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.
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