Welcome! So here’s your usual pre-amble to tonight’s sesh – a little bit of background info on both wines to peruse before (or while) we get stuck into the main event.
The Society’s Exhibition New Zealand Chardonnay 2017
A single-vineyard wine made exclusively for us from Kiwi chardonnay maestros Kumeu River. A delicious wine showing a touch of struck match and vanilla on the nose, with green apple and citrus peel coming through on the fine, balanced and refreshing palate. Very classy.
The Brajkovich family own the highly regarded Kumeu River Estate near Auckland. Although Kumeu is a rather less fashionable wine district than some on New Zealand’s North Island, the Brajkovichs have proven that it is possible to make wonderful wines here.
Michael Brajkovich, who was incidentally the first New Zealander to become a Master of Wine has been the winemaker since 1982. His non-conformist and forward-thinking approach has been particularly successful in creating wines that show the hallmarks of New Zealand although there is a definite Old Word inspiration throughout. Michael’s brothers Milan and Paul look after the vineyards and sales respectively so it is all a real family effort.
Michael, Melba, Marijana, Milan and Paul Brajkovich
Both the Kumeu River Estate and top Maté’s Vineyard chardonnays are barrel-fermented and aged - they are also unusually ageworthy for New Zealand whites – and are thought of as some of the world’s best chardonnays.
Jancis Robinson, back in 2015, wrote:
“We have long been fans of Kumeu River’s New Zealand Chardonnays … Nick and I visited this family-run enterprise on our first trip to New Zealand in 1988 and Nick remembers Maté, then head of the Brajkovich family and recently retired as chairman of the NZ Wine Institute, assuring us that if we decided to emigrate he would smooth our path.
“Maté was only 66 when he died in 1992 having transformed the business from its modest beginnings as San Marino Vineyards. It was renamed Kumeu River in 1986, four years after Maté’s eldest son Michael joined the company on graduating from Roseworthy in Australia with a degree in oenology. But it was Michael’s travels in Bordeaux and Burgundy, and his viticulturist brother Milan’s along much the same route, that were really instrumental in refining Kumeu River’s wines.
“Cellarmaster Nigel Tibbits has been at Kumeu River since it was called San Marino and he was 16. Michael and Milan’s sister Marijana and youngest brother Paul are responsible for sales and marketing, with their mother Melba still decidedly hands-on and a firm favourite in certain markets. A pattern of continuity and family pride can be seen here and the wines seem to go from strength to strength, while continuing to be available at relatively modest prices.”
Kumeu River themselves say:
"The story of Kumeu River Wines began to unfold more than half a century ago with the first generation of the Brajkovich family to arrive in New Zealand.
"In their small Croatian village of Živogošće, Mick and Katé Brajkovich had also farmed small plots of land, and had experience tending vines and making their own wine. After a few years of working in the gum fields, the family moved to Henderson in West Auckland, where Mick, Katé, and son Maté worked in local vineyards and orchards. By 1944, they had saved enough money to purchase a Kumeu property with a small vineyard.
"The Brajkovich family and Kumeu River Wines is a story that parallels the New Zealand wine industry. From the pioneering days to the establishment of the New Zealand wine industry to today, the Brajkovich family have been internationally recognised as producing world class wine. The Brajkovichs are focused on and internationally recognised as producing world class Chardonnay.
"Kumeu River Wines encompasses 30 hectares of vineyards, which are predominantly clay soils overlying a sandstone base. These soil types retain sufficient water at depth, even during the summer months, to ensure the deep vine roots continue to hydrate the vine without excessive vigour. Therefore, the vineyard doesn’t require irrigation, a factor that is critical to the quality of Kumeu River’s grapes.
"The vineyards are trained on a ‘Lyre’ trellis to help optimise exposure to light and increase grape maturity and quality. One of the distinguishing factors of Kumeu River’s wines is all of the grapes are harvested by hand. This allows the opportunity to remove sub-standard grapes by hand; the result is a net yield of purely high-quality grapes.
"Just as the Brajkovich family has grown, so too has the winery itself. Extensions and additions mark the milestones that have seen business adapt and expand over the years. Today, the winery produces around 250,000 bottles annually from 30 hectares of its own vineyards in Kumeu, and another 10 hectares from local growers.
“The Chardonnay wines of Kumeu River have gained a strong foothold within the international market, receiving outstanding accolades. The vineyard has gone on to become the globally recognised benchmark for non-Burgundy produced Chardonnay.”
This particular wine comes from a dedicated single vineyard right next-door to the prestigious Maté’s Vineyard. Our then New Zealand buyer Pierre Mansour tasted the wine that up until then had been blended into either the Estate or the Village Chardonnay and thought that the quality befitted our Exhibition label. The first vintage we took was the 2007, and we have taken every vintage since then with the exception of 2011 and 2015. It is a regular medal winner, and this 2017 iteration won a gold medal winner at this year’s International Wine Challenge.
The Society’s Exhibition Haut-Médoc 2014
This approachable yet cellar-worthy Bordeaux is a blend of almost equal parts cabernet sauvignon and merlot, with just under 10% petit verdot adding a hint of spice on the palate. From Château Beaumont, this is unmistakably Médoc but with easy, ripe tannins ensuring plenty of drinking pleasure.
This well-run estate at Cussac in the Haut-Médoc has deservedly been a favourite of Society members for several decades. It is owned by the same business group who own Châteaux Beychevelle and Lagrange – Socétié Grands Millésimes de France - who are doing a great job here. The winemaker is Anthony Yaigre.
One of the reasons that it provides such good value for the quality is that it is quite large at around 114 hectares which brings significant economies of scale. Soils are well-drained, deep and gravelly.
Since 2004, the vineyards have been managed sustainably, on the envronmentally friendly principles of the Terra Vitis organization. This has led to a dramatic reduction in the use of chemicals and allowed for complete traceabilty. At the winemaking stage, around one-third new oak is used in each vintage with the wine matured in barrels for up to 14 months. The result is well-balanced, civilised claret with supple tannins and cassis-fruit. With its classical-styling and great value, it ticks all the boxes for perfect Sunday-roast Claret. In great vintages these wines make particularly good buys. The Society’s Exhibition Haut-Médoc is a stylish and savoury Claret originating from the Beaumont stable and bottled under our own premium label.
The land was cleared as from 1772, and the estate became the property of Henri Labarthe, who cleaned it up and prepared it for growing vines. The vineyard of Beaumont was born in 1824, with its new owner Mr Bonnin.
From 1830 to 1847 the house of Beaumont belonged to the Marquis d’Aligre, one of the wealthiest men in France, who tripled the area under vine. In 1849 the estate passed into the hands of the Bonnin brothers, who built Château Beaumont in 1854 in a Renaissance mansard style.
In 1860, the Comte de Gennes, great-uncle of Pierre-Gilles de Gennes, who won the Nobel prize for physics in 1991, acquired the property which he resold in 1872 to Jean-Victor Herran, the minister for Honduras. The Parisian industrialist Joseph Germain succeeded him in 1890. By his devotion he managed to raise the wines of Château Beaumont to the top tier of the [ Médoc Crus Bourgeois. He built the vat house in 1894.
From 1925 to 1986 the estate saw a succession of owners: the Milanese company Della Grazia et Cie, the lieutenant-colonel of Caracas Ignacio Andrade, the former Venezuelan senator Dionisio Ramon Bolivar Carvajal and then the winegrower Bernard Soulas, who entirely reconstructed the vineyard and restored the château.
In 1986 Château Beaumont started on its 12th life with the arrival of the GMF group, which joined with Japanese group Suntory to create the company Grands Millésimes de France, also owner of Château Beychevelle and the Bordeaux merchant Barrière Frères.
Their brand new tasting room
Located on the left bank of the Gironde, between the communes of Margaux and Saint-Julien, Château Beaumont draws its finesse and its delicacy from the deep gravels of the best soils of the Haut-Médoc.
Château Beaumont has opted for integrated viticulture, following the technical specifications of Terra Vitis®, aiming to produce quality grapes with the greatest respect for the environment.
The vineyard area is a single block of 113 ha on a sandy gravel hilltop. Average age of the vines is 20-years-old, and the vines are planted at a density of 6600 to 7000 plants/hectare. 53 % is planted to cabernet sauvignon, 42% merlot and 5% petit verdot. The wine spends 12 to 14 months in barrels, one-third of them renewed each year. On average they make between 600-700,000 bottles per annum.