Eureka! It grabbed my attention. As it was meant to. A word now synonymous with a fabulous new discovery or an epiphany moment, for ex-pat Brits Hugh Girling and Stephen Rae, their Eureka came in Marlborough.
Stephen arrived in New Zealand in 2004 after getting married on a beach in Fiji. Quickly developing an interest in wine, the newlyweds moved to Marlborough in 2006 as soon as they had attained residency. Finding a job in the wine industry and later setting up his own company to supply barrels, yeast and other winemaking accessories, Stephen crossed paths with Hugh.
Hugh, seeking rugby, sunshine and wine, arrived in Marlborough around about 2006 after an earlier visit in the late '90s. Making wine for various Marlborough producers as well as vintages in the South East of England, France and Italy behind him, he had a wealth of experience but no label of his own.
So the mates had an epiphany one night. Why not form a company together to produce their own wine! Eureka - in more ways than one.
Stephen says it's about taking risks … trying techniques not usually seen here in New Zealand, or using products like Acacia barrels that can add points of difference.
"When it works, we have our Eureka moment," he says. And their label represents that 'spark of inspiration' that led to the Eureka moment.
The debut wines I tried are certainly impressive.
Eureka Marlborough Gewurztraminer 2011 is right in the zone for me. Classically varietal with a bouquet of musky rose petals, Asian spices, smoker lollies and freshly squeezed tangelo following through with lovely intensity and focus in the palate. It's fairly dry with a soft oily texture and a concentrated finish where there's a very appealing tingle of ginger and five spice. With a portion aged in Acacia barrels and wild yeast adding complexity, this is a truly delicious wine and a phenomenal match to a fresh Golden Queen peach and Thai Basil salad and other components on the plate. We actually had two peach dishes, because with an abundance of peaches at this time of year you can experiment. So in addition to the fresh peaches in the salad, slices were also very lightly sauteed in sizzled butter with a sprinkling of three spices - ground coriander, ground cumin and ground cinnamon that also encrusted the chicken along side it.
The wine is 14.5% alcohol and has a retail of $25. 114 cases were made.
The Eureka Straw Wine Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2011 followed and this was an OMG moment for me because the bouquet of the wine whisked me back to my childhood summer holidays when at my aunt's farm in Northland we would play in the dried hay in the barn. The wine in the mouth has softness, lusciousness, harmony and delectable flavours of sauteed peach, passionfruit and nectar and all the while the hay character coming through - a bit reminiscent of a wild yeast flavours in some respects although no wild yeasts were used in the making of this wine. Sweet and concentrated, yet not cloying because the natural acidity of the grapes ensure a fresh, lively citrussy finish.
It's called 'straw wine' because the organic sauvignon blanc grapes, picked at normal ripeness (21 Brix), are laid out on beds of straw in a glass house and left to dehydrate for five weeks to intensify the natural sugar to around 36 Brix. It's evidently a labour intensive process harvesting the grapes because to keep them as pristine as possible there is no throwing of the bunches into a bin - instead they are carefully laid out in a single layer before being taken to the glasshouse. During the shrivelling / sugar intensifying period on straw, any bunches showing signs of botrytis are removed and only clean bunches are used for the wine. When ready, the grapes are destemmed and soaked for a period and then the juice is transferred to 5-year-old oak barrels for fermentation. Alcohol of the finished wine is 11%, residual sugar 130 grams per litre and total acidity 7.4 grams a litre.
The 375-ml bottles cost $35 and just 900 bottles were made.
Stephen believes this straw process is unique in New Zealand, but research shows a Sauvignon Blanc straw wine was produced by a now defunct company in 2005. So while not a New Zealand first, it is certainly the best! For more information on straw wines see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Straw_wine.
There's lots of information about Eureka Wines on the Eureka Wines Facebook page - but you do need a Facebook login to access it. Alternatively email Stephen directly email@example.com to find out how to buy and hopefully a traditional style website will be online soon.
The Straw Wine is currently available at Winos in Blenheim and Stephen and Hugh are at the Marlborough Farmers Market every Sunday until May, with wines open for tasting too.
© Sue Courtney
28 February 2012