Judy Fowler is a Virginia native (but for 12 years now, a New Zealand citizen), who runs her Puriri Hills Vineyard in Clevedon, a 40-minute drive south of Auckland. She first planted the vines herself in 1996, on land where none previously existed.
“European wines have thousands of years of history behind them and our goal is to use that very tradition,” she explains, “to do as little to the wine as possible, to make the wine in the vineyard and not kill it at any stage by adding substances or heat or filtration. We allow the strength and natural behaviour of the vines to thrive.”
Her newest release is 2,000 bottles of the 2008 Puriri Hills Estate (53 percent Merlot, 25 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 16 percent Malbec, six percent Carmenere), priced at NZ$45 each at her cellar door. There’s also a Reserve, at NZ$85, and a premium wine, the Puriri Hills Pope, at NZ$140. Her most expensive wine to date is the 2005 Pope, at NZ$225. With her estate being 2.2 hectares of actual vines, she seems to have adopted the small-plot Burgundian model to produce Bordeaux-style wines.
“Yes, what we do is dictated by the terroir, and this environment is very Bordeaux right bank,” she agrees. “The left bank is Cabernet Sauvignon, which needs harder, drier, gravelly soils and needs heat to develop to its right potential. But I don’t think, initially, I would have understood that if I hadn’t seen what Jim Vuletic was doing,” she admits. She now runs the estate with her partner, Phil Nunweek, a former Air New Zealand pilot turned- viticulturist (“cellar rat,” he jokes, is his preferred title), and she’s almost as uncompromising as her Providence mentor. Her cellar door opens on appointment, and she sells only to collectors and top-end restaurants.
“And to hotels, if they have good restaurants,” she discloses. “It’s the sort of wine that needs a good sommelier. A wine made like this is for people who know what they’re doing and it’s really important to see how it ages – these wines need to be cellared.” Well, I assure her, that 2008 of what I’d call Chateau Puriri already tasted pretty good to me. “There’s no point doing this if you don’t aim higher and higher,” she gently avers. “The inspiration to do this, for me, came from the poet Robert Browning, who said, ‘a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s a heaven for?’ To me, that’s what this is all about.”
Her sanguine remark takes me back to how this trip had begun, with that voluptuously porcine Squealing Pig and those elegantly exquisite Kumeu River Chardonnays, how this North Island outpost had sprung surprises on a beenthere, drunk-that wine wonk like me. To paraphrase Bill Spence, all wine from New Zealand, not merely Sauvignon Blanc, commands a compelling taste experience, and one has to admire this unfettered optimism. “There are plenty of people who make good wine,” Judy Fowler reminds me as I take my leave, “and there is no point in our adding our little thousand cases to the great volume of good wine that’s already available. We have to do something that makes an effort at being great.”
This is an extract from an article by Gerrie Lim from HongKong’s Prestige magazine in April 2012
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