General Blog

Kumeu River – Chardonnay Specialist

By May 8, 2012No Comments

The Brajkovich family have made Kumeu River Chardonnay arguably the most highly regarded of that variety made in New Zealand. Part of the recognition is due to the early work in the late 1980s by Michael Brajkovich with indigenous yeasts, barrel fermentation and the use of full MLF. In this country, the wines are consistently the most similar to those of the Cote de Beaune, the region that produces the finest examples of wine from Chardonnay grapes.

A visit to Kumeu River is a must if you are in the district. There you’ll find it is a hands-on family business. When we called in, daughter Marijana, and sons Michael and Paul were all present, with Michael taking a group of hospitality students for a tour and Paul returning from an errand and working behind the counter. One could not help but think: definitely over-qualified staff! Paul showed us around the Kumeu River premises. It’s all very clean, exceptionally tidy and well-lit. Paul pointed out the original shop and tasting room, winery and cellar areas and how each had been extended. There was a certain amount of pride in the fact they had grown so much. Yet the additions seemed to flow seamlessly, and I’m sure a time and motion study would report real efficiency. The Brajkovich family have now brought everything back on site, with storage of all bottled wine in their recently finished new warehouse. The cellars and barrel-hall are pristine, the rows of barrels, only two high, are aligned with great precision. It’s a sight to behold and a model for all cellars.

The Kumeu River wines are made from fruit from vineyards that surround the winery, the furthest being ‘Coddington’ around 5 km away towards Waimauku. All of the vineyards are either owned by the family or managed with input from Milan Brajkovich. Chardonnay is the focus, the annual production being around 500 barrels. The majority of it is the great value ‘Village’ Chardonnay accounting for anything from 5,000 to10,000 cases. This is followed by the ‘Estate’ Chardonnay, with around 4,000 to 6,000 cases made. The single vineyard wines are less again, ‘Coddington’ 900 to 1,000 cases, ‘Hunting Hill’ around 1,200 and ‘Maté’s’ 1,000 cases. This is the pecking order and the prices reflect it. The only change has been the elevation of ‘Hunting Hill’ to sit between ‘Coddington’ and Maté’s’, recognising the finer structure, greater intensity and style of the wine.

Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir, as well as Merlot are made in support of Chardonnay. However, the Brajkovich family are not prone to sit still, and have just established a new 2 ha vineyard planted to two new Chardonnay clones. Also new to the portfolio is Gewurztraminer, the first vintage in 2009 yielding only 120 half-bottles. And sparkling wine base (Chardonnay, of course, plus Pinot Noir) was put down with the 2012 vintage, with the intention of giving it at least 3 years on lees. I suspect the Brajkovich family has a penchant for fine bubblies.
A Pre-Release Tasting of the 2010 Chardonnays
We were privileged to be taken through a tasting with Paul and Michael, and included were the 2010 vintage Chardonnays that are yet to be released. The 2010s are great wines for Kumeu River, the fruit quality exemplary in all respects except yield. There won’t be much of it available. The lead-in was the Kumeu River ‘Village’ Chardonnay 2009, more a fruit-based wine, yet with good complexing flintiness underneath it. It is pleasingly accessible and enjoyable now. Quite a step up was the Kumeu River ‘Estate’ Chardonnay 2010, very fine, elegant and still very tight, but showing a degree of luscious fruit and the MLF just noticeable. This has real interest. The Kumeu River ‘Coddington’ Chardonnay 2010 possessed its characteristic softness and rounded mouthfeel with peach-like flavours. But this had substantial concentration, its tightness holding back much. It should unfold and develop wonderfully. Then up a step again to the Kumeu River ‘Hunting Hill’ Chardonnay 2010. It is taut and refined, with near-floral qualities to the fruit, superb acidity and building intensity. This is recognisably something special. The Kumeu River ‘Maté’s’ Chardonnay 2010 is truly sensational, with all the finesse of the ‘Hunting Hill’, but with unctuous textures and extra layers of interest that emerge in waves of decadence. The consistency of behaviour of these labels is proof of the concept of terroir.

To complete the picture and the tasting Paul and Michael opened and poured more wines. The Kumeu River Gewurztraminer 2012 is still unfinished, but bursts with great florals on nose and is packed with exotic fruits and ginger on a well-structured and well-managed phenolic palate. Around 200 cases of this will be bottled, so make sure you get some of this beauty. Then a classical Kumeu River Pinot Gris 2010, more restrained with stylish pear and honey flavours. A Kumeu River Merlot 2010 was dark and gutsy with deep and concentrated dark berry and fresh herb fruit flavours. The final wine was the antithesis of the Merlot, the Kumeu River Pinot Noir 2008. Initially disturbingly light in colour, but it showed archetypical soft red berry aromas and flavours and a structure that sneaks up and catches you out with its seriousness.

In many respects, that sums up the Brajkovich family of Kumeu River. They are classical wine growers with in-built complexities and seriousness, who are approachable, gentle and stylish in demeanour. www.kumeuriver.co.nz

Leave a Reply

Latest wine reviews, news, events and more. 🍷
We respect your privacy.