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Wine & Spirits Top 100 Wineries of the Year

“Before immigrating to New Zealand, the Brajkovich family grew grapes and made wine in Zivogosce, a small village in the south of Croatia, close to the Adriatic coast. In 1937 they settled in Kumeu, a region at the northern tip of New Zealand’s North Island known as the fruit bowl of Auckland. After working in agriculture for a few years, Mick Brajkovich and his family saved up enough to purchase some land, launching a winery they called San Marino Vineyards.

“After Brajkovich died in 1949, his son Mate took over with his wife Melba, and they continued to build the reputation of the winery. But by the time Mate’s son Michael came back from Roseworthy College in Australia, tastes were changing, and the popularity of their fortified whites and basic blends was fading. In 1986 the family relaunched the winery as Kumeu River, focused on cool-climate varieties, particularly chardonnay.

“Today Michael runs the winery, while his brother Milan farms the vineyards, now 74 acres in all. Hemmed in by the Tasman Sea 12 miles to the west and the Pacific just 19 miles to the east, the climate in Kumeu is relatively cool and damp enough that the vines never need irrigating; the clay that overlays the sandstone here retains enough water to meet the vines’ needs. If there’s a challenge, it’s getting enough light to the grapes, so they’ve trained them with lyre trellising.

“In the winery, Brajkovich ferments in oak barrels without added yeast. He allows the wines to complete malolactic fermentation and to rest for extended periods on the lees. The result is a portfolio of chardonnays that stand out as some of New Zealand’s best.

“Their range begins with the 2009 Village Chardonnay, a bargain at $16 for its balance of warm spice tones, toasted malt savor and vibrant acidity. And it tops out with the 2010 Mate’s Vineyard Chardonnay, from the site of the original vineyard Mick Brajkovich bought, which Mate Brajkovich replanted in 1990. Rich with the savor of oak and lees, spicy with chardonnay skin flavor and as creamy as it is snappy in acidity, it’s a chardonnay with grand cru stature and finesse — built to age.”

Caitlin Griffith, Winter 2014
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Wine & Spirits Top 100 Wineries of the Year