‘Tell a story”, winegrowers are constantly urged by marketers. Wine drinkers often like to know the background of their favourite brands: the dreams and aspirations of the owners; where and how they grow their grapes and make their wines; their major challenges and triumphs.
In The Wild Bunch, 23 “movers, shakers and groundbreakers” tell their stories, with author Joelle Thomson adding depth and perspective. Some extremely influential New Zealand wine personalities – Alex Corban, Frank Yukich, Peter Hubscher, John Buck and John Hancock – are not featured, but every wine writer would have come up with a different list.
Offering easy reading, the book tells us about the producers’ greatest achievements and their favourite wines and reveals what they would take to a desert island. Patrick Materman, chief winemaker of Pernod Ricard NZ, would take Marl borough sauvignon blanc, “because it’s fresh and uplifting” – and its screwcap closure would make the message sent in a bottle more likely to survive its journey.
I especially enjoyed the profile of Felton Road winemaker Blair Walter, who says “winemaking is not all glamour, 95% of it is cleaning – just get on with it”. Although he produces some of Central Otago’s finest rieslings, Walter praises chardonnay as “a hell of a lot easier and more pleasurable to have at the dinner table”.
The Wild Bunch has startling errors – we do know who first imported sauvignon blanc vines and when; figures supplied for the vineyard area of principal grape varieties are wildly inaccurate (confusing grape tonnages with planted areas). But for insights into what makes some of our top winegrowers tick, it’s well worth reading.
Vinacular: A Wine Lover’s A-Z takes 26 wine words and expressions, from A (Angel’s Share – a winemakers’ term for wine lost to evaporation) to Z (ZZZZZZZ – the drowsiness induced by wine), then adds John Saker’s stimulating text and Scott Kennedy’s amusing illustrations. A brief, but delightful, treat.
WINE OF THE WEEK
Pencarrow Martinborough Pinot Noir 2011
From Palliser Estate, this is a full-coloured, mouthfilling red with concentrated cherry/plum flavours, gently seasoned with oak, and good complexity. Fine value. Target price: $27 (4/5).
THE WILD BUNCH: MOVERS, SHAKERS AND GROUNDBREAKERS OF THE NEW ZEALAND WINE INDUSTRY, by Joelle Thomson (New Holland, $39.99); VINACULAR: A WINE LOVER’S A-Z, by Scott Kennedy and John Saker (Awa Press, $25).