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Villa Maria’s Awatere Valley vineyards. Villa Maria

As in the Wairau Valley, the diversity of growing conditions throughout Marlborough Looking up the Awatere enhances the diversity of fruit flavours from different soils and in different atmospheric Valley from the c°ast. Biruce environments. Jane Hunter, one of the most experienced wine entrepreneurs of the region, emphasises the value of the region’s diverse soil and atmospheric conditions:

I mean we’ve got this block here that is a very low-cropping, low-vigour vineyard. And 2 kilometres back down the road we’ve got two of our major Sauvignon Blanc vineyards and you’d think that they were in a different country the soil is so heavy. There’s not one stone in it. And so you get rain coming in over the hills. The vineyard just doesn’t even blink at it.

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The positive thing for a winery of our size is it gives us such wonderful fruit flavours because there is such a diversity of fruit coming in.

When different sites in the Awatere Valley are added to the overall Marlborough mix, the potential to use the different qualities in the grapes from different parts of the region to blend them into distinctive, or even consistently similar, wines from vintage to vintage becomes apparent. Marlborough, like Champagne, is primarily a regional brand. These two regions also have similarities in the way their industries are organised which enhances the possibilities. Grape growers who sell to wineries, who also grow their own grapes, are common to both regions. Companies – or in the case of Champagne, co-operatives – have a variety of different fruit that can be blended to attain the styles and qualities they are seeking. Enterprises in both regions also have the capacity to maintain or modify their style of wine by changing their sources of grapes from year to year.

When vintages are variable from region to region and from year to year, New Zealand wine producers have the added advantage of being permitted by legislation to include up to 15 per cent of wine from outside their region, or indeed 15 per cent of grapes other than those varieties named on the front label. Champagne producers have an analogous flexibility as far as variety is concerned because they can choose the proportions of Chardonnay, Pinot Meunier and Pinot Noir that they include and not be required to name them. French producers may not blend any grapes from other regions, although in the past – notably in periods of difficulty such as after the ravages of phylloxera in the late nineteenth century – fraud, artificial wine and false labelling were endemic.

Both regions have a mix of soil types over small areas with subtle differences, as well as more marked trends in atmospheric environments. Some climatic differences, such as the influences of distance from the sea on temperature in Marlborough, are reasonably predictable. In both regions grape growers who supply different wine companies therefore produce grapes with different qualities, not only because the soils and microclimates are different but also because the people growing them have different viticultural styles and aspirations. Large companies, in particular, are able to source their grapes from the same or different growers from year to year. Co-operatives in Champagne have a similar diversity of supply although without the flexibility of being able so readily to change suppliers.

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