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The epicurean: Interview with Jim White, technical director of Cloudy Bay | Journal19 | Clos19 UK

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The Epicurean

Interview with Jim White, technical director of Cloudy Bay

HOW DOES CLOUDY BAY EXPRESS THE UNIQUENESS OF NEW ZEALAND'S TERROIR?

Our aim at Cloudy Bay is to allow the terroir to express itself in the wines we make – it is important to us to hear the soils, the climate, and the vintage speak in the glass. Therefore, in our vineyards, our role is to ensure that vines produce fruit of the very highest quality – and in the winery, our intention is to express that quality in the purest way. We don’t want our winemaking techniques to be louder than the voice of the vineyard.

 

CAN YOU DESCRIBE THE SENSATION OF THE FIRST SIP OF A GLASS OF CLOUDY BAY?

Joy.

 

SAUVIGNON BLANC AND PINOT NOIR ARE THE SIGNATURE GRAPES OF NEW ZEALAND AND CLOUDY BAY. HOW DID THEY BECOME SUCH POPULAR GRAPES AND WINES? HOW DID THE GRAPES COME TO NZ?

New Zealand has always been a pioneering country, it’s a place where people have come and built things out of nothing. Grapes have been grown here almost since the Europeans first arrived, but there was a lot of experimentation in the early days, with people planting many different grape varieties in an attempt to see what worked. Sauvignon wasn’t planted in Marlborough until 1978, but from the outset, it was immediately evident that there was a genuine and unique relationship between our climate and soils and this variety. It was a style that David Hohnen, who founded Cloudy Bay, recognised as having real potential – and that was why it’s the variety that we built the Estate around. Pinot Noir in Marlborough was originally grown for sparkling wine, but over the years there have been changes in the clones used and also a movement into the clay soils found towards the south of the Wairau Valley. All of the Pinot Noir that goes into Cloudy Bay’s Marlborough Pinot Noir is grown on these clay soils, which we believe give density, structure and elegance. The final ingredient that we are seeing now is true vine age, contributing to an expression of site. In contrast, Central Otago has built a strong reputation around Pinot Noir as a still wine. The continental climate, diverse soils and exposures result in a very different expression of the variety when compared with Marlborough. The region tends to produce wines with great balance between acidity, concentration and power.

 

WHAT is THE 2019 VINTAGE LIKE?

The 2019 vintage is likely to be remembered as one of the great Marlborough vintages, and we have created a Sauvignon Blanc that perfectly balances ripeness and freshness. While it is early days for the Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, which are still tucked away in barrel, all signs are that 2019 is a vintage with which we can be very happy. The quality is a testament to our great vineyards, our hardworking teams and a season where everything just came together.

 

SOME OF CLOUDY BAY’S VINEYARDS ARE IN CENTRAL OTAGO; ONE OF THE SOUTHERNMOST WINE REGIONS IN THE WORLD. HOW DOES THIS AFFECT VITICULTURE AND VINIFICATION?

Central Otago offers some fairly extreme conditions. It can be both very cold and quite warm in the space of 24 hours (large diurnal range). This has amazing advantages in terms of the fruit ripening, as it gives both acid retention and beautiful ripeness, which leads to wines of balance, poise and intrigue. In the winery, we simply look for ways to frame the fruit, but not mask it. We know that our Calvert and Northburn vineyards produce very different styles, and blending is a huge part of what we do; we want to bring out the best in both. Calvert produces beautiful, sleek Pinot Noir, whereas Northburn is beautifully structured and architectural.

 

WHAT IS YOUR MOST MEMORABLE FOOD PAIRING WITH…

--- Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc (or Te Koko)

Would have to be fresh scallops pulled straight from the Marlborough Sounds, and served sashimi-style.

--- Cloudy Bay Pinot Noir (or Te Wahi)

It is hard to beat a slow cooked shoulder of New Zealand lamb.

 

WHAT DOES A TYPICAL DAY LOOK LIKE FOR THE WINEMAKER AT CLOUDY BAY AND WHAT DO YOU DO WHEN YOU’RE NOT MAKING WINE?

Nearly every day during harvest begins in the vineyard, with an early morning visit to taste fruit from the vines and assess its maturity. After that, we will head back to the winery to taste the wines that are already fermenting. Vintage is always a lot of work and a lot of hours, but there’s a lot of enjoyment to be found in the camaraderie of team work and in watching all the hard work that was done in the vineyards move towards becoming the wine in the bottle. Every glass is a time-capsule of the season and our efforts throughout the year. When I’m not working, I spend as much time as possible getting out into nature with my family. There’s so much to do in Marlborough, and further afield in New Zealand, and we tend to enjoy spending time biking and hiking in the summer, and heading to the mountains to ski in the winter.

 

HOW WOULD YOU DEFINE THE ‘ART OF HOSTING’ AT CLOUDY BAY? AND IN NEW ZEALAND IN GENERAL

New Zealand is by its nature a supremely relaxed place, where nature and its beauty surround us. The Cloudy Bay art of hosting is about enjoying that beauty, and the sense of space and time. We do not rush, we are not adrenalin fueled, it’s about taking a moment to breathe, to experience, to remember. For me it is about enjoying the Marlborough Sounds on a beautiful yacht, warm sun, bare feet and glasses of Sauvignon, or indulging in a delicious dinner cooked by a private chef in our “Shack”, and being able to curl up by the open fire afterwards. We believe in having a good time, a good life and a good glass of wine.