star Vintners

Huia Vineyards
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 becoming winemakers.

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 one.


  • 2001 Huia Pinot Noir
  • 2001 Huia Chardonnay
  • 2002 Huia Riesling
  • 2002 Huia Gewurztraminer
  • 2002 Huia Pinot Gris
  • 2002 Huia Sauvignon Blanc
  • 1998 Huia Brut

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