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PASSIONATE & PANTS-LESS: A WRITE UP FROM PHILLIP REAY IN WILD TOMATO

I have talked with a number of winemakers and the majority of them, especially the good ones, exhibit similar traits. Firstly, they are all passionate. So passionate in fact that anything not concerning wine is somewhat of an aside. I’m sure it’s not unusual for a winemaker to find himself or herself working in the winery in their underwear as they’ve forgotten to put their trousers on.

This happened to Brian Bicknell of Mahi Wines when he rushed in to his winery to check on damage after the recent quakes. Granted this was an exceptional circumstance, but he did have to drive to the winery so there was time to realise he was ‘sans clothing’. Winemakers generally have an excellent sense of humour. When I tagged along with a group of Danish visitors at a tasting at Mahi winery, the same Mr Bicknell compared the Danish race to pinot noir. That is, being ‘genetically unstable’. Luckily they all laughed.

The good winemakers all seem to have a very low ‘bullshit’ quota, are plain-speaking and, at times, disarmingly honest. This is, of course, in direct contrast to wine critics, who have a very high BS quota and are so immune to BS they have trouble recognising it. Brian Bicknell seems to have been around forever. This hugely respected Marlborough winemaker built an excellent reputation as chief winemaker at Seresin Estate before he bought the former Daniel Le Brun winery in 2006 to concentrate on his own Mahi label. Mahi grows a small parcel of grapes in front of the winery but sources most of its supply from contract growers. This allows it to select fruit from seven sites, each with its own terroir, and therefore distinct flavours.

For me this celebration of distinct terroirs is the strength and brilliance of the wine and winemaker. Mahi produces a Marlborough blend of its grape varietals but also produces single vineyard examples of sauvignon blanc, pinot gris, chardonnay, gewürztraminer and pinot noir. As I said before, I tagged along with 13 genetically unstable Danish tourists, so had a chance to taste most of Mahi’s offerings. I liked all the wines, even the pinot noir rose, which I normally find boring. However, the Mahi wine had a real depth and character.

I like the minimal interventionist winemaking style. In the case of Mahi’s Boundary Farm Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc, the grapes are hand-picked, sorted and whole-bunch pressed. The juice goes straight into the barrel and everyone decamps for a cup of tea. The fermentation starts with natural yeasts and the length and temperature of the ferment is monitored until the winemaker feels that it is ready. The wine is then worked in the tank to create a sauvignon blanc that has weight and texture, improves with age and is fantastic with food. They are all wonderful wines that express time and place, and made by a master craftsman. The 2014 Boundary Rd Sauvignon Blanc, the 2013 Alchemy Chardonnay and the Ward Farm Pinot Gris are all wines I could easily commit a crime for.

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