Harvest in Marlborough is like a rapid-fire obstacle course timed to the nanosecond. The ordeal is just three to four weeks long and Sam Smail said it can be crazy-making.
The winemaker is behind our wine-of-the-week winner — the Whitehaven, 2016 New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc at $17. This sassy New Zealand sauvignon blanc over-delivers. It has bright tropical fruit, with notes of grapefruit, lemon and a hint of peach. It finishes crisp, and it’s a knockout.
“During harvest it becomes a real challenge to harvest all the vineyards at their optimum flavor and ripeness within a few weeks,” Smail said. “We also have a bit of a challenge at Whitehaven because we’re committed to keeping each lot separate in the cellar. We work with 20 to 25 different growers as well as getting about 20 percent of the fruit from our own estate vineyards. With some vineyards, we even separate different vineyard blocks in the cellar. So, we have a lot of smaller tanks and our equipment is geared around smaller batch processing.”
As for his credits, the 45-year old Smail has a master’s degree in chemistry from the University of Canterbury in New Zealand, which he followed with a post-graduate diploma in enology at the University of Adelaide in 1997. Today Smail’s the chief winemaker at Whitehaven, where he has worked since 2000. Before joining Whitehaven, he worked harvests in Napa, Marlborough and northeast Italy.
“I enjoyed those years quite a bit because I was learning so much by being exposed to the different winemaking techniques and traditions in three very iconic growing regions,” he said.
The winemaker is happy to have landed in Marlborough making sauvignon blanc in the country’s vibrant and tart New Zealand style.
“We are looking for a very intense, very distinct sauvignon blanc, with the classic gooseberry notes as well as a mineral core and some tropical and passion fruit notes,” Smail said. “The warm 2016 vintage also brought citrus flavors, like grapefruit and lemon, to the forefront, which blends with the peach, pear and tropical fruit notes.”
The winemaker fancies sauvignon blanc, and takes pride in giving it a New Zealand signature.
“Sauvignon blanc has always been one of my favorite wines both to make and to drink because it has incredible vibrancy and flavor freshness,” Smail said. “As a native of New Zealand, I love that I am able to make a world-renowned wine right here at home.”
This Week's Blind Tasting
Whitehaven, 2016 New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, 13% alcohol, $17. ★★★★
A sassy New Zealand sauvignon blanc that over-delivers. Bright tropical fruit. It has bright tropical fruit, with notes of grapefruit, lemon and a hint of peach. It finishes crisp and its a knockout.
Decoy, 2016 Sonoma County Chardonnay, 13.5%, $20. ★★★1/2: A tasty chardonnay that will delight budget shoppers. Easy drinking with solid winemaking behind it. Notes of apple, pear and toast. Nice length.
Clos du Val, 2016 Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc, 14%, $30. ★★★1/2: New Zealand meets California with this bottling of sauvignon blanc. It’s zesty, with tangy fruit, coupled with oak and a kiss of vanilla. Pretty.
MacRostie, 2015 Russian River Valley Chardonnay, 14.2%, $34. ★★★★: A lovely chardonnay with flora aromas — white flowers and jasmine. On the palate, flavors of green apple and lime. Rich mouthfeel and a creamy texture. Green apple and mineral notes keep this rich chardonnay in check.
Gavilan, 2014 Chalone Vineyard Chardonnay, 14.4%, $20. ★★★1/2: A lush chardonnay with decadent notes of brioche and toffee. This is rich, but not overly so. It’s balanced, yet leans toward blousy. This is definitely for chardonnay lovers.