Some of the finest world’s finest Sauvignon Blanc vines were literally stolen from France and used to establish New Zealand’s now booming wine industry.
The French haven’t forgotten and keep a wary eye on the antipodean upstart that now claims to make the best ‘savvy’ in the world.
So when I asked Brett Bermingham if his over-familiar reference to great variety annoyed the French, his response, “Why else would we do it?” was as predictable as the quality of the wine that he makes.
Brett is an assistant wine maker at Nautilus winery in Marlborough, South Island’s Sauvignon Blanc heartland. He learned his trade at Cloudy Bay winery just down the road before joining Nautilus five short years ago.
As Brett was showing me around the winery on a balmy January morning, accompanied by what I can only describe as a "generous" tasting of sauvignon and pinot vintages, it was easy to imagine that the life of a wine maker was one of uninterrupted Baccanalian hedonism.
Not the case. Nautilus is as much the product of science and money — the firm having spent millions of dollars on automating the process with state-of-the-art equipment for de-juicing, decanting, fermenting and storing and Brett is so obsessed with the science that during the six-week harvesting window, Brett sometimes charters a helicopter to sit over the vineyard and create a downdraft to disperse cold air.
But as Brett puts it, “It’s not the technology or the clone, and it’s not even our skill and hard work that is rattling the French. It’s the Marlborough climate that makes our wines distinctive, and the French can’t copy that.”
And in a world where the wine drinking population is becoming more educated and more demanding, it is inevitable that wine makers will utilise their specific strengths to stay ahead of the game to both create and to satisfy the market. Jancis Robinson, the famed wine reviewer, once described Pinot Noir as a “minx of a grape.”
But Brett’s description -- “I prefer to think of it as ‘Cab in drag” is not just more colourful, it’s also more indicative of the degree to which he has contributed to the success of Nautilus’s Pinot Noir story.