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‘Sing it loud and clear’ advice from wine expert

Winemakers and grape growers enjoyed the company of a master wine taster, here to try the region's wines and meet some of the producers.

“I decided along with my wife to visit every wine region in New Zealand and to talk to as many people as possible and taste every region and their wines,” said New Zealand's only master sommelier, Cameron Douglas.

He is a champion of New Zealand wines for the United States market and would normally be travelling the world sampling wines, but in the current climate he decided it was time for something different.

Since the profession was established in 1977, fewer than 300 people have become master sommeliers worldwide.

The path to becoming a master is a rigorous four-stage process. Candidates must study for their introductory, certified and advanced sommelier certificates, before embarking on the master diploma. The examination for this highest level is conducted in London.

A master sommelier can taste a wine blind and be able to name the region it comes from, grape variety and occasionally the forest where the wood for the wine barrels came from.

Cameron Douglas says Gisborne has been dominated by chardonnay but the times are a-changing.

“Pinot Gris, Arneis, Gewurztraminer are all part of the story now and are part of the future for this region.”

Where regions like France and Italy have long-standing traditions of connections between regional wine and food Cameron argues New Zealand is less bound by such restrictions.

“You drink the wine of a country when you're eating the food of that country because that makes sense.

“You drink Greek wine with Greek food and you drink Italian wine with Italian food.”

But New Zealand is a country of freedoms, he says. “We are so lucky here that we are not tied down.

“We are making wine that is clean and fresh and we have very few boundaries with food.

“Arguably we don't have a national cuisine, but what we are known for is crayfish and paua.

“Here you have fresh seafood, fresh beef and lamb, and fresh venison is part of that story. That is the connection we should be making with food and wine.

“The closer we get farm-to-table the better it is and I think that story is well under way here.”

But while the region has made strides connecting food and wine, he thinks Gisborne can do better to bring the vineyards, customers and winemakers together.

“If you're going to build the wine tourism story here you need either more cellar doors or people who are open for tastings by appointment.”

He had noted few opportunities in Gisborne for tourists to venture out on to the land and try the wine at the source, with only a handful of vineyards open for tastings.

As for the future of Gisborne wine, Cameron argues the region needs to be louder and sing its own praises.

“It's all here but the story needs to be told clearer and faster and louder.

“The Gisborne story needs to be told a lot more throughout New Zealand.

“All you need to do is reach out to the rest of the country.”

MASTER SOMMELIER: Cameron Douglas at grapegrower Doug Bell's vineyard sampling a local drop. Picture by Rebecca Grunwell