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Marlborough 2015 harvest worsens Sauvignon Blanc ‘squeeze’

The reduced 2015 crop in New Zealand has exacerbated the on-going squeeze of Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc grapes, says Cloudy Bay Estate Director Ian Morden.

Cloudy Bay vines

‘The Wairau valley is changing and Marlborough is not infinite. So it’s more important than ever for us to secure good grapes because there are only certain places that are suited to our classic cool climate style such as Renwick, Fairhall, Brancott and Rapaura,’ he told Decanter.com in London.

Following on from last year’s bumper crop, Morden explained that the 2015 wine harvest will be more like 2012 in terms of volume. ‘In general, New Zealand is 20-30% down. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing because the quality is there. I think you’ll find more palate weight and slightly lower aromatics on our Sauvignon Blanc than in 2014. I do expect the quality to drive value in the premium sector.’

Cloudy Bay owns 50% of its Sauvignon grape supply having bought a number of vineyards in Marlborough over the last three decades. But now it is becoming tougher and more expensive to acquire suitable sites. ‘So we also rely on strong relationships with growers, added Morden. ‘Some growers have been with us since the very beginning.’

‘The squeeze on Sauvignon fruit has meant that prices have risen by 30% over the last five years,’ added Morden who joined Cloudy Bay in 2008. ‘Plus we also pay a premium for top quality low yield fruit to get good concentration and balance.

‘These are exciting times for Cloudy Bay and not just because we are celebrating our 30th anniversary this year. We continue to develop new markets and cross into a new generation of wine drinkers. The UK remains very important to us and Asia is developing well. But now the US is our biggest Sauvignon Blanc market.’

According to Morden, Sauvignon Blanc is still ‘the engine room at Cloudy Bay’. And he admits that Cloudy Bay’s Sauvignon Blanc production has increased over the same period. ‘Yes, we have grown but we don’t discuss volumes,’ he pointed out.

The focus on its core offering of Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir also remains firmly in place under LVMH’s Chateaux & Estates supremo Jean-Guillaume Prats. As a result, varietals like Gewurtztraminer, Riesling and Pinot Gris have been discontinued.

Under winemaker Tim Heath, Cloudy Bay’s range of Pinot Noirs and Sauvignon Blancs continue to evolve towards a more elegant, food friendly style. ‘On the Sauvignons we’re looking for structure and aromatics. And on the Pinots, we want more primary fruit, freshness and less charry oak,’ added Morden. ‘For me, 2012 was our high water mark so far for Pinot Noir. And 2014 was probably our best ever for Sauvignon Blanc.’

Morden was talking to Decanter.com in the Cloudy Bay Garden at a damp and windswept RHS Chelsea Flower Show last night. The garden won a Gold Medal for landscape gardeners Harry and David Rich who are the youngest ever designers to win gold at Chelsea. Their design incorporated a mobile interpretation of the Cloudy Bay ‘Shack’, which Harry aptly described as ‘a Shack on a track.’

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