A visit to Central Otago offered the opportunity of catching up with Sarah Burton who moved from her position as one of the Cloudy Bay winemakers in Marlborough to join up with Brennan Wines in Gibbston in March this year. It seemed an unusual move for one of Marlborough’s most promising palates to leave the glamour of one of the world’s most prestigious producers to work for one of the smaller labels in the far south.
After ten years in Marlborough, Sarah is relishing being back in her home of Central Otago where her family resides. As with many winemakers, she’s enjoying being ‘hands-on’ again, being fully responsible from start to finish, with input from the grape growing, winemaking, elevage, through to blending and bottling. It is all personal for her again.
Brennan Wines is one of the first wine producers you come to travelling from Cromwell through the Kawarau Gorge to the Gibbston Valley. The vineyard was established in 1994 by the Brennan family, who have had land in the area for 30 years. The fruit was sold to the nearby Peregrine winery. Growing his winemaking skills, Sean Brennan, a native New Yorker who had lived much of the time in Central Otago moved to Gibbston to launch Brennan Wines in 2006. Fame has come rapidly, with a string of top awards, the most notable being the ‘B2’ Pinot Noir 2011 winning Champion Wine of Show at the Royal Easter Show and Champion Red at the I.W.C.
The vineyard has grown from planting and acquisition of neighbouring vines to be 13 ha in size. Pinot Noir accounts for approximately 80% of the plantings, with Pinot Gris, Pinot Grigio (grown and handled quite differently), Gewurztraminer and Tempranillo! Varietal wines are made, but also a rosé, and a sparkling – from their Pinot Noir fruit, blended with some Chardonnay from next door. Clearly there is much happening in the vineyard, and the emerging styles of wines, which are different to the norm in Central Otago. A new winery is being planned to handle the 50 tonnes of fruit. And the demands of sales, marketing and administration on Sean are growing.
For Sarah to be involved in this exciting phase of development, and be intimately responsible is a challenge. She told me she is beginning her understanding of the behaviour of the vines, the character of the fruit, and no doubt she is sharing her knowledge, experience and ideas with Sean to take Brennan Wines to a new place. I wish her well, and will follow with interest the changes at Brennan Wines. www.brennanwines.com
Sarah Burton, Brennan Wines
with Central Otago Tempranillo in barrel