Clairvoyant Cloudy Bay
My first ever New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc came from the winery that, today, is nearly synonymous with the varietal, Cloudy Bay. It was one of the first five wineries established in Marlborough region. The winery is justly credited with establishing Marlborough’s reputation for world class Sauvignon Blanc. Twenty years later, I’m still in love with their wine.
Last August, during my trip to the Marlborough region, I was excited to finally visit the birthplace of my multi-year obsession. In fact, I was so eager to visit Cloudy Bay, I actually showed up a day earlier than my scheduled appointment! Somewhat embarrassed, I loitered quietly in the back of the cellar door (New Zealander’s term for “tasting room”) Thankfully, the staff noticed me and swiftly took me under their wing and right into the cellar. I was in Sauvignon Blanc heaven. I spend hours in the barrel room, then walk the gorgeous and romantic grounds. I only left out of guilt of making the winery staff late.
Yes, I was back the next day for my scheduled appointment and used the opportunity to taste several library vintages. I was not disappointed. The wines are every bit as good as I had anticipated, and so much more. The magic I felt while consuming them across the ocean, was very present on-site.
Early on, Cloudy Bay recognized the ability of the area’s land to produce irresistible wines, with intense varietal character. Cloudy Bay’s first commercial vintage was made in 1985, from purchased grapes. Almost immediately, they set the wine world on fire by producing unique wines of extreme brightness and pizzazz. Fortunately for wine lovers, their ever evolving Sauvignon Blanc’s were, and continues to be, a great value for the money.
They soon planted their own vineyards, followed by the Shack, the original tasting room. Their three hundred and fifty acres of vineyards are located on three sites in Marlborough, close to easternmost point of Cloudy Bay, their namesake. The vines are planted predominantly on alluvial soils. Cloudy Bay produces both still and sparkling Chardonnay and Pinot Noir wines, barrel fermented Te Koko Sauvignon Blanc, and Pelorus sparkling wine, made in “methode traditionale.” Limited quantities of Pinot Gris, Riesling and late harvest Riesling are available for visitors to sample. Sauvignon Blanc retains it’s well earned superstar status. Their barrel-aged Sauvignon Blanc program, exclusively using French oak, has yielded stunning results. Te Koko is one of the most unique white wines I have ever tasted.
Cloudy Bay’s original founder was David Hohnen, of Margaret River Cape Mentelle Vineyards. In 2003 Cloudy Bay Vineyards was bought by the luxury goods giant LVMH (Louis Vuitton Möet Hennessy).
Today, Cloudy Bay exports to dozens of countries, including Australia, UK, US, Europe and Japan. There are three winemakers involved on the production side (the founding winemaker Kevin Judd left in 2009, after 25 vintages, to start his own winery, Greywacke). Cloudy Bay’s winemaking team, led by Tim Heath, is dedicated to producing high quality wines that captures the region’s riches and exemplifies the purity of flavor that is inherent to Marlborough. The region enjoys a moderate and consistent maritime climate, producing the world’s most exciting and expressive Sauvignon Blancs.
I tasted their entire current portfolio. Here are a few highlights:
- 2013 Sauvignon Blanc is a show stealer. True to form, it boasts seductive lemongrass, grapefruit and lime blossom notes, followed by white peach and other stone fruit. The acidity is impeccable, framed by solid mid-palate of bright citrus and finishing with lengthy, minerally bang. Wow.
- 2009 Pelorus sparkling wine is another stunner. Goldilocks in a bottle, this striking beauty is all about freshness and vibrancy. Light brioche notes play well with citrus and Granny Smithapples, Asian pear and a hint of hazelnut. Loved every bubble.
- 2012 Chardonnay turned out to be my favorite vintage. Focused and delineated, its bright nose of stone and citrus fruit and striking minerality on the palate; this winner is a must try.
- The limited production, barrel fermented 2010 Te Koko is just wonderful. Fragrances of Meyer lemon, passion fruit waft from the glass, giving way to tropical fruits and light spice on the palate. It’s huge on the textural element, with ever-present, fresh acidity and that ubiquitous minerality that I seek in every sip. Te Koko is an indulgence well worth seeking.
- 2012 Pinot Gris is all about fruit. Bartlett pear and nectarine intermingle with floral and tea notes. The palate hints at lemon meringue, skillfully skating between tart and decadent. Finish is surprisingly long and satisfying.
Cloudy Bay, one of the first New Zealand producers to showcase Marlborough’s extraordinary terroir. Their Sauvignon Blancs have shown the world what it means to capture natural purity in a bottle. I can’t thank them enough for changing my wine life.
Wine Spectator first brought Cloudy Bay to the wine-world’s attention in the late nineties. This recognition catapulted the producer to international fame. They redefined what New World Sauvignon Blanc could deliver. The winery paved the way for other New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc producers.
After my first sip, I have never looked back. Want to know what is sitting on my desk as I write this? Look below: