The Nelson Mail, 13 October 2015
by Neil Hodgson
One of the really exciting things about small, boutique vineyards and wineries is that the owners are generally prepared to try different things.
Daniel and Ursula Schwarzenbach established Blackenbrook Vineyards (Blackenbrook is the English version of the family name) at Tasman at the start of this century.
Their first full vintage was in 2004 and when they planted the first part of the land in vineyards some of the varieties they chose were untested in the area and they just didn’t know whether or not the varieties planted would produce the quality of fruit they needed to allow them to make outstanding examples of these varieties.
The vineyard land is formed from Moutere clay soils, gently sloping north facing and while slightly elevated is reasonably close to the coast so is exposed to cooling mid-afternoon sea breezes. Small quantities of some Gewürztraminer, Montepulciano and Muscat were planted along with the more common Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.
The focus of the aromatic wines produced by Blackenbrook is on the varieties and style of Alsace in France while the fuller style red variety Montepulciano is one the Schwarzenbachs thought they might be able to get to fully ripen on their site. Time has now told us that the site they chose is exceptional and, combined with intensive viticulture, a winemaking facility that is designed to treat the grapes and resulting wines very gently and masterful winemaking techniques, is now producing some stunning aromatic style wines as well as delicious, flavoursome Montepulciano with a twist of minty freshness that reflects its cool climate location.
In making any wine the real work takes place in the vineyard because without great fruit winemakers can’t weave their magic and turn the fruit into great wine. The Bragato Wine Awards are designed to recognise the work growers put in to producing the great fruit; if the fruit is great then winemakers don’t need to weave too much magic, they can just let the fruit express itself in the finished product.
The effort that goes in to producing beautiful grapes in an environmentally sustainable way shouldn’t be underestimated; at Blackenbrook it all starts with the rain water that is gathered for use in the winery to clean tanks and washing down during production.
In the vineyard, working with a couple of staff, Daniel ensures everything that needs to be done happens with meticulous care and attention to detail to ensure the quality is there from the beginning. Good fruit is where great wine starts. The Schwarzenbach’s say “that without great long-term staff who understand the quality we want we wouldn’t be able to make the wines we do”.
Being in control of everything from the vineyard to the bottle is the reason for the latest step, taking control of the bottling process rather than relying on contract bottlers. They are installing a top-of-the-line bottling line using the latest technology that handles the wine in a very gentle manner. While this is a huge investment that includes construction of a new building at the winery it is one the Schwarzenbachs are confident will help keep them at the front of the pack when it comes to producing wines with pure varietal characters.
Back to the Bragato Wine Awards, it is a remarkable achievement that not only has Blackenbrook Vineyards won a best in class trophy five times in wine competitions but three of these are Bragato Trophies for the aromatic wines it produces providing more proof, if there was any doubt, they have an outstanding vineyard site and the meticulous work the Schwarzenbachs and their staff put into the vineyards results in great wines.
The first Bragato gold medal and trophy combination came in 2007 for their 2007 vintage Sauvignon Blanc (also won a trophy at the New Zealand International Wine Show 2007). The second Bragato trophy came in 2014 for their Pinot Gris 2013 and they followed it up with their third for Gewurztraminer 2014 which was awarded a month ago.
Of course to achieve results like this any small business needs to have the right people with the right attitude and Daniel and Ursula bring both of those attributes to their wine business, they continue to develop their wine making venture with a focus on purity of flavour in all of the wines they produce.