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Roger Jones finds damaging frost and elegant wines at New Zealand’s Kumeu River Winery

“Based in the Kumeu wine region some 30 minutes from Auckland, this world renown Chardonnay producer was hit by frost over the weekend which destroyed part of one of their vineyards. A freak overnight change in temperature gave no warning so it had not hired the usual helicopters to protect the vines.

“Inspecting the vineyard this afternoon it was quite noticeable how a few feet in elevation can make a difference, with the outlying vines being slightly higher and therefore were frost free, but the lowest areas were ruined and these vines will be out of action till 2016. This is late spring in New Zealand and not what one would expect at this time of year.

“However, this mini disaster did not stop the Brajkovich wine family turning out en masse to guide me around their estate, wines and then a family dinner hosted by the boss; Melba Brajkovich. From Croatian roots Kumeu River Wines have delivered spectacular Chardonnays with a turning point in 1985, when they produced one of the first New Zealand Chardonnays with malolactic fermentation, although the family had owned the land since 1944, previously called San Marino.

“Five Chardonnays are produced at the estate, under the guidance of Melba’s son’s; Michael (winemaking) and Milan (vineyards). Michael was New Zealand’s first recipient of the MW badge. The ‘entry level wine’ (Michael’s words not mine) Kumeu Village Chardonnay 2012 delivers a Chablis style, bright, refreshingly clean stone fruit, controlled with to be drunk young.

“The Kumeu River Estate Chardonnay 2012 contains not only grapes from their own vineyards but brought in grapes too, but these vines are tended and controlled by the family to ensure quality. This again was restrained with very soft buttery elegance shining through, with age these wines thrive, the 2006 that I tried was a wine of great beauty, perfect acidity and a joyful mouthful of fresh ripe stone fruit and citrus, drinking perfectly.

“Then there are three single vineyard Chardonnays, the stelvin enclosure on these prestige wines are 30% wider than the other bottles, purely cosmetic. Each single vineyard delivers its unique style, with Mate’s vineyard grown from the Mendoza clone producing small berries, the 2006 was (is) stunning, opulent, spiced barley sweets, soft caramel, white peaches elegance best describes this and the 2012 will continue in this line.

“The 2012 [Coddington] is rich and ripe in style, peaches and ripe apricots, whilst the 2012 Hunting Hill is floral with hints of perfume, mineral and very precise, the 2007 Hunting Hill was the deepest in colour of all the wines we tried with a vibrancy on the nose, savoury beeswax, unwaxed lemons, bright and exciting.

“Besides Chardonnay they also produce Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir. The 2012 Pinot Gris was clear and clean in colour not blush at all, the result of being hand picked and full use of wild year which takes out the colour, what was immediately apparent was the texture and mistakenly highlighted by myself as oak, but Michael corrected me stating it had a max of 10% oak and these would have been old barrels, saying it was the grapes and terroir that produced this texture. This wine is a huge hit at the cellar door, pushed of course by the great value, but more importantly in New Zealand they do not have a grudge re Pinot Gris / Pinot Grigio.”

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Roger Jones, October 30, 2014
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Roger Jones finds damaging frost and elegant wines at New Zealand’s Kumeu River Winery