Published on June 22nd, 2012 | by ladyparker0
A toast to the one who made New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc famous the most!
Today is International Sauvignon Blanc Day, therefore it is befitting to pay homage to a New Zealand producer that is so famous its name has become nomenclature in international wine production and description.
It is a name indubitably synonymous with New Zealand, not only for its descriptive accuracy but because it has become a love mark all around the world. There is really no question about it. Cloudy Bay began producing commercially from contracted grapes, Sauvignon Blanc, in 1985 – a long time ago for New Zealand wine, relative minutes for the Old World. What is even more admirable is that central Government at this time were certainly not backing the wine industry, rather they were advocating a regime of retirement and downsizing – offering $5000.00 an acre to rip out vines in the country. Admittedly this was of certain varieties deemed not commercially viable (the cheap Muller-Thurgau and hybrids which had flooded the market and occupying prime land), but regardless these were trying times.
With no less than a quarter of the nation’s vines uprooted, perseverance through adversity and doubt prevailed for Cloudy Bay and it later planted its own cluster of vineyards in the infantile Marlborough winegrowing region. The company can lay claim to being the first of New Zealand producers to have its product widely exported. And in a ‘Judgment of Paris’ type moment, the entire world was alight with intrigue, awe and admiration for this fruit-forward, unprecedented expression of Sauvignon Blanc.
With European examples typically having a more herbaceous, greener aroma profile and stylistically austere, the Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc blew everyone out of the water with its passionfruit, gooseberry, blackcurrant bud, and sweat aromas – the aroma compounds responsible being thiols, which are incredulously difficult to find anywhere else. It was this combination of a wine laden with primary fruit, dry with lots of vibrant, crisp acidity and alluring packaging, which propelled Cloudy Bay to meteoric success.
Now I cannot mention [the original] Cloudy Bay without mentioning the individuals who through their talents really forged its superstar status. But first an explanation of what happened to the company after those inaugural years where Cloudy Bay was in like Flynn. Such was its success that global giant Veuve Clicquot, now owned by the behemoth parent company Louis-Vuitton Moet Henessy (LVMH), snapped up a controlling 70% stake in 1990. This changed the dynamics, enabling more marketing power and capital to increase the brand presence and profile, which was a great thing for the image of New Zealand wine and Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc. They provided the means for Cloudy Bay to be the vanguard for brand New Zealand. But over the years it also brought with it that necessary corporate culture, the focus increasingly shifting to Head Office in Australia.
The wine personnel for the most part of Cloudy Bay’s now near 30-year existence however remained the same – also a very fine thing, for none other than winemaker Kevin Judd was spearheading winemaking at the winery in Jacksons Road in Blenheim, Marlborough… 25 years in fact. That is no mean feat. Judd was just a 25 year old budding winemaker, trained in the esteemed faculty of Roseworthy College in Adelaide, Australia when West Australian and two time Jimmy Watson Memorial Trophy Winner David Hohnen spotted him at a wine tasting function in Auckland. Hohnen, of Cape Mentelle, is the Cloudy Bay founder. Arriving in New Zealand in 1984, as we know in very uncertain times for the industry, Hohnen saw potential in Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc. On this instinct, he raised $1 million at a hideous interest rate by vending all he owned to establish his whimsical wine producing concern.
Hohnen’s foresight along with Judd’s honest and raw talent created much more than just a successful wine company, they created a delirium over the potential of Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc which was the catalyst for further investment and exploration of wine production in New Zealand. The success Cloudy Bay experienced, and the raison d’etre of never succumbing to being just a domestic sales wine company but a producer of internationally great wines, provided the entire wine industry with exposure and confidence that New Zealand wine quality could be exceptional and commercially profitable.
Judd left Cloudy Bay after a quarter of a century of his service and commitment to the iconic wine label in 2010. He began his own wine company, Greywacke, spawned from a name he registered back in 1993. Critical long-term Cloudy Bay figures had also resigned from the ranks: winemaker James Healy and viticulturist Ivan Sutherland went on to found Dog Point. Together, this winemaking team, as cliché as it is, assisted in putting Marlborough on the map, and continue to do so.
All companies experience change and evolution, and people do move on. Though the stigma of belonging to a mega corporate luxury goods company is not a particularly positive one, there’s no doubt that Cloudy Bay are still producing quality wines which are demanding a premium price point. It continues to evince the fact that New Zealand is a premium wine growing nation, and it is a label that will no doubt continue to be emulated by wine producers and loved by consumers all over the world.