It takes much courage to launch a new wine venture and brand. Most new entrants realise they are on a steep learning curve. If they are the actual growers and makers, there’s half the battle. The other half, deemed the most difficult, is the commercialising, or putting it plainly, the selling of the wine. Few people have skills in all the areas at the beginning, but learn and develop as they go and hopefully grow, and expand their abilities and network of contacts.
Darragh and Charlotte Hughes have just launched their ‘Maxim’ and Pig’s Back’ wines, and they appear to be a great deal more prepared than most with their new wine venture. Darragh is of Irish descent, and is a winemaker with Rod McDonald at the Hawke’s Bay Wine Co. in Napier. Following a varied background including banking and hospitality, he entered the world of wine, and has made wine in various parts of New Zealand and overseas since 2007. Charlotte has no formal wine training, but her profession in writing and advertising has given her very important skills for the establishment of their wine venture.
The Maxim and Pig’s Back wines come from the 2016 vintage, and have just been released. Darragh and Charlotte have visited the Auckland and Wellington markets, making contact with a number of key wine resellers, and communicators. It was a pleasure for me to have Darragh and Charlotte visit and tell me about their wines.
Darragh and Charlotte Hughes – Maxim and Pig’s Back Wines
Darragh and Charlotte Hughes – Maxim and Pig’s Back Wines
Making the Wines, and Showing the Brands
As a winemaker at the Hawke’s Bay Wine Co., Darragh has managed to gain relationships with growers in Hawke’s Bay and beyond. From these growers and vineyard sites that he sees as being suitable for his wines, he has negotiated the purchase of small lots of fruit. Darragh makes his wines at the Hawke’s Bay Wine Co. where he works. It’s a good relationship that has been fostered by Rod McDonald, whose business is growing the range of new wines and labels being made at the winery. There are other Hawke’s Bay Wine Co. employees and associates that have their own wines made there too. This arrangement of latitude encourages and strengthens the bonds that exist between staff and management.
Darragh is very particular with the varieties he wants to work with. This, of course, is determined somewhat by the availability of the fruit. He has a love of Chenin Blanc, as seen in the classically dry bottlings of Vouvray, and believes in the special expression of Syrah. These varieties, sourced from Hawke’s Bay go into the Maxim brand. ‘Maxim’ means “a statement of truth”, and each of the wines has its own maxim on how it came to be, on the label. This is the premium label, and its striking design highlights the more ‘serious’ nature of these wines.
The ‘Pig’s Back’ label is a reference to Darragh’s Irish heritage, the saying that “to be on the pig’s back” means “to be in luck and in fine form”. The brand has in its inaugural release, a Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc and Hawke’s Bay Albarino. These are meant to be wines that are fun, a little different and interesting, maybe experimental. The label is clearly a fun one with a rather joyful-looking pig, trotters in the air, and the pig’s back arched. Charlotte’s influence in the branding and presentation material is obvious. The websites are yet to go live, but they have a strong social media presence at facebook.com/maximwines and @maximwines on Instagram, and they can be contacted by email at: email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org
Tasting the Wines
As mentioned earlier, the Maxim and Pig’s Back wines are small batch affairs. The quantities range from 25 dozen to just over 70 dozen of each made. Darragh and Charlotte are very happy to start with small quantities, to ensure that the philosophies, fruit sources, winemaking and presentation behind the wines are on the right path. Growth will be taken with care, as they wish to have strong relationships with the market and channels to the market established
Darragh and Charlotte showed me the wines. All of the wines show good varietal capture. With such small quantities being made, I’m sure that Darragh and Charlotte will want to be a little more adventurous with their winemaking inputs, and maybe build some more individual characteristics or funkiness into them. But, first-things first, and these initial releases are spot-on in showing good winemaking and classical style interpretation. My notes follow:
Pig’s Back Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2016
Bright straw-yellow colour. The nose is elegant with classical, fresh pungent passionfruit aroma with tropical fruit as well as cooler-spectrum suggestions. Dry and medium-bodied, the palate is fresh, crisp and zesty, with stylishly presented fruit with moderate depth, showing passionfruit and gooseberries. Phenolics well in hand, and the finish is softly mouthwatering and brisk. A fruit-focussed style with some restraint. Drinking well now and for 2 years. Wairau Valley fruit tank-fermented to 13.5% alc. and 4 g/L RS, the wine undergoing batonnage in seasoned oak. 17.0/20 Jun 2017 RRP $23.95
Pig’s Back Hawke’s Bay Albarino 2016
Bright, light golden-yellow colour. The nose is initially a little shy, but opens up in volume with aeration to show white floral, citrus and lime fruit aromas along with stonefruits and notes of minerals. Then the salinity emerges. Dry to taste and medium full-bodied, this has good intensity and depth of lime, floral and stonefruit flavours. The mouthfeel has depth, body and fruit presence. The palate has power and fine textures and grip with bright, crisp, near racy acidity, and finishes with plenty of salinity. A very good example of how well this variety can perform. Drink over the next 3+ years. Fruit from Korokipo, 7 y.o. vines, given 12 hours skin contact with indigenous yeast ferment in tank to 13.5% alc. and 2.5 g/L RS, the wine aged 8 months in seasoned oak with batonnage. 18.0+/20 Jun 2017 RRP $23.95
Maxim Hawke’s Bay Chenin Blanc 2016
Light golden-yellow colour. The nose is fresh, light, pure and expressive with real clarity. White florals and stonefruit aromas, a little apple and dried hay in the background. Dry to taste and medium-bodied, this has an elegantly concentrated core of white florals and white stonefruits, a little hint of nuts and apples. The palate possesses a fine phenolic thread, but is essentially carried by the acidity. The textures and acidity flow through to the taut finish. This will keep well for 4-5 years at least. Fruit from Moteo and Korokipo, 44% fermented wild in old oak and 56% in tank, to 12.5% alc. and >1 g/L RS, the wine undergoing batonnage. 18.0-/20 Jun 2017 RRP $28.95
Maxim Hawke’s Bay Syrah 2016
Very dark, deep, purple hued ruby-red, youthful in appearance. The nose is softly fresh, with bright, lifted and vibrant fruit aroma of blackberry and dark-red berry fruit, entwined with black pepper and violet florals, along with iron-earth individuality. Medium-bodied, the fruit flavours of blackberries, dark raspberries, black pepper and violets are richly sweet and aromatic. The fruit forms a firm, fine-textured core. The extraction has refinement, and the palate enlivened by fresh acidity. This carries to a sustained finish. This is an excellent bottling of Syrah. Drink over the next 6-8 years. Fruit from Gimblett Road, destemmed and indigenous yeast fermented to 13.0% alc., the wine spending 20 days on skins and aged 12 months in one-third new oak. 18.5/20 Jun 2017 RRP $29.95