By Ha-Kyung Choi
New Zealand has come a long way in the palate preferences of American
wine lovers. Obscure only a decade ago, New Zealand wines are today
basking in the country's reputation for high-quality, consistent and
reasonably priced wine. Best known for crisp, herbal and citrus flavored
Sauvignon Blanc, New Zealand winemakers are taking advantage of the
diverse soil types and innovative winemaking techniques to produce a
growing variety of world class wines.
Nestled in the farthest reaches of the earth, one often thinks of sheep,
seclusion and spectacular scenery when thinking of New Zealand. The
region’s distinctive character and reputation as paradise on earth
is embodied in New Zealand’s boutique wineries especially by the
likes of winemakers such as Claire and Mike Allen, the husband and wife
team at Huia Vineyards. Through meticulous, hands-on oversight of their
vineyards and unwavering commitment to producing the best wines characteristic
of the land, these StarVintners are producing wines that combine the
flavors of Marlborough as well as show their individuality.
Both Claire and Mike honed their winemaking skills through extensive
experience in wineries both home and in France. The synthesis of old
world and new world knowledge and techniques enables them to be especially
responsive to each vintage and produce unique wines. Their dedication
and labor of love comes through in their wines; they’re producing
elegant Pinot Noirs and stellar sparkling wines, not to mention Sauvignon
Blanc that’s exceptional even by Marlborough standards. This team
is sure to win over wine lovers around the world.
Interview with winemakers Claire and Mike Allen
By Ha-Kyung Choi
Ha-Kyung Choi: How did you become winemakers?
Claire Allen: We were both brought up
with wine being consumed at dinner time by our parents. The interest
in wine built with age. Claire was working with food and the wine world
became more and more interesting. Both Mike and Claire studied wine
at Roseworthy Agricultural University in South Australia and moved from
there to work in wineries starting off as casual cellar hands and eventually
HC: Your wines seem to be influenced primarily
by France. Please describe your winemaking techniques, stylistic goals,
and your overall winemaking philosophy.
CA: We use a mixture of traditional and
modern winemaking techniques. The grapes are predominately hand-picked
as a quality measure to decrease the amount of oxidation. We use natural
yeasts for most of the ferments. This is very traditional as is the
hand-picking. The oak vessels used at Huia are bought as barrels, puncheons
or vats from France. The stylistic goals are classical wines that shine
with food. We seek rich aromas alongside a balanced and textured palate
that also offers a reasonable level of longevity in the bottle. All
wines are winemaker selections from the vineyards we work with year
after year, from accepting the grapes at harvest through to the final
blending decisions. Every year we are looking to make the best wines
in the season.
HC: You’re known for making excellent
sparkling wines and Sauvignon Blanc. Please tell me more about these
wines. How are the currently releases?
CA: We make Huia Brut mainly because we
have both worked a ‘stage’ in Champagne. Mike continued
to work with sparkling wine at Cloudy Bay for another 4 years on our
return to Marlborough, hence there is plenty of expertise. Our 1998
Huia Brut is hand-picked, whole bunch pressed, fermented quickly in
old French oak, undergoes total malolactic fermentation on gross lies,
stirred once a week and goes on triage in November. The bottle ferment
is in less than 14 degrees Celsius and the wine is on lies in the bottle
for 30 months. Then we hand riddle the wine and disgorge with a small
dosage, the sugar is 6.5gm/litre. The nose shows creamy qualities with
notes of fresh baked bread and rich yeast autolysis characters. Peaches
and cream with some underlying yeasty flavors, from the 53 percent Pinot
Noir and the 47 percent Chardonnay blend, fill the palate. The wine
is rich and lively with a creamy finish.
As for the Sauvignon Blanc, we use five vineyards from different sites
around the Wairau Valley. The central valley vineyards such as the winery
vineyard are warmer and provide the tropical and passion fruit portion.
The cooler vineyards give us the characteristic Marlborough lifted herbaceous
aromas. We hand pick and whole bunch press a portion and whole berry
press the rest. A twenty percent portion undergoes natural ferment and
the rest is inoculated with a rehydrated wine yeast named Pris de Mousse.
Thus we have a wine that is distinctly Marlborough on the nose and enjoys
a richer riper palate than suggested by the aromatics. This makes the
wine much easier to pair with food.
HC: How has your experience as chefs contributed
to your winemaking? What role does food play in your wines and what
is your food and wine pairing philosophy?
CA: We both love food – we eat very
well on a constant basis. We like looking at matching food and always
remember the good matches. All our wine styles have been influenced
by matching the varieties with food.
HC: New Zealand is best known for small,
boutique wineries. Do you detect the global trend toward consolidation
in New Zealand?
CA: There is an international trend of
consolidation, New Zealand is not exempt. We have BLR Hardy, Berringer
Blass, Allied Domeq, LVMH here in Marlborough. There are consolidation
purchases happening but so far in the 500 tonne and greater sized wineries.
Also the sharemarket listed companies are dealing with the increasing
threat of a hostile bid. We are too small to be noticed and plan to
stay that way.
HC: How do you distinguish yourself from
other Marlborough wineries?
CA: Huia is owned and operated by a Winemaking
and Viticultural team who has the freedom to make their personal goal
producing the best wines year after year.
HC: How can we expect Huia to change in
the coming years? Are you planning production increases, new varietals?
CA: There are no great expansion plans.
We are increasing our supply of Pinot Gris by 1500 cases over the next
three years. That is that. The change will be from the vineyards as
vines gain age and the fruit should become more intense.
HC: What is the wine that’s enjoyed
on a daily basis at the Allen household?
CA: At the Allan’s house we enjoy
all the wines. We have no favorites and sometimes we enjoy more than
- 2001 Huia Pinot Noir
- 2001 Huia Chardonnay
- 2002 Huia Riesling
- 2002 Huia Gewurztraminer
- 2002 Huia Pinot Gris
- 2002 Huia Sauvignon Blanc
- 1998 Huia Brut