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Is Map Maker a Second Label of Staete Landt?

By February 21, 2013No Comments

At the Pinot Noir 2013 conference, I had the opportunity of catching up with Dorien Vermaas and Ruud Maasdam, the proprietors of Staete Landt, based in Marlborough. I saw both the Staete Landt and Map Maker brands on the table and asked if I could taste both. I thought I’d start with the “second label” Map Maker, but was quickly put in my place by Dorien, who pointed out that Map Maker was not a second label, justifying her stance that the fruit was of the highest quality and all from their single vineyard in the Rapaura district. I was a little taken aback by the strength of her reaction and her conviction about Map Maker’s place.

It’s an interesting concept, but from my viewpoint, it’s a matter of semantics. The words ‘second label’ infer that the wine is second rate and not as good as the top or premium brand. And this is the case in most circumstances. The classic model is Bordeaux where ‘second wines’ are made from fruit that didn’t make the cut for the top chateau blend. These wines are usually lighter, less rich and ripe, and earlier maturing. At best they approximate the qualities of the top wine, while not quite achieving the standards required according to various criteria. A worse scenario is where these lesser labels include faulty wine, to ‘blend it away’ or hide it.
Can Premium and Second Label Quality be Equivalent?
The quality of second wines in New Zealand has risen remarkably. Many of these labels consistently win top awards, ahead of the supposedly ‘more premium’ siblings. At recent Air New Zealand Wine Awards competitions we have seen the Dashwood Sauvignon Blanc take the Champion Trophy ahead of the Vavasour, and Pencarrow Pinot Noir ahead of the Palliser Estate, as well as Villa Maria’s ‘Cellar Selection’ routinely beating the ‘Reserve’ wines. This is a reflection of the far greater quality of fruit going into these brands, as well as the more approachable and ‘balanced for drinking now’ style being aimed for with these wines. As the market for the very top end has shrunk over the last few years, the increase of excellent ‘second wines’ has been quite phenomenal.
It seems this is the time to readjust our expectations of the quality of second wines in New Zealand especially. Sure, these ‘second wines’ are cheaper, more accessible, and generally more readily available. The top wines are usually more ageworthy and complex, and deserve some thought when drinking them. But in terms of actual quality, there may be nothing between them. Such is the case for Staete Landt and Map Maker. Dorien and Ruud are quite correct in believing the equivalence in quality of their two brands, as the health of the fruit and the same meticulous care was taken in growing the grapes and making the wine. The differences are decisions on style, and the target market of each of the brands.
A Visit and Tasting with Dorien Vermaas of Staete Landt and Map Maker
A quick visit by Dorien Vermaas of Staete Landt and Map Maker enabled an explanation of her perspectives on the ‘second label’ moniker. She doesn’t agree with it, but sees the point of how the market in general could see her Map Maker wines being regarded as the lesser. Maybe it’s a matter of drinker education? For her wines, the Staete Landt are ‘terroir-driven’ wines, made with a traditional ‘Old World’ outlook, and the wines, while distinctly Marlborough have an Old World feel. I interpret that as greater layers of interest and complexity, with greater textures and mouthfeel. The Map Maker wines are contemporary expressions, based on pure fruit and fresh acidity. They are what are seen as ‘typical’ for Marlborough. Dorien stipulates that the Map Maker wines are properly dry and not propped up or commercialised by sugar.

The Map Maker brand was introduced by Dorien and Ruud in 2008. It is integral with the Staete Landt brand, and as mentioned above is from the same fruit source, and treated to the same standard. It is the decision of different pathways that accounts for the separation. The choices can be made in picking times or selection of blocks or barrels, and the subsequent handling. Dorien is aware that if the market changes for her, then the Map Maker brand could conceivably be grown with the addition of contract fruit. Clearly, it is in everyone’s interests to ensure that the fruit quality and wines are as good as they can be to maintain the stance of best possible in different styles!

Dorien and her Wellington representative Jeff Warburton led me through a quick tasting of currently available wines. Here are my impressions: First up was the Map Maker Pinot Gris 2012, pale, crisp and racy with stonefruit and kernel flavours. This was alongside the Staete Landt Pinot Gris 2011, more colour, softer, fuller, more richness and texture, around 30% of the wine undergoing MLF. A lovely rendition. Then onto Chardonnay, led by the Map Maker Chardonnay Pure 2012, with stonefruit, herbs and citrus, plus positive crisp drive and length. Not exactly a Chablis style, but certainly not unduly influenced by winemaker input.  This was a barrel selection based on pure and clean fruit. Then the Staete Landt ‘Josephine’ Chardonnay 2010, quite sensational richness and depth of flavour, mealy citrus fruits and plenty of MLF butteriness in aroma, but expressed more as density on palate. This was a barrel selection for MLF, and clearly the oaking has a significant role. Dorien attributes the site being ideal for the variety, as the 2009 I’ve seen previous is also a star.

Two varieties under the Staete Landt label followed. The Staete Landt ‘Annabel’ Sauvignon Blanc 2012, quite pungent and passionfruity, richly textured, and showing no excesses. This is another proven winner for Staete Landt and this vintage is a beauty. Just under a quarter barrel-fermented. The Staete Landt Viognier 2011 is the fifth pick from vines established to possibly co-ferment with some Syrah planted, but the difference in ripening hasn’t allowed it. This is pure and steely, showing its South Island origins, but it has power and slipperiness. Two different reds next. The Map Maker Pinot Noir 2010, a barrel selection based on approachability and red fruit expression, quite supple and vibrant, but with underlying fine tannins and acid vibrancy. One of the rare Marlborough Syrahs, a Staete Landt Syrah 2009, the third release, with dark earthy fruit, both white and black pepper and no trace of any green stalky notes. Again, supple and fine tannins, and acidity prevalent, and spice notes emerging. This was made on-site at the vineyard, rather than at Raupaura Vintners where the rest of the wines are made by Ruud. And finally the Staete Landt Riesling Auslese 2010, at 8.5 g/L and around 30 g/L rs. Extremely elegant and lush with finesse and delicacy, the flavours in the funkier savoury, nutty spectrum.

I certainly see good quality in both the Map Maker and Staete Landt wines. I must admit a preference for the Staete Landt in general, as there’s certainly more in them, whether inherent or built-in. Does this seem counter-intuitive to quality per-se, as opposed to style preference? I have no answer. However, Dorien will be sending wines for full ‘Feature Reviews’ in due course, so look out for them, and maybe then I can say more in the subject. www.staetelandt.co.nz

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