By Celia Strong
What was bound to happen? This week I’m going to hold off a bit before I give it away. But, when we get there, you’ll see. It was bound to happen.
Anyhow, our wine this week was a real treat to find. It comes to us from New Zealand and, I guess, it will not surprise any of us that it’s a Sauvignon Blanc. This is a green skinned grape variety that originated in Bordeaux. It most probably got its name from the French word “sauvage” for wild and “blanc” for white. It is probably a descendant of the Savagnin grape, now extinct. Good thing for us its offspring is still around because without Sauvignon Blanc to drink when I want it, things, wine-wise, would be pretty bleak. Depending on the climate it grows in, the flavors of Sauvignon Blanc wines can range from aggressively grassy to sweetly tropical.
Historically, this variety traces its origins to the Loire Valley and Bordeaux regions in western France. There is research that suggests that it did come from the “no longer with us” Savagnin, but some grape researchers, (ampelographers I believe they are called), also assert that Sauvignon Blanc is related to Carmenere of Chilean wine fame. Whichever it came from, at some point this vine paired with Cabernet Franc to become the parents of Cabernet Sauvignon. (It always surprises me that two lesser grapes made such a big boy.) Anyhow, in the 19th century, plantings in Bordeaux were often the red and the white varieties all mixed up together. Sometimes there were even pink mutations. It was these mixed up vines that got taken to Chile in the 19th century when phylloxera destroyed most of the vineyards in Bordeaux.
As a rule, the Sauvignon Blanc grapes ripen early. This lets it do well in sunny climates that don’t have excessive heat. In warmer areas, like California, South Africa and Australia, does better in cooler and usually higher vineyards. If the grapes get too hot and ripen too fast, their wines are dull and flat. And let’s face it, the reason we love Sauvignon Blancs is because they are dry and crisp and refreshing. Great for warm weather drinking as long as they don’t come from warm weather. And, that, is a slogan to drink by!
In New Zealand, grape growing and wine making go back to their British colonial days. In 1851, New Zealand’s oldest existing vineyard was established by French Roman Catholic missionaries in Hawke’s Bay. Economic conflicts (the importance of animal agriculture and the exporting of protein) and governmental issues (prohibition and temperance movements) and cultural resistance to wine (beer and liquor were the alcoholic beverages of choice) all worked against the growth of the wine industry. Then, at the end of the 1960’s and the beginning of the 1970’s, these three deterrents all had their own problems. Vines and wines all of a sudden became attractive products. The habit of “6 o’clock swill” for one hour only after work changed and new “BYO” laws let patrons bring wine to restaurants. Wine became not only an economic success but an acceptable cultural phenomenon. At the same time that all of this was happening at home, young New Zealanders traveled around the world and brought home with them a love for wine and the energy to develop it.
In the 1970’s, Montana in Marlborough started making vintage dated wines that were labeled for their grape variety. The first production of Sauvignon Blanc in 1977 was duly noted. Several other varieties, both red and white, were also very successful that year. Areas all over the country started planting vines until, 1984, the government paid growers to rip out vines to minimize the glut of wines that were being produced. Even though this abundance of New Zealand wines didn’t last, I think they still manage to price some of their wines like they’re in short supply. By the 1990’s New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs were being rated as some if the best in the world.
The wine regions of New Zealand are mostly located in free draining, alluvial valleys. The sandstone of the alluvial soils varies slightly and this accounts for the various styles of their wines. The majority of the vineyards are located on latitudes comparable to Bordeaux and Jerez, Spain. It is a maritime climate with the sea breezes moderating the weather. Even in the hottest summers they have cool nights that slow down the ripening of the grapes. Almost all New Zealand wine makers use stainless steel fermentation. When their industry started growing, the dairy industry was waning. But there sat all those stainless steel tanks from the milk. Waste not, want not! As a group, New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs fresh and crisp -”alive with flavors of cut grass and fresh fruits,” in particular grapefruits.
And, that brings us to this week’s wine. The Seeker is part of a new group of wines that have been named “wines without borders.” Yes, the Seeker Sauvignon Blancs is from New Zealand. But, their Cabernet is from Chile, their Chardonnay is from California, their Pinot Noir is from France and their Malbec is from Argentina. They are all coming to us from Kobrand, a company that carries good wines from around the world. Each of the Seeker wines is made by one of their superior wine makers from grapes they live with.
About a week ago, I got to taste all of the Seeker wines. The Sauvignon Blanc just loved me and I loved it! It is 100% Sauvignon Blanc, fermented in stainless steel, aged on it lees but not in any oak and full of aromas of citrus and nectarines with a hint of fresh cut grass. It’s juicy in our mouth, kind of sweet and tart at the same time. Luscious! And, get this, only $11.99, from New Zealand, all of it, really!
And, here’s the fun part. Each of the Seeker labels is a drawing of that wine’s character flying around the world in some sort of apparatus — balloons, funky planes, they’re cute. The Sauvignon Blanc dude is Captain Cornelius Weatherbee. He wears a tricorn hat and has a curled mustache. Despite his stature, he is said to intimidate even the heartiest of men. His flying machine, a large balloon with a propeller that sails, backed by spirits, toward whatever and whoever needs finding. Some say Weatherbee was a mindless wanderer, a man with his head in the clouds and not a penny of sense. Very soon now, Weatherbee and all of other characters on The Seeker wines are going to appear on Facebook and Twitter to let each other know where they are and what they’re doing. And, my understanding is, we’ll get to get in on their “conversations.” I truly advise join at our own risk, have a bottle of wine near by and be prepared for whatever happens. Facebooking our wines? It was bound to happen. Enjoy!