Postcard from Nautilus

Sauvignon Blanc’s worldwide success has led to interest from other wine regions who reasonably enough want to join the party. From my Italian perspective, this same ‘inward investment’ effect has been seen in regions as diverse as Chianti Classico, Bolgheri for Super Tuscans and Franciacorta for bubbles.  Nautilus Estate, owned by the Australian Hill-Smith family, is a good example of this phenomenon in Marlborough. It in turn demonstrates the diversification of wines on offer from Marlborough.  These two features may be connected: the perspective of experienced Australia eyes may well have contributed to trialling new styles and new varieties in Marlborough.  You can hardly move in South Australia for new varieties being trialled. The level of investment in the winery is also very evident in the winery: hydraulically powered tipping fermentation tanks; double-skinned temperature-controlled tanks of course; and a dedicated reception line for Pinot Noir; and fancy wooden fermenters for top reds. 

Diversity of sites 

But before we get to the new varieties, our visit to Nautilus really helped understand the diversity of sites not just in Marlborough but even in the Wairau Valley where the Sauvignon revolution really kicked off.  The text book picture of Marlborough is a large, flat vineyard, a very bright blue sky (high UV light again) and a hill range attractively framing the shot in the distance.  Actually that big flat vineyard is only a small part of the story.  The Wairau Valley is basically a big gravel bed with low fertility soils ideally suited to a vigorous variety like Sauvignon Blanc.  But as the interest has moved towards a greater range of expression in Sauvignon and especially to Pinot Noir, the hunt has been on for sites in the hilly edges of the valley. Paradoxically, the soils are richer here as they are loess-based with clay and silt, much better suited for Pinot.  Equally, the rolling foothills give a range of expositions for the viticulturists to play with. 

All this was beautifully demonstrated by the whistle-stop tour conducted by Nautilus’ chief wine maker Clive Jones and Sales and Marketing Manager (and fellow MW-student) Katy Prescott.   

New varieties on trial 

For the foreseeable future Marlborough will be rightly associated with Sauvignon Blanc.  There is a growing interest in its Pinot Noir and Gris and not surprisingly there is also high quality Chardonnay. But Marlborough also has the scale to trial new varieties in New Zealand.  Nautilus is best known for its very good Non Vintage sparkling wine but it is also making waves by trialiing Grüner Veltliner and Albariño.  The former is an interesting proposition here as it is such a neutral variety by NZ standards but its does reasonably successfully with its hints of white pepper and lentils. In its fifth harvest it still needs to put on some weight and texture to be really convincingly. More obviously promising is Albariño in only its second vintage: this starts in a salty mode and then adds fragrant apricot fruit supported by crisp acidity.  Delicious and well worth persevering with.  We also tasted a fully dry Pinot Gris which had rich melon fruit of good density; a sleek, peach-to-passion fruit Sauvignon Blanc with a fine green pea note on the finish and two Pinot Noirs: fine redberry fruit on the estate 2014 (about 15% whole bunch press) and ‘Four Barriques’ 2012 which is currently a selection with greater depth of fruit and given a bit more oak. The latter will in time be succeeded by a single site wine.  

With thanks to Clive and Katie for a highly informative visit and an excellent tasting.  

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