It’s always intriguing to have a book that has ‘100 Somethings’ in the title. It indicates that the subject is fairly wide ranging with the opportunity of choosing 100 out of a much greater number, and that the author has made a selection or ranking. The New Zealand wine industry is indeed reasonably large, especially for a small country that has just over 4 million inhabitants. There are around 700 wine producers, so a selection of 100 certainly is a little over 10% of the total.
Douglas Renall has picked out his 100 wineries to visit, and they make reasonably predictable choices, as he is clearly very familiar with and passionate about wine and knows the New Zealand wine scene very well. He has worked at a number of different wineries and has completed a Bachelor of Wine Science and Viticulture through EIT, Hawke’s Bay. Just recently he worked at a chateau in Bordeaux. Working on the book since 2011, he wanted it to show the “visual splendour” of the country’s iconic wineries through his photography. He went to all the wine regions of New Zealand, “walked the vineyards” and “talked with winemakers and vineyard managers”. His book is to introduce to the reader “intriguing facts”, the history, the viticulture and oenology employed, and the people. The book is to inspire readers to “discover more of New Zealand and its wines”.
The Selection of the 100 Wineries
The selection of wineries is wide ranging and covers the length and breadth of the country. There are 5 wineries from Northland and Matakana, 9 from Auckland, 8 from Waiheke Island, 4 from the East Coast and Bay of Plenty, 23 from Hawke’s Bay and 7 from Martinborough, all in the North Island. The South Island is represented with 23 from Marlborough, 3 from Nelson, 4 from Waipara and 14 from Otago.
There is a predominance of North Island wineries, with the areas around Auckland high in number. If one were to be more representative of the country as a whole, there would be a stronger showing from the South Island wineries. All of the wineries chosen are quality producers with individuality. Renall also lists other recommended wineries beyond his 100. It should be noted that if readers wanted to visit any, they should check out if appointments are necessary, as many are not generally open to the public.
The Winery Profiles
The winery profiles each have a side bar with important facts, such as physical address, website address, cellar door hours, grape varieties grown, the wineries’ signature wines, the name(s) of the winemaker(s) at the cuisine served and the winery if applicable. This is all useful information, but I’d have a little niggle about the ‘Signature Wines’, as some of them may be a reflection of the author’s personal interpretation. I think Douglas has a leaning towards Bordeaux red varieties, even though the predominant red planted in this country is Pinot Noir. No matter, as it is his perspective!
One very good feature of the profiles is the photography, which generally captures the cellar door and outlook of the land around the wineries, as well as inside the wineries, and the vineyards. Many of the pictures are of minor detail that are not indicative of the chosen winery, such as glassware shots, photos of vines, buds and shoots, and barrels or other winemaking equipment, these being more general photos. In their favour is that they are attractive. I personally would have liked more photos of the people involved, as the style of the wines produced and the character of the winery are determined to a great degree by the founder, grower or winemaker.
The text for each profile covers the history and sometimes the philosophy behind each winery. This is very interesting material, much of which can be found on the respective websites, but obviously there is considerable information that could only be obtained by talking directly with the people. The profiles do cover the key people at each winery, and are more superficial than personal observations by the author, which would give more ownership to Douglas. In some ways, this information presented is PR/media material.
However, there is more personal input in the in the descriptions of the wines from each of the wineries. The profiles try to cover the range made at each winery, but do, to me, show a bias towards the author’s preferences. This is good, but one should be aware of it. The tasting notes have plenty of relevant information, but tend towards hyperbole in the descriptions. After all, not everything is ‘iconic’, ‘stellar’, ‘prestigious’, the ‘finest’ or ‘exceptional’. I can relate my tastes and findings to the author’s words for many of the wines, but do not for others. That’s personal taste and individuality in wine tasting playing its part for sure, and is more interesting than disappointing.
The vast majority of the information is impressively up-to-date, though some facts are now not current. A couple of the wineries are not operating as indicted, these being Te Whau, Crossroads and Pasquale. That’s to be expected in any work on a constantly evolving wine industry scene. The book lacks a factual overview, with information on vineyard region size, and varieties that are significant in each area. An introduction to each sub-region would be very useful too.
I suspect I’m finding fault with aspects of the publication and may appear a little too critical and negative, but I must state that the book is a very good one that shows much research and detailed information. It will be an excellent buy for readers who are beginning to develop a deeper interest in New Zealand wine. For the very experienced enthusiast, they may have different impressions than that conveyed, especially with respect to the wine tasting notes. The book is visually appealing and could grace any coffee table, but the content offers much more than a book designed for that role. The book achieves the author’s aims. A good buy, and well-done, Douglas Renall!
100 Great New Zealand Wineries, By Douglas Renall
David Bateman Ltd, Auckland, 2017, ISBN 978-1-86953-972-6