£25-£28 Majestic Wine; Bancroft Wines; NZ House of Wine; Specialist Cellars
Dog Point’s hidden gem, showing well in 2018 despite the tricky vintage. Loved its clean zippy flinty reductive quality, rich leesy notes, balanced oak, pristine fruit and beautiful length; should appeal to white Burgundy lovers.
DOG POINT PINOT NOIR 2018 (13%)
£25 The Wine Society; Bancroft Wines
Different style of Dog Point Pinot, not their usual ripe sweet plumpness. Using 25% whole bunch fermentation and 35% new oak, they have crafted a delicate perfumed Pinot with pretty lifted red berry fruits, structure and savoury notes for early drinking.
Join Rose’s Meet the Rhone Winemaker Bastien Tardieu of Tardieu-Laurent in association with Raeburn Fine Wines Friday 28 May www.rosemurraybrown.com