What do you actually celebrate when you mark a milestone if you are a wine producer? That was the question posed by Jackson Estate’s owner John Benton and managing director Jeff Hart. Is it the planting of the first vines, or the first vintage when wine is bottled? They decided that it was 25 years “working in the market”, this being a significant marker, and a criterion they’d like to be considered for in the future. A celebration party was organised with their distributors and a number of important clients, as well as media guests to look back at the past and more importantly share their enthusiasm for the future, with people who they will be continuing to work with. I’ve known financier John Benton from my wine retailing days since the start of the 1990s, so have followed his foray into the wine industry with great interest.
Established by John and Jo Stichbury at the end of the 1980s, Jackson Estate quickly became a highly regarded Marlborough wine producer, based on the quality of its first wines from Jackson family land owned since 1855. John, a fifth generation of the Jackson family made the adventurous move into the new industry of grapegrowing and wine, and vigorously promoted the Jackson Estate brand, especially to the U.K. market where it remains a recognised premium Marlborough brand today. Jackson Estate is particularly known as one of the four initiators of the Screwcap Initiative and a developer of frost fighting systems, including the use of helicopters. The company and brand has also weathered many storms along the way, and as with many New Zealand wine labels, had to deal with increased competition, the effects of the global financial crisis, the continuous changing in the marketplace and the need to modernise and operate with new technology, as well as the eventual facing of the issue of succession.
Geoff Woolcombe, Jeff Hart, John Benton and Matt Patterson-Green
Geoff Woolcombe, Jeff Hart, John Benton and Matt Patterson-Green
John Benton’s Input
John Benton, a former schoolmate of John Stichbury and shareholder in the Pask winery in Hawke’s Bay, became aware of Jackson Estate’s position and researched the possibility of increasing his wine industry involvement in 2012 finalising a purchase of a majority shareholding in the company in 2013. John found the existing infrastructure of high quality vineyards, systems of operating, the long-standing industry respect of viticulturist Geoff Woollcombe and winemaker Matt Patterson-Green, along with the strong market acceptance, especially in export, sufficiently robust to warrant investment with a view to successful growth.
John installed his colleague Jeff Hart as managing director of Jackson Estate with all the staff retained, and having founders John and Jo Stichbury incorporated into ambassadorial roles. A more effective and economical operating “demand model” has been instituted, and the injection of capital has resulted in greater confidence as the company looks forward. Although Sauvignon Blanc makes up the lion’s share of the output, this being approx. 80%, Pinot Noir is a significant wine, comprising 10% of the production, this requiring more sophisticated input to achieve top quality. The up-coming plans to build a dedicated Pinot Noir winery for the making of this wine.
Jackson Estate owns 36 ha of vineyard, named the ‘Homestead’ on Jacksons Road in the Wairau, long with 15 ha at the ‘Somerset’ vineyard in the Waihopi, and leases 21 ha at the neighbouring ‘Gum Emperor’ vineyard. Potentially, this could produce up to 70,000 cases of wine, but the demand model results in 40,000 cases of estate wine made, with the remainder of the fruit sold. The amount of wine bottled under Jackson Estate reflects the market conditions and allows for controlled growth. The Jackson Estate team are cognizant of the fine balance of pricing and quality and their effects on demand and sales, and continue the original aim of “best wines at affordable prices”. The wines are classical premium reflections of Marlborough. www.jacksonestate.co.nz
The 25th Celebration Event was planned as a long lunch served with a broad range of current and past vintages of Jackson Estate wines, along with forays into the ‘Eversley’ vineyard (a.k.a. the ‘Gum Emperor’ vineyard), owned by Patrick Rattray and his family, where the lunch was to be held. Almost all of the Jackson Estate staff were in attendance. Short presentations were made by John Benton, Jeff Hart, Geoff Woollcombe and Matt Patterson-Green. Due to a rain event, the attendees were confined to a marquee for much of the time. This didn’t affect the proceedings and the consumption of food and wine, but I felt with the drop in barometric pressure, the wines tasted appeared much tighter, less fruity and less aromatic than they normally do and as how I remember them, so, I’ve made briefer notes than usual.
Incidentally, walking into the Pinot Noir vineyard and under the nets with Geoff Woollcombe to inspect the wines, I was very pleasantly surprised how little of the precipitation remained on the bunches of grapes just an hour after the rain. Geoff surmised there would be practically no onset of disease and minimal water uptake by the vines as a result from the downpour.
Single Vineyard Pinot Noirs
Single Vineyard Pinot Noirs
Here is the menu for the lunch and wines, as they were planned to be served. I shot ahead and tasted them out of order.
Spiced leek fritter, coriander mayonnaise
· ‘Stich’ Sauvignon Blanc 2010: Very full and bold on bouquet, with volume allied to depth. Ripe gooseberry fruit aromas with asparagus and bean secondary notes, along with a steely, minerally freshness. Lively and vibrant on palate with pungent fruit, some herb and minerals and a floral lift. Poised and fresh mouthfeel with tension, finishing with some grip. A bit of an enigma, combining liveliness with development, but drinks very well.
· ‘Stich’ Sauvignon Blanc 2014: Youthful and fresh with tightly bound and elegance on nose. This has finesse and sweet, luscious fruit along with racy mouthfeel. A lighter wine, in good proportion. Reflecting the vintage?
White fish tacos, cabbage slaw
· ‘Homestead’ Riesling 2006: Some golden colour. Full and soft with layers of interest. Honied and toasty, maybe a little oxidative, but more complex than negative, this has intensity on bouquet. Lovely citrus fruit, still fresh and bright, with piquant acidity and complexing honey, toast and earthy notes, beautifully integrated, just a tad drying on finish. At its peak, and showing very well.
· ‘Grey Ghost’ Sauvignon Blanc 2012: Tight and with excellent depth and intensity, the aromas of gooseberries, fresh dark herbs, minerals and flint with subtle oak inputs. On palate green stonefruits, nectarines and more oak notes, on a rich and weighty palate with slippery textures and flow. Lanolin and lantana, waxy, but cut by fine acidity. This is noticeably dry on finish. This is still very youthful and should hold well.
Mozzarella, mint and cucumber skewers
· ‘Grey Ghost’ Sauvignon Blanc 2007: Some light gold colour, this is densely packed with savoury, earthy green stonefruit, flint and toasty notes, smoke and minerals, the bouquet complex and funky. More restraint and style on palate, with flint and mineral notes prominent. Smoke and lees work, with underlying nectarine-like fruitiness. Excellent acidity and energy still, and growing weight on the palate. This has developed well.
· ‘Shelter Belt’ Chardonnay 2008: Soft, complex, layered bouquet, quite complete with fruit, oak, toast and barrel-ferment creaminess. This is rich-fruited, still sweet and succulent, with a harmoniously developed and integrated mouthfeel with layers of stonefruits, nuts, toast and creaminess. On a peak and very together.
Black bean soup, sour cream, crispy tortillas
· ‘Stich’ Sauvignon Blanc 2013: Served from magnum, quite soft and gentle in expression, but with considerable presence. A little secondary asparagus nuance on nose, quite complex, as though some oak input. Good tight and dense core, but with good punchiness of flavour, the acidity carrying the wine to a dry, minerally finish
· ‘Grey Ghost’ Sauvignon Blanc 2009: Refined and tightly bound with an amalgam of gooseberry and greengage fruit along with refined, flinty lees and nutty, minerally detail on nose. The same elegance and finesse on palate, still fresh with green stonefruits and herbs, the succulence cut by crisp acidity and a fine-textured line. Some way to go for this wine.
· ‘Homestead’ Dry Riesling 2012: Light straw colour. This is elegant and slender on nose, with intense lime and floral fruit, and a suggestion of secondary toasty interest. Crisp, pure, focussed with mouthwatering florals limes and esters lift. The palate features a pure line and acid cut. The balance and flow is impeccable.
‘Vintage Widow’ braised lamb cheeks ’n’ beef tail, soft polenta, field mushrooms
· ‘Shelter Belt’ Chardonnay 2012: I don’t know how, but I missed this one!
· ‘Vintage Widow’ Pinot Noir 2012: Dark ruby-red colour. This has a full, deep and concentrated nose with bright, ripe dark red berry fruit entwined with complexing earthy notes and a little oak lift. Rich and sweet fruited, but possessing a firm core and plenty of tannin extract and structure. Minerals, herbs and earthy elements unfold. This is still very youthful and shows plenty of grip. It needs a hearty meaty accompaniment
· ‘Gum Emperor’ Pinot Noir 2011: Bright, dark red with ruby hues. This is firm and solidly concentrated on bouquet with sweet dark plum fruit growing and blossoming with aeration. Layers of savoury dried herbs and the beginnings of game-like secondary elements emerge. Lovely vibrant, juicy and plush, sweet dark raspberry and cherry fruit along with plum notes. The fruit is underlined by fine-grained tannins that build in significance. This has vitality and freshness, and primary fruitiness still. The star red wine for me.
· ‘Somerset’ Pinot Noir 2011: Lighter colour with garnet red hues. The bouquet is classically gamey and complex with savoury notes from red berry fruit and florals with dried herb and whole cluster brown stalkiness. Smooth flowing, rounded, but fine tannins and moderate extraction. Still good acid linearity. I can see this as a favourite for those with a liking for the more complex and funky style.
· ‘Gum Emperor’ Pinot Noir 2005: Not on the menu, but available for tasting! Still youthful in appearance, ruby red and remarkably with purple hues. Soft, full and deeply concentrated with soft, unfolding layers of secondary red berry fruits, dried herbs, game. Lovely complexities. Full-bodied with weight depth and concentration. Some game, undergrowth and mushroom maturity. The tannins are ripe and powdery, and there is good acid drive. But rounded and pleasing to the palate. A treat to see a well-developed example.
Apple crisp, season’s last berries, fresh custard
· Botrytis Riesling 2011: Golden yellow colour, this has full-on botrytis with honey, marmalade talc and musk, along with VA lift. Real density and depth, massive botrytis infection, but some residual fruit integrity still there. The opulence and concentration a marvel, bordering over the top? This just gets more drinkable and irresistible.
A Comparison of Cork Sealed and Screwcap Wine
As one of the initiators of the Screwcap Initiative, Jackson Estate trialled and compared the two closures over a number of vintages. Here, they offered the 2002 Sauvignon Blanc under both closures to compare. Interestingly, the wine was still identifiably varietal. However, as can be expected, there were significant differences between them.
The Cork-Sealed wine, light golden yellow with savoury green bean, grass and oxidative, nutty elements, quite dense, heavy and earthy on bouquet. Distinct gooseberry and grassy flavours along with bean and asparagus notes, and a textured line that grows in astringency as the fruit is beginning to dry out. The phenolics become more apparent at the back palate. Pretty much at the end of its life?
The Screw-Cap wine, light golden-straw colour. Fresh, lifted aromas of florals and grass, quite focussed and tight, but clearly still fresh. Elegant, tightly concentrated with a fine-textured core and line. Pure floral elements, green fruits, flowing on a firm palate, refreshed by cutting acidity. This is definitely fresher, more aromatic and sweeter.