There’s something about a Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc. Its profile is so distinct, you don’t even have to pour the wine to recognise the bottle of New Zealand white.
“You can smell it from 100m away,” says Ruud Maasdam, founder of notable New Zealand winery Staete Landt. The Dutchman moved to New Zealand in 1996, establishing the estate the following year with his partner Dorien Vermaas. Staete Landt is best known for their Sauvignon Blancs — particularly the award-winning ‘Annabel’ — and Chardonnays, though the estate also produces quality Viognier and Pinot Noir.
“It’s one of the most terroir-driven wines in the world.”
New Zealand’s most famous region has a one-of-a-kind landscape. In Marlborough, the days are sunny yet cool. Water flows from a pure river delta. The soil is made up of loamy clay, crushed shingle, slate and sand.
You’ll know a classic Marlborough-style Sauvignon Blanc by its crisp, grassy flavours. The grapes are usually harvested by machine, then fermented in stainless steel.
“People in other parts of New Zealand have tried to make a Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc. They reckon it should be replicable since they are just 100 kilometres away,” shares Maasdam.
“But even in our own country, you can’t copy the Marlborough style. It’s crazy.”
“The lay of our land. Our river delta source. These produce that distinct pattern of Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc.”
Still, Maasdam isn’t ready to rest on his laurels. Staete Landt is part of an emerging group of Kiwi wineries exploring alternative wine-making styles.
Take the estate’s ‘Annabel’. It is an unusual style of Sauvignon Blanc with a soft, velvety texture. On the palate are abundant notes of ripe peaches and subtle hints of oak. Maasdam recalls asking himself before he made ‘Annabel’: How do I lose that classic Marlborough taste?
His answer — a calculated ratio of 50 percent hand-picked grapes and 50 percent harvest by machine. Hand-picking means the fruit is less exposed to air, unlike in the machine-harvesting process where “the berries get trashed and slushed around”. The difference yields a new style of creamy and complex Sauvignon Blanc.
“There are people in my world who would say, why do you need to make alternative styles? Let’s keep our golden goose. Don’t mess with the baby,” shares Maasdam. “But if they’re all the same, why would sommeliers from around the world want another Marlborough on their list?”
It’s about being able to keep your golden goose, without putting all your eggs in one basket. “Who wins? Everybody.”