Talking Tastes

Tim Heath, Winemaker at Cloudy Bay

Tim Heath talk to us about choosing the wine trade over chemistry, bringing his global winemaking experience to Cloudy Bay and how he likes to spend his free time hanging out with his twin boys in the sand pit and brewing ale in the shed…

How does Cloudy Bay express the uniqueness of New Zealand's terroir?

With our viticulture and winemaking, we always try not to force anything. Our aim in the vineyard is to allow our vines to grow and reflect their position in the world: the soils, the climate. Our winemaking takes the fruit from those vineyards and allows it to be expressed in its purest form. We don’t play too many tricks, use too much oak, be too hands-on. We’re not absentee parents, but we’re not helicopter parents either. We want to pour a glass of our wine and know it expresses where we’re from and tastes delicious.

Can you describe the sensation of the first sip of a glass of Cloudy Bay?

Lightness, brightness, pleasure.

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 began as an ingredient in 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 was the 2017 vintage like?

The 2017 vintage was challenging towards the end of the growing season. Our focus on low yields and detailed canopy management, in combination with our early ripening sites, meant that we had picked all of our fruit prior to the onset of late season rain. The wines produced have excellent concentration, balance and finesse.

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.

We need both to make Te Wahi the wine that it is – deliciously drinkable, but with the structure and concentration to last the distance.

What is the ageing potential of Cloudy Bay wines?

All of our wines are built to be approachable in their youth, but also reward careful cellaring, Te Koko, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir will age gracefully for a minimum of 10 years. Perhaps the longest lived of all is Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc! The wine changes from displaying flavours of the vineyard into a deeply concentrated, serious, old white wine - but it needs at least 15 years to achieve this.

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)

My favourite is a slow-cooked shoulder of kiwi lamb.

You have been a winemaker in Australia and France. Is there anything new that you discovered about wine when you started working in New Zealand in 2005?

The biggest discover was how perfectly balanced the fruit is here. There is no need to add acid, the flavours are fresh, yet completely ripe. The wines convey a sense of the purity of the landscape that surrounds us.

What does a typical day look like for the winemaker at Cloudy Bay and what do you do when you’re not making wine?

A typical day during harvest starts with an early morning visit to the vineyard to taste fruit and assess its maturity. Then it is back to the winery to taste ferments and start turning grapes into wine. It is a lot of work, but the real pleasure is watching the hard work in the vineyards move towards the bottle. Each glass is a time-capsule of the season and our efforts across the year.

When I am not making wine, I love to disappear into the wilderness and go fly-fishing, or spend time with my twin boys and beautiful wife.

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. The Cloudy bay art of hosting is about enjoying the sense of space and time that surrounds us. New Zealand is an amazing place where nature and its beauty influence our day to day lives. For me it is about enjoying the Marlborough Sounds on a beautiful yacht, 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.