Wine: Freedom to Grow

Jo Burzynska discovers why a winemaker from Burgundy has made Central Otago her home

Aurum Central Otago Pinot Noir; Aurum Amber Wine Central Otago; Aurum “Mathilde” CO Pinot Noir. Pictures / Supplied.

It was love that lured French winemaker Lucie Lawrence from pinot noir’s traditional French heartland to its most southerly new outpost, Central Otago. “I met my future husband Brook in Burgundy in 2001 while we were both working in Domaine de L’Arlot,” she recounts. “He then brought me back in his luggage!”

After leaving the highly regarded domaine, Lucie and Brook set up home in Central Otago and took on the winemaking and viticulture respectively at Brook’s family vineyards, Aurum. Ten vintages and two children later, Lucie has put down strong roots in New Zealand and through her sensitive winemaking has created an oeuvre that offers a particularly elegant expression of Central’s often-exuberant fruit.

Lucie is a third generation vigneron, with one side of the family owning vineyards in Burgundy and the other running restaurants. Nevertheless, she didn’t originally set her sights on pursuing a career in wine. “Winemaking came up as an option quite late when I was studying biology at uni with no particular job in mind,” she notes. “But when I enrolled in oenology, everything finally fell into place.”

Though she trained as a winemaker in France, it’s been in Central that she’s done most of her winemaking, and it has proved quite a different environment from her home turf. “I don’t think the techniques that we use here are that different from Burgundy,” she observes. “However, as our climates, soils — our ‘terroir’ — is so different, the challenges we face are very different. We have frost and drought in Central and they have rain and diseases in Burgundy.

“But those are all material things,” she continues. “The main difference may be more philosophical, about how pinot noir is understood and approached and what sort of wines each region is trying to craft. I feel those differences must be kept and we must be proud of what can be achieved in Central Otago.”

Another contrast between France and New Zealand is the relative freedom of our winegrowers to do as they please, while in France, strict wine laws can dictate everything from the grape varieties planted to the way its wines are made.
“I love the lack of shackles here,” Lucie says. “We make our own shackles, but we get to choose our own guidelines when we make our wines.

“I grew up drinking Burgundy, but now I’m making wine I don’t try to make Burgundy here,” she stresses. “Burgundy is a different aspect of pinot noir. Central Otago’s are equal in quality, but they’re different and that’s fantastic.

“There is a purity of fruit and brightness in the wines that I love here,” she elaborates. “We can influence it in the winery and end up with different wines, but the purity of fruit always shines through whether your rein it back or dial it up.”

“It goes without saying that wine is an immense part of life in France and a great source of pride for people in our out of the wine industry,” Lucie notes when I ask her how she’s found our local fledgling wine culture.

“New Zealand is starting to create its own wine culture which is exciting. People are more and more knowledgeable.”

If she could make wine anywhere in the world, where would it be? “Definitely still Central Otago,” she states. However, her desire to reconnect with her homeland has led the Lawrences to seriously consider purchasing her uncle’s vineyard in Burgundy. It’s a move that would see Lucie make wine both in France and New Zealand every year.

Lucie may soon be able to have the best of both worlds of wine, but her heart seems to remain here in New Zealand.
As well as working with her husband, what else does she love about making wine, here I ask her?

Without any doubt she replies: “The people. The freedom.”

Aurum Central Otago Pinot Noir 2014 $35
This may be Aurum’s entry-level pinot noir, but there’s a real elegance to its black plum and cherry fruit, joined by notes of bitter chocolate, herb and sweet spice and lifted by a lovely freshness.

Aurum Amber Wine Central Otago 2014 $45
The ancient technique of fermenting a white grape — in this case pinot gris — with its skins, has imparted an amber hue and attractive chalky texture to this wine with its restrained apple and pear fruit, savoury and spicy undertones and firm spine of mineral.

Aurum “Mathilde” CO Pinot Noir 2013 $85-$90
Named after Lucie and Brook’s eldest daughter, this is the pinnacle of Aurum’s pinot noirs. It’s a rich, savoury and earthy style, with tightly knit dark fruit overlaid with notes of fragrant spice and dried meats and underpinned by a fresh minerality and fine structuring tannins.

All wines available from Point Wines and Fine Wine Delivery Company.

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