by Fred McMillin
for March 7, 1997

Winery of the Week

Cloudy Bay Is A-OK

This is the story of New Zealand's hottest winery, Cloudy Bay.

In the Beginning, Maoris and Missionaries 1642—Captain Abel Janszoon Tasman is the first to sight "a large, high-lying land" that today we call New Zealand. He sent out a small boat to greet the two approaching double canoes, "paddled at considerable speed" by fierce-looking Maoris, each wearing a large, white feather in his hair. The canoes promptly rammed the boat, killed the occupants, and fled. So did Capt. Tasman. No explorer returned for nearly two centuries. 1814—A very brave missionary, Samuel Marsden, brings his faith and vines... to be tended by some of those 400,000 Maoris? Against all odds he succeeded. In fact, in 1835 a British ship visited the settlement and an observer noted that the grapes were flourishing and being attended by Maoris attached to the mission. We now leap forward 150 years.

Winemaker David Hohnen
1985—California-trained David Hohnen rents a winery in New Zealand and produces the first vintage of Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc. In a few years the press was reporting that the wine was "so popular it often was selling out before fermentation was completed." The New York Times said, "Just a sip is enough to take one's breath away." We found it had a vibrant, pleasing pungency that indeed makes you catch your breath.

The Bay's Chardonnay While the Sauvignon Blanc has almost single-handedly brought international respect for New Zealand wine, the Cloudy Bay Chardonnay is not far behind. The "Slow Food Guide" found it powerful, complex, and rich with a firm backbone of acidity. It has so much interest I served it as an aperitif with water crackers and light, white cheeses. It sells in the $20 range, and unlike the Sauvignon Blanc, there's still some around.

Just the Facts
Name Cloudy Bay Vineyards, named after the nearby bay of the same name (see photo).
Location Blenheim, Marlborough, New Zealand
Founded 1985
Owners David Hohnen and Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin
Vineyards 160 acres in the Wairau Valley, Marlborough District
Wines Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Cabernet-Merlot and Pelorus Sparkling Wine
Climate New Zealand is the southernmost premium wine district on the globe, and the Wairau Valley enjoys the most hours of sunshine of any region in New Zealand.
Contact in USA Christine Deussen, Clicquot, Inc., (212)888-7575

Postscript: Remember the observer who saw the Maoris tending vines in 1835? He sailed in on the H.M.S. Beagle; his name was Charles Darwin.

About the Writer

Fred McMillin, a veteran wine writer, has taught wine history for 30 years on three continents. He currently teaches wine courses at San Francisco State and San Francisco City College and is Northern California Editor for American Wine on the Web. In 1995, the Academy of Wine Communications honored Fred with one of only 22 Certificates of Commendation awarded to American wine writers.

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