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Rise of albarino reflected in wine awards success

Gisborne is well known as Chardonnay wine country but it is also seen as the New Zealand home of albarino, and awards success is a good reminder why.

Local grapes were behind 21 medals won at this year's New World Wine Awards.

Gisborne Winegrowers chairman Mark Thompson said there were “some very good results” for Gisborne grapes on top of the triple success for Indevin Gisborne vineyards in the bubbles section (as reported in The Herald last week) including the Champion Bubbles title to the Lindauer Vintage Series Brut Cuveé 2017.

Mr Thompson said a gold medal to the Coopers Creek Select Vineyards “Bell-Ringer” Albarino 2019 and a silver to the Leftfield Gisborne Albarino 2019 in the aromatics and white blends section showed this variety of grape was well suited to Gisborne's temperate climate.

Pinot gris section gold to the Spade Oak Voysey Pinot Gris 2019 and silver to the Wrights Vineyard's Natural Wine Co Pinot Gris 2020 showed why this was Gisborne's second most planted variety.

“Three silver medals for the region's most planted variety, chardonnay, is indicative of the season we had.”

Doug Bell, who grows grapes for Coopers Creek's chardonnay, viognier, albarino and malbec varieties, said Coopers Creek had been supportive of trying out new varieties when it was uncommon back in the early 2000s.

“Albarino has been the most successful of any. In 2001, after researching the variety and style, we set about trying to get the plants and it took almost 10 years.

“Gisborne's Riversun nursery was instrumental in providing the plants. We were the first to plant it in the Southern Hemisphere, so Gisborne can rightly claim to be the home of albarino in New Zealand.

“It's appeal is many-fold. It's an excellent pairing with seafood, similar but softer to sauvignon blanc — crisp but not acidic.

“The market has indicated the wine style is being well received by the public and this has encouraged growers and wineries to plant it.

Its pairing with seafood is a positive image and the fact it can make wines that are less aggressive” than some Marlborough sav blanc styles is attracting some buyers.

“But as the Mainland Cheese ad says: “good things take time”.

“For me, diversification makes my job as a grower far more interesting as we get to learn how to grow it and what are its strengths.”

Outside of the “big four” the remaining wines are still small representing only 6 percent of all wines made in New Zealand.

“For example, 284 tonnes of albarino were harvested last vintage (and 180 tonnes of this from Gisborne). This is tiny compared to sav blanc with 326,000 tonnes.”