Kiwis & Cowhorns: A Talk about Terroir with NZ Wine Maker Sam Weaver – Churton Wines

Welcome to binNotes: Meet the Winemaker

Like wine? Like compelling stories about wine? You’ve landed on the right page!

Today’s Exclusive:  Sam Weaver – Churton Wines

Marlborough, NZ

by L.M. Archer, FWS

Follow binNotes: | Twitter | Pinterest | Facebook  |  Pinterest

Ever wonder what those wild Kiwi winemakers do all day? Today, binNotes’ exclusive interview showcases bio-dynamic winemaker Sam Weaver of Churton Wines in New Zealand’s Marlborough region.

binNotes first encountered Sam Weaver at IPNC 2014, where we both attended the Distilling Terroir seminar. Sam had me at ‘biodynamic’ –  a passion of mine. Microbiologist by training, wine seller by trade, Sam eventually segued into biodynamic wine making. Today Sam serves as the talented wine maker for Mount Beautiful Winery in New Zealand while stewarding his own family-owned, organically certified Churton Wines.

So grab a glass of wine and get cozy as binNotes talks terroir with Sam Weaver…

b/N: You started out in rural Britain farming, then as a wine buyer in London. Who or what brought you to wine making, to Marlborough, NZ, and to Churton?

SW: Though I was born in the UK my parents are New Zealanders. I studied microbiology at London University and through a rather circuitous route ended up in the London wine trade. It was great fun and I learned a tremendous amount about wine. I tasted and drank many classic wines from great vintages and bought wines on a commercial basis from small growers in Burgundy, the Loire and the Rhone. All this experience was very influential in my future wine making.  At heart I’m a country boy and after 10 years in the wine trade and central London realized I wanted something different. I travelled to New Zealand to visit my parents and other relatives and was offered a vintage (harvest). In the end (1989) that morphed into an assistant winemaking job in Marlborough. Very early on I knew I wanted to make my own wine but I needed to accumulate enough wine making experience before embarking on that. We eventually established Churton in 1997.

b/N: Tell readers a bit about the history of Churton Wines – what makes it unique?

SW: When we started Churton we did so based on market demand. A UK wine merchant, Tanners Wines in Shropshire, approached me to supply Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc. We created Churton that first vintage for them in 1997. Very quickly we decided that to be serious we needed to do something different to the norm and all the “me to” brands that were appearing. That first wine was made from bought-in (purchased) fruit. We quickly decided we wanted control of our own fruit supply. We eventually found a fantastic site outside what was then considered a good growing area and started planting in 1999. We now have 22.5ha (1 hectare = 2.47 acres) planted on the most wonderful elevated site 200m above sea level. We planted the vineyard to principally Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc with a small amount of Viognier and New Zealand’s first planting of Petit Manseng. As I had had all that European fine wine experience I took a much more European approach to the vineyard. The vines are close planted at nearly 5,000vines/ha. on rolling northeast-facing hillside slopes.

What makes us unique is that now all of our fruit comes from this exceptional site. At a high elevation with clay based soils and close vineyard planting, it produces fantastic fruit. There are now some other hillside vineyards ( 1-2% of the total are in Marlborough) but none, in my view, with the important easterly aspect. We set up the vineyard on the basis of minimal inputs with great care to integrate with the environment and have been running it bio-dynamically for the past 7 years. Biodynamics really is away of helping underline and express this unique place we call Churton.

Our basic premise is to capture the intensity of fruit aroma that are the hallmarks of Marlborough but to take these to another level where subtlety, depth, texture and length are paramount.

b/N: You also consult for Mount Beautiful Winery in North Canterbury, NZ. How does wine making at Mount Beautiful differ from wine making at Churton?

SW:  I guess both feed off each other and are the result of my collective experience, and so have many similarities. The primary difference, of course, is the fruit source and to some extent scale. Mount Beautiful is a great vineyard in its own right. It is a long way further south, so it a somewhat cooler harvest, and usually is about 2 weeks later than Churton. The vineyard is a much larger  – currently 70ha. This scale necessitates a different approach. At Churton, we are biodynamic, so we hand-pick all of our fruit. Within 22.5ha, we have 19 different vineyard blocks. We are very detailed and meticulous. The size of Mount Beautiful means that it’s more difficult to run at that level of detail. Sauvignon Blanc is machine picked and treated a little more conventionally than Churton. The aim with Mount Beautiful is to make wines that are a little different to Marlborough wines but still produce strongly commercial New Zealand wines. At Churton, I simply let the vineyard speak!

b/N:  You’re passionate about biodynamics. Tell readers a little bit about the path that led you to the practice of biodynamic farming in general, and at Churton specifically. What’s the most important thing folks need to know about biodynamic farming, and why it’s worth the investment?

SW:  As I’ve mentioned, I come from a rural background. My feet are firmly entrenched in the soil and in agriculture. I also grew up in a very anti-establishment environment. This led me to question conventional approaches to almost everything! In the 80’s and early 90’s I studied wine very seriously in the UK I even wrote a paper on organic and biodynamic wine production. When I came to establish our vineyard I did it conventionally but with very minimal in put. We did no soil manipulations and simply planted in the old established pasture land. As the vines matured we changed to a completely organic based system. We’d always used elements of biodynamics: planting by the lunar calendar, making compost, etc. Taking the step to use the biodynamic preparations seemed logical. As we became more confident we were able to suspend our disbelief of some of the more unusual techniques and see whether they worked for us. Biodynamics is a journey not a result. The more we practice the more we understand and want to implement different ideas.

What is important to know about biodynamics is that it is not a dogma. Rudolf Steiner made suggestions and we are free to use elements of those suggestions and to evolve them in any way that will suit our farm.

Biodynamics is not a religion. What makes it exciting is that it allows a strongly grounded approach which accepts and makes use of science but at the same time allows for a spiritual involvement with your land and farm.

As a microbiologist, biodynamics really helps focus us on enhancing the farms micro biome, the use of compost, the use of preparation 500 (cow horn manure),  the plant and animal diversity; all this leads to a healthier microbial population. This healthy microbial population means vines have better access to water and nutrients. They have more disease resistance. The grapes that come to the winery have a healthy microbial bloom which means natural ferments are easier.

Biodynamics helps express terroir in all the ways above, but if you need any more evidence, look at Matt Goddard’s research work at Auckland university. He is a microbial ecologist and has studied yeast populations and species across conventional, organic and biodynamic vineyards in New Zealand. He has found that although all the vineyards studied have a wide range of species of yeasts, those that are biodynamic have greater populations and more diversity than any other type of viticulture. What’s more, at Churton we have unique yeasts that are only found here. They are not only found in the vineyard but also in indigenous yeast ferments in our wine.

Now that is really cool. Terroir and wine quality are clearly linked by their microbiology and that is emphasized by biodynamics!

b/N: How does your affinity for Burgundy influence your wines?

SW: Burgundy has always been my go-to wine. As a winemaker, I think that it’s essential to have icons. As you may have realized, I’m an idealist. At Churton we are not trying to create Burgundy, we are trying to make Churton. The two will never be the same. The importance of drinking widely and deeply is to help establish the vision for what you want to create in your own wine. For example one problem I see with many New Zealand pinots is that they are struggling with tannin structure. In Burgundy the tannins are very different – much more savoury and integrated, much more mature. This is a fascinating area and probably for me the real key to making great Pinot Noir. Churton’s tannins are very different to the New Zealand norm, and this is very much as a result of site, soil, water management and of course biodynamics. Recently one of our wines was analyzed for a panel of different tannin markers alongside some other very well known New Zealand pinots our wine stood out as have a very different structure to all the others which was great. As a winemaker I want my tannins to run through the mouth, I don’t want them to be separated spatially. I’m particularly critical of tannins that appear as a separate component and in one particular part of the mouth (e.g., front of mouth.)

I think you will see from the detail in our vineyard layout that Churton is very much about site and how we can maximize each different aspect within the vineyard. This approach leads us to produce fruit with evenness in ripening and mature tannins. As I’ve mentioned we work with our different climat and that attention to detail is what helps give us vins de terroir and that is a very European approach. Celebrating the differences in site rather than trying to make a homogenous whole is really what the Burgundians do well.

 

 

b/N:  Churton is a family affair.  Your son Ben did a recent vintage at Bonny Doon Vineyard in California  - what was that like for him? Your other son, Jack, has worked in Europe. How have these experiences informed their contributions at Churton?

SW:  Ben is currently in France working at another bio-dynamic producer, Chapoutier. He loves exploring different wine producers from the angle of biodynamics. Both Mandy and I actively encourage the boys to get a broad view of the world of wine. Ben came back from Bonny Doon Vineyard saying: “Dad our wines are too fruity we need to be more reductive in our winemaking.” That’s great that they can gain the confidence and ideas from elsewhere. It all contributes to the unique expression of Churton.

b/N: Your wife Mandy sits on the executive of OWNZ (Organic Winegrowers of New Zealand). Does OWNZ foresee a greater investment in organic farming in New Zealand in the future? More stringent requirements? Anything about New Zealand organic farming that may differ from other wine regions in the world?

SW: New Zealand is a fantastic place for organics. In Marlborough we are fortunate to have very little disease pressure so it’s a relatively easy conversion. OWNZ aims for 20% of New Zealand wine producers to be organic by 2020. Currently its slipped a little down from 9% a few years ago to I think 7% (we’ve had a few tough years that have taken some people out). There has been a lot of investment in the organic sector. We’ve just come to the end of a period of research across three viticultural areas looking at organic focus vineyards and comparing management and costs. In New Zealand, we have a scheme of Sustainable wine growing. OWNZ objective is to get Sustainable wine growing to accept organic accreditation and to allow people to move from the lowest entry level through to organic certification status within the one scheme.

 

b/N: Tell readers a little bit about the unique qualities of Marlborough’s terroir in general, and Churton’s in particular, that impact the flavor profiles of the wines produced there.

SW:  I’ve described the vineyard above: a high terrace mostly facing east and north. That east facing aspect is so important. Think of the Grand Crus in Burgundy. They almost all face east. The reason is that east facing slopes get the early morning sun. Morning sun is more beneficial than afternoon sun. Morning sun is cool but allows the vines to photosynthesis and if wet, to dry out quickly. Afternoon sun is hot and will dehydrate the vine and especially grapes as they are close to harvest. Hot afternoon sun will produce higher sugar through this dehydration but will not produce riper tannin. Cooler morning sun helps the vine have slower more even ripening, retains acidity and aroma. Our terroir delivers that, as well as its unique character and interaction between the soil and environment, and its unique microbiology.

b/N:  Do you have a favorite varietal(s)? If so, which one(s), and why? What’s your ‘go-to’ wine from Churton? From Mount Beautiful?

SW:  Churton has to be both Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc – both unique in style to Marlborough and have exceptional texture. Mount Beautiful Riesling is consistently good; the Pinot Noir will follow with more vine age.

b/N:  What are your greatest challenges at Churton? At Mount Beautiful?

SW:   Churton is under-capitalized and as a consequence under-resourced in all sorts of ways, while Mount Beautiful doesn’t have those problems!

However, Mount Beautiful is an isolated vineyard a long way from other vineyards, so it’s difficult to get support. The Mount Beautiful vineyard is also a little frost prone, while Churton isn’t.

b/N:  Finally, “If wine making has taught me anything, it’s taught me…”

SW:   Treat the vineyard well with love and you can trust the fruit in your winemaking.

 For more information:

Churton Wines | 941 Waihopai Valley Road, R D 6 Blenheim 7276, New Zealand | info@churtonwines.co.nz

 Care to share? Leave your comments below.

Cheers!

⚜⚜⚜

Thank you:

Sam Weaver & Family – Churton Wines

Mt. Beautiful Winery

Follow binNotes: | Twitter | Pinterest | Facebook

Copyrighted 2014. All Rights Reserved. All Images  of Churton Wines courtesy Churton Wines. Image of Mt. Beautiful Winery courtesy Mt. Beautiful Winery.

Willamette Valley Wine Pinot in the City

 Welcome to binNotes | a wine blog

by L.M. Archer, FWS

Like wine? Like witty, compelling stories about wine? You’ve landed on the right page.

Laugh a little – learn a lot!

Follow    binNotes | a wine blog: |   Facebook    |     Twitter    |    Pinterest   |   Instagram

Forget ‘Sex in the City’…give this girl Pinot in the City any day! Manolo Blahniks? Je préfère sixty-six premium pinot wine makers from Oregon’s Willamette Valley plying their pours at Seattle’s hip Urban Feast, please!

Pinot in the City  blends Willamette Valley Wine pioneers and hard-to-find upstarts, new releases and old standbys, Pinot and Pinot Gris, plus some tasty Chardonnay and Riesling…and more than a few under-the-radar finds.

In other words, premium wine lovers, this is your kinda show…

From a personal standpoint, Pinot in the City allowed me the opportunity to re-connect with wine makers like Byron Dooley of Seven of Hearts and Luminous Hills, whose wines, and wife Dana’s chocolates,  I’ve long admired.

binNotes Fave: Leave a comment below if you want info on my fave small-production, off-the-tasting-notes wines from this wine maker…Hint: You can’t go wrong with any of Byron’s wines. He has a broad and deft palette.

I also got to meet some wine makers whose wines I knew, but whom I hadn’t met personally – like the graceful, gutsy Cathy Redman of Redman Vineyard and Winery. Cathy founded Redman Vineyard and Winery in 2004 with her beloved husband Bill, only to witness his unexpected passing in 2009 from cancer. The Willamette Valley community, in true form, joined together to assist her in continuing Bill’s legacy today.

binNotes Fave: Redman Vineyard and Winery 2010 Ribbon Ridge Pinot Noir stands out, with its balanced, distinct cranberry/rhubarb/red fruit goodness.

Another treat included meeting dynamo Maria Stuart of R. Stuart & Co. Winery. I first experienced Maria’s wines, and one-of-a-kind graphics, at the 2012 Wine Blogger’s Conference in Portland.

binNotes Fave: R. Stuart & Co. 2011 Willamette Valley Vignette Pinot Noir proves light on the palate – an easy food-pairing wine.

Of course, no self-respecting left-hander can pass up a pour by Left Coast Cellars family owners Suzanne Larson and her soon-to-be daughter-in-law, Christina Aragon. Try their trademark Left Coast Cellars 2012 Cali’s Cuvée Pinot Noir – it’s an easily accessible mid-range wine.

Pinot in the City also introduced me to some producers with whom I wasn’t familiar.

Iota Cellars wines exceeded all expectations set by a recent Snooth article I’d read prior to attending Pinot in the City. Owner Lynne Pelos and owner/winemaker Johanna Sandberg combine old world sensibilities with new world techniques to produce wines of exceptional balance and poise.

The Iota Cellars 2013 Phyllis Rosé of Pinot Noir from Eola-Amity Hills incorporates 1/2  saignée and 1/2 direct press methods aged 5 mos. in neutral oak to produce a lovely, salmon-hued wine. It’s the closest thing to a true Provençal rosé I’ve experienced this side of the Mediterranean – worth drinking any time of the year.

Under off-the-hook, look for Harper Voit‘s wines, including Harper Voit Cellars 2013 Willamette Valley Surlie Pinot Blanc, a taut, crisp rendition aged in 100% neutral oak 7 months on the lees.

H-Vs Andrew Bandy-Smith (a familiar face from IPNC 2014) treated guests to an etherial Antiquum Farms Pinot Noir not listed on the tasting notes. A wine of power, finesse, and structure indeed.

Grochau Cellars owner/winemaker John Grochau shared his singularly stellar, dry expression of Pinot Blanc, the Grochau Cellars 2013 Pinot Blanc, produced 6 mos. surlie in 70% neutral oak and 30% stainless steel. He also shared his small production ‘off-the-tasting-list’ GC 2013 Melon de Bourgogne - a discrete stunner produced in 100% neutral oak…such a wonderful, rare treat.

Under ‘you-had-me-at-Pinot,’ try Grochau Cellars 2011 Eola-Amity Hills Bjornson Vineyard Pinot Noir. This wine captures a lovely floral component reminiscent of some wines of Burgundy.

Great to meet and greet other wine makers I’ve profiled, like Wayne Bailey of Youngberg Hill and Jacques Tardy of Torii Mor Wines, familiar face Ron Lachini of Lachini Vineyards, as well as some unfamiliar faces like Jessica Mozeico-Blair of Et Fille Wines, André Hueston Mack of Mouton Noir Wines, and Alfredo Apolloni and Laura Gordon of Apolloni Vineyards.

I regret those wine makers I missed at Pinot in the City, but the event whet my appetite for more of the Willamette Valley – only a five-hour drive away from Seattle.

NOTE: For those of you lucky enough to attend the 2015 Pinot in the City wine event next year in NYC, allow at least two hours! binNotes barely made it through 1/2 the tables in an hour. Cheers!

Postscript:

Many thanks to Quinton Jay at Panther Creek for forwarding me  tasting notes on the Panther Creek wines binNotes sampled at Pinot in the City which inadvertently didn’t make the original posting!
Panther Creek ‘Winemaker’s Cuvee’ Pinot Noir – Willamette Valley 2011
Panther Creek ‘Shea Vineyard’ Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley 2009
binNotes Fave : 90% neutral oak – Garnet hue, light body, balanced black fruit, spice, pear. 
Panther Creek ‘Reserve’ Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley 2009
Panther Creek Pinot Gris, Willamette Valley 2013
(not tasted but distributed in WA through Grape Expectations.)

Want to learn more about Willamette Valley Wines or Pinot in the City? www.willamettewines.com.

Cheers!

⚜⚜⚜

Follow    binNotes | a wine blog: |   Facebook    |     Twitter    |    Pinterest   |   Instagram

Thank you:

Emily Petterson, EKP Media

Willamette Valley Wines

Copyrighted 2014. All rights reserved. 

TGLF: The History of Provence Wine

Welcome to binNotes | a wine blog

by L.M. Archer, FWS

TGLF:  The History of Provence Wine 

Follow    binNotes | a wine blog: |   Facebook    |     Twitter    |    Pinterest

 Image: Courtesy F.Millo/CIVP

binNotes goes international…

Check out my feature on  The History of Provence Wine in The Good Life France.

Note:

For those of you who missed it, here’s my previous TGLF feature on The Wines of Burgundy.

Santé!

Follow    binNotes | a wine blog: |   Facebook    |     Twitter    |    Pinterest

Copyrighted 2014. All Rights Reserved. Image: Courtesy F.Millo/CIVP

WITIB? Pinot in the City!

 Welcome to binNotes | a wine blog

by L.M. Archer, FWS

Get ready for Pinot in the City!

Follow    binNotes | a wine blog: |   Facebook    |     Twitter    |    Pinterest

Pinot in the City arrives in Seattle September 11, 2014.

Pinot in the City | Seattle | September 11th 2014

Hey, Pinot Lovers!!

Back by Popular Demand:

Pinot in the City Road Show Hits Seattle!

Save yourself the hassle of a 5 hour drive to the Willamette Valley…

When: September 11, 2014. Trade event: 12-4 PM, Consumer event: 6-9 PM

Where: Sodo Park, 3200 1st Ave S. Seattle, WA 98134

What:

Pinot in the City brings together a blend of  Willamette Valley Wine pioneers and hard-to-find upstarts, new releases and old standbys, Pinot and Pinot Gris, plus some tasty Chardonnay and Riesling.

Come meet and greet the wine makers & taste their wines!

Tickets: $65 purchase online  here.

Note:

Don’t delay purchasing your tickets!

This event has sold out in all venues nationwide – from San Francisco to Chicago to New York City…

Need more info? www.willamettewines.com.

Cheers!

⚜⚜⚜

Follow    binNotes | a wine blog: |   Facebook    |     Twitter    |    Pinterest

Copyrighted 2012-2014. All rights reserved. |  Image courtesy: Willamette Wines

Restaurant Intervention: epulo, Edmonds, WA.

Welcome to binNotes | a wine blog.  

By L. M. Archer, FWS

Follow binNotes | a wine blog:    Facebook    |   Twitter    |   Pinterest

“He who distinguishes the true savor of his food can never be a glutton; he who does not cannot be otherwise.” ~ Henry David Thoreau

⚜⚜⚜

epolu

e-pu-lo:  sumptuous food, banquet or feast.

I finally know what the sin of gluttony feels like. Or, rather – what it tastes like.

It tastes like e-pu-lo bistro’s Manila clams with Parsley, ​Chervil, Chives, Garlic & Pinot Gris, plus a side of toasted bread to sop up the sauce. Oh, and a side order of sautéed green beans with garlic. lemon and chili to add to the flavor-fest. So simple. So delicious. So sumptuous. A true banquet of the senses  – and stomach.

Meat eaters – my  partner-in-crime swears by the Braised Beef Short Rib with Garlic​ Mashed Potato, Arugula & Demi Glace. Not one succulent morsel left on his plate, either.

Wines by the glass or bottle include some reasonably priced Old World selections, as well as familiar top-shelf New world pours with prices to match.

Warm, attentive staff, soft lighting and cozy bistro seating help set the stage for ongoing crime of self-indulgence. And, like any self-respecting bistro, this venue accommodates families, foodies and francophiles alike. Proprietary parking on the side ensures a seamless, hassle-free dining experience. Sinning never tasted so good.

Santé!

Epulo Bistro on Urbanspoon


Link here for more  binNotes Urbanspoon Restaurant  Interventions.

⚜⚜⚜

Follow binNotes | a wine blog:    Facebook    |   Twitter    |   Pinterest  | Instagram

Copyrighted 2012-2014. All images courtesy the author. All Rights Reserved.

Dog Days of Summer…

 Welcome to binNotes | a wine blog

by L.M. Archer, FWS

“The dog days are over
The dog days are done…”

-Florence & The Machine

Follow    binNotes | a wine blog: |   Facebook    |     Twitter    |    Pinterest

Lucca, Wine Mascot and power behind the throne at binNotes, holds court in a hand-crafted wine barrel dog house from Sonoma.

binNotes is on hiatus during these final dog days of summer…see you back here next week.

NOTE:

A special shout-out to the folks in Napa and Sonoma, who suffered a major earthquake earlier this week.

Our thoughts are with you as you deal with the aftershock.

Cheers.

⚜⚜⚜

Follow    binNotes | a wine blog: |   Facebook    |     Twitter    |    Pinterest   |   Instagram

Copyrighted 2012-2014. All rights reserved. | Photo courtesy the author.

WITWIB? Red Mountain!

 Welcome to binNotes | a wine blog

by L.M. Archer, FWS

“A jug of Wine, a Loaf of Bread, and Thou
Beside me singing in the Wilderness…”
  -The Rubyat,  XII – Omar Khayyam

Follow    binNotes | a wine blog: |   Facebook    |     Twitter    |    Pinterest

How binNotes celebrated Washington State Wine Month this year:

binNotes travelled east recently to bottle at Portrait Cellars |  E & E Shaw Vineyards, with a few stops along the way to some Red Mountain AVA wineries.

Enjoy the scenery…now go drink some Washington State wine!

Cheers!

⚜⚜⚜

Thoughts? Leave your comments below.

Follow    binNotes | a wine blog: |   Facebook    |     Twitter    |    Pinterest

Copyrighted 2012-2014. All rights reserved. | All images courtesy the author.

Thank you:

Leeanna & Dan – Handprint Farms

Ed & Eve Shaw – Portrait Cellars | E & E Shaw Vineyards