After a summer break, the popular Somm Series tasting events recommenced at West Indies Wine Company in October.
First, on Oct. 4, the wines of Josh Cellars were sampled with its Brand Manager Steve Eisenhaure. Then, on Oct. 17, Ivan Sutherland, the owner of Dog Point Vineyard in Marlborough, New Zealand, led guests through a tasting of four wines.
Sutherland said modern wine production didn’t begin in New Zealand until the early 1970s. The big breakthrough in New Zealand wine came in the 1980s, when world-class Sauvignon Blanc started being produced. After that, wine companies from around the world started getting involved.
“There was huge international investment,” he said. “We couldn’t have done what we did without that.”
Now, some of the world’s largest wine companies — like Constellation, Treasury Wine Estates, Pernod Ricard, and LVMH — own wineries in New Zealand. However, there are still some family-owned wineries, like Dog Point, producing high-quality wines.
The Dog Point winery got its name from its location in Marlborough, a wine region on South Island of New Zealand. The early European settlers brought with them thousands of sheep. Dogs were used to protect and maintain the sheep in specific areas. Over time, many of the dogs wandered off and eventually formed packs that attacked the same sheep they used to protect.
“The settlers named it Dog Point because of that,” said Sutherland. Sutherland, a trained viticulturist, and his wife Margaret bought the Dog Point property in 1978 and planted it with Riesling, Chardonnay and Chenin Blanc in 1979. They sold the grapes produced in bulk. Sutherland got involved with the Cloudy Bay winery in the mid-1980s and through his experiences and research while working with that winery realised the potential of two other grape varieties in Marlborough: Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir.
Because the nighttime temperatures, particularly close to harvest, are much lower than the daytime temperatures, the grapes grown in Marlborough are able to maintain their acidity as well as their fruit flavours, making it perfect for Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir, Sutherland said.
After travelling to Burgundy and the United States and seeing how Pinot Noir was grown there, Sutherland did something that wasn’t really done in New Zealand at the time.
“I pioneered the planting of Pinot Noir on hillsides in clay,” he said. For years, the Sutherlands sold their Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir grapes to some of New Zealand’s best wineries, including Cloudy Bay. Eventually though, they decided to partner with another couple, James and Wendy Healy, and in 2004 launched the Dog Point wine label using 2002 vintage wine. Fifteen years later, Dog Point has a solid reputation based on the production of four wines — two different Sauvignon Blancs, a Chardonnay and a Pinot Noir, all of which were tasted at the West Indies Wine Company Somm Series event.
“We make about 50,000 cases and are in 40 different countries worldwide,” said Sutherland.
Dog Point wines are a little different than most heavily exported New Zealand wines.
“For us, it’s about making reasonably distinctive wines with a point of difference,” said Sutherland. “We’re looking for fruit definition and palate weight.”
Dog Point achieves its goals with meticulous practices in the vineyard and winery. All of its fruit is grown organically and hand harvested. Green harvesting — the removal of some of the grapes on each cluster just prior to ripening — is done to ensure the remaining grapes have good fruit concentration. In the winery, the grapes are gently pressed to avoid the bitterness that can be imparted by broken seeds.
In the winery, Dog Point uses natural yeast to bring about fermentation, a practice that is considered risky in terms of consistency.
“You have to be careful using natural yeast, but experience helps,” he said, adding that cleanliness and temperature control in the winery are important in achieving consistent results.
Dog Point’s basic Sauvignon Blanc has the citrus/grapefruit aromas that are typical of Marlborough. This wine uses 20 per cent natural yeast.
“We don’t want to make a fruit salad bomb,” said Sutherland. “We wanted a little of the minerality coming through.” Sutherland said shellfish, especially oysters, would be an excellent food pairing for the wine.
The other Sauvignon Blanc, called Section 94, is a much different expression of the grape. The juice is fermented and aged in older oak barrels for 18 months. One hundred per cent wild yeast is used to bring about fermentation and the wine displays a long finish and distinctive mineral notes that are more typical of French Sauvignon Blancs.
“This one is all about textural complexity,” Sutherland said, suggesting it would pair well with fish, poultry and goat cheese. Tasted third was Chardonnay, which isn’t usually talked about in terms of New Zealand wines.
“We enjoy making our Chardonnay,” Sutherland said, adding that the wine is a different style than most Chardonnays. “It’s a wine that needs to be explained because it has a little bit of a funky character, which is a reflection of the natural fermentation.”
Like the Section 94 Sauvignon Blanc, this Chardonnay show rich flavours of tropical fruits balanced with refreshing acidity and distinctive minerality. It could pair with most seafood, but has enough weight in the mouth to stand up to pork and turkey.
Turning to Dog Point’s Pinot Noir, Sutherland said the key to producing it to a high quality is attention to detail. The fruit is gently whole-cluster pressed and then cold soaked in chilled conditions to allow for greater colour and flavour extraction. This highly acclaimed wine displays rich black cherry and plum flavours and Sutherland said it would pair very well with duck.