Wither Hills' Single Vineyard Is Designed For Sharing
The winery's beautiful range showcases the best of the Marlborough region — and it's encouraging people to share it
Not all wines are made equal. Due to a confluence of factors, from optimal climate conditions to vine maturity, fruit quality and the collective experience of its team of vintners, Wither Hills produced an “astonishing” vintage in 2007, says chief winemaker Matthew Large. In an effort to capture that quality and reproduce it every year, the reputable Marlborough wine brand launched its premium Single Vineyard range, sourced directly from each of the brand’s three geographically diverse vineyards. Creating such a hero product calls for an artisanal process, whereby the winemaker relies on their senses and instincts, tasting and blending the wine throughout.
“It’s one reason it’s more of a challenge,” says Matt, who has 10 vintages with Wither Hills. “A lot of the flavours in the finished wine you don’t taste in the fruit to start with.” The Single Vineyard offerings have only improved with time, making them the ideal wines to serve at special occasions. Not only are they bastions of their provenance, they are complex enough to provide quite the talking point at celebrations, a step up in quality from the very popular heritage range.
The Viva team were fortunate enough to experience the launch of Wither Hills’ #ShareBeautiful campaign recently at Tu Ngutu Villa, an elegant hilltop property with panoramic views out over the picturesque Mahurangi peninsula, an hour north of Auckland. The property was chosen for its stunning coastal similarities with the winery’s Rarangi vineyard, where its Single Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc is grown. Through #ShareBeautiful, consumers will be given the opportunity to experience the ultimate shared weekend away with friends, in one of two other Single Vineyard-inspired houses in New Zealand.
Guests at the event flew in by helicopter and enjoyed an exquisite fireside shared meal of ceviche, paired with the Single Vineyard Rarangi Sauvignon Blanc, harissa-spiced chicken with the organic Benmorven Chardonnay and juicy venison with raspberries, accompanied by the Taylor River Pinot Noir. The convivial atmosphere was matched by a tangible sense of taking in each special shared moment, the wine as much a part of that mindful appreciation.
While the core Wither Hills range receives the same amount of care and attention, there are a few more steps to create the Single Vineyard range. For starters, only the best grapes are selected, and because they come from just one region, there is less fruit to choose from, requiring a more considered fermenting process. The grapes are separated into various coopers (barrels) and differing strains of yeasts are added to each. This allows for greater options at the blending stage, resulting in a wine of greater complexity. “The key with this range is that we really balance the acid, sugar, alcohol, flavour and texture,” says Matt. “That balance makes for a harmonious wine. It’s an exciting wine range made in the small-batch processing style, whereby we keep the vineyards separate.”
Deciding on when to harvest the grapes is a pivotal part of the process, and there’s no one better equipped to do so than Matt, a keen hunter, diver and fisherman - and a dad of three - who knows each of the Wither Hills vineyards as intimately as he does the surrounding ocean and land. The properties are nestled in the famous winemaking region of the Wairau Valley. Rarangi, where the range’s Sauvignon Blanc is grown, is the largest of Wither Hills’ properties, with 27 blocks located at sea level, about 200m from the ocean. The vineyard is surrounded by native trees with a natural wetland running through it, along with beehives and a clay pizza oven in the midst of the bush, making it one of Matt’s favourite places to escape to.
This vineyard’s proximity to the sea is rare, as is its soil structure and microclimate. “That big mass of water helps to keep the temperature uniform,” Matt explains. The ocean also subtly informs the wine’s flavour, thanks to the beachy, pea-gravel soils that allow for the water to run through them, giving the wine its unique mineral sea-salt character. This is enhanced in the fermenting process. “We keep it simple, clean and pure,” says Matt, who allows the wine to ferment to complete dryness, during which it develops texture and weight, rather than adding residual sugar.
Meanwhile, the Taylor River Pinot Noir is sourced from a selection of the 15 blocks on offer, onto which the Taylor River itself runs out of the Wither Hills behind it, depositing clay-based, erosive soils that wash down onto the land. The Pinot sits in barrel longer than it would traditionally, resulting in brooding aromas of wild forest fruits and dense, dark cherry and doris plum flavours.
The final varietal to the Single Vineyard range is the organic Benmorven Chardonnay, which was launched in 2015 once the vines had reached a certain maturity. The Chardonnay is born from a sheltered four-block section, a much smaller site than its Wither Hills siblings, providing the ideal conditions for more rustic style of wine. Tucked in behind the Wither Hills themselves, the river doesn’t make it as far as the vines, meaning the grapes grow in soils that are 100 per cent clay. “We find the clay is especially good for Pinot and Chardonnay, giving the wine a real richness and earthiness,” says Matt. Benmorven’s drier, clay-based soil also means less competition from weeds, while the open canopy of the vines allows air movement, keeping the vines healthier, with less risk of disease.
Part of the fun of producing a premium range is enjoying it with others over good food. Matt especially loves to pair the Sauvignon Blanc with seafood- and nothing beats freshly caught snapper, mussels, scallops and crayfish, cooked on the barbecue, whereas the weightier Chardonnay complements slightly richer, creamier dishes, such as chicken pasta. The Pinot is an ideal accompaniment for darker meats, including venison or duck - Matt has fond memories of breaking out the Pinot to celebrate deer hunting trips with his mates. “It doesn’t get much better than that,” he says. “That really is the beauty of making these wines - their step up in quality makes them ideal for sharing with family and friends"
These wines are part of the inspiration behind Wither Hills' latest campaign, Share Beautiful. Anyone over 18 can get involved and be in the draw to win one of two grand prizes by simply capturing their own shared beautiful moment and using the #ShareBeautiful hashtag and tagging @Witherhills on social media.