It is admirable how the Ibbotson family of Saint Clair has maintained a family culture in their winegrowing and winemaking business, despite growing so much. Crushing around 7,000 tonnes of fruit and bottling under a myriad of labels takes a complex infrastructure where lines of communication can rule, yet all the staff truly operate as one big, “happy family”. The Saint Clair operation shows how you can have growth, quality and individuality all at the same time, and the multi-tier and multiple single-vineyard expressions have enabled successful growth in tight economic times. The company is a credit to the Marlborough region.
I could not turn down the opportunity of tasting a selection of Saint Clair ‘Reserve’ and ‘Pioneer Block’ wines before their final bottling and release. Not surprisingly, Saint Clair have Gruner Veltliner up their sleeve, and the ‘Pioneer Block 5 – Bull Block’ Gruner Veltliner 2011 looked impressively rich and sweet, far more than its 4 g/L rs would suggest. The Saint Clair style of Sauvignon Blanc with its strong showing of pungent, passionfruit flavours is a very valid expression of the variety, but it does polarise opinion. However, there is no denying the world-wide demand for this style of wine. Winemakers Matt Thomson and Hamish Clark are continually refining the flavours and textures ensuring that fruit richness prevails. The range power at the top level could be seen in the ‘Pioneer Block 1 – Foundation Block’ Sauvignon Blanc 2011, extremely soft and elegant, but with great purity of the ripe passionfruity flavours, and the very intense, piquant, racy and sharp-edged ‘Pioneer Block 18 – Snap Block’ Sauvignon Blanc 2011. Both wonderful wines. The flagship ‘Wairau Reserve’ Sauvignon Blanc 2011 is a blend of the two, and is indeed a lovely synthesis of them, with gentle waves of flavour that develop in the glass.