Sacred Hill ‘Virgin’ Chardonnay 2011


Much good can arise from adversity. This is a bold new expression of Chardonnay from Tony Bish and Sacred Hill, one of New Zealand's most highly regarded winemakers and a company well-known for premium, complex Chardonnay wines. The powerful Sacred Hill ‘Riflemans' Chardonnay is one of the great wines from Hawke's Bay and New Zealand, reflecting the superb vineyard and the winemaker's skill at building in layers of complexity. However, there has been a growing movement among producers and consumers for lighter and less interfered-with wine. On a visit to Hawke's Bay last year, Tony Bish and Dave McKee of Black Barn were among a group of Hawke's Bay winemakers I talked to about exploring Chardonnay in a more ‘pure' and elegant form, along the lines of Chablis, as an alternative to the rich, oakier expressions. Early picking, delicate handling and no oak were considerations.

2011 was a very difficult harvest in Hawke's Bay for the Chardonnay variety. Many vineyards were pressured or ruined by powdery mildew and botrytis. This forced early picking in such to save the grapes. The conditions essentially forced the hand of a number of winegrowers to pick at lower physiological ripeness and brix levels to make sound wine. At the time I spoke to Tony Bish on the subject, and his intention was to make a wine of this style, using the most suitable blocks from the ‘Riflemans' site, to match in qualitative terms that of the existing ‘Riflemans' Chardonnay. Only the finest fruit was to be used in making an ultra-premium Chardonnay of this other style, and notwithstanding the issues other vineyards of Chardonnay were going through, the conditions of 2011 at the ‘Riflemans' site were favourable for this path. The only real issue at the time he raised was: "What do we call it?” We now know the answer: ‘Virgin Chardonnay'. The wine also marks Sacred Hill's 25th vintage. www.sacredhill.com

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