A Méthode to our gladness
by Sophie Preece - Winepress Magazine, Issue 312, December 2020
Having 12 Méthode Marlborough members for the 12 days of Christmas is surely a case of sparkling serendipity. It’s also evidence of the rise of the bubbles category in Marlborough, as wine companies look to add pop to their portfolio, says Méthode Marlborough marketing manager Stephanie McIntyre.
“We do live in a fabulous region for growing grapes,” she says, noting that while Sauvignon has made Marlborough famous, most companies in the region also grow Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, two of the three grapes used for Méthode Traditionelle. The third - Pinot Meunier – has similar growing requirements to Pinot Noir, making it a perfect package.
And the same cool climate that creates Marlborough’s memorable Sauvignon also creates great sparkling wine,so that the grapes harvested early for bubbles have a depth and richness of flavour, as well as the natural acidity they need. “Méthode is made in the winery and that’s what’s fun about it. Each winemaker can put their stamp on the wine,” Stephanie says. “But you need quality fruit coming in.”
Méthode Marlborough wines are 100% grown and made in Marlborough, and 100% from the three traditional varieties, either individually or as a blend. They are crafted using the same technique as Méthode Champenoise, with fermentation in the bottle, and have to be aged on lees for a minimum of 18 months before being disgorged and labelled, but often are aged for far longer, says Stephanie.
“You really have to be committed. And it’s worth it. Every member of Méthode Marlborough will tell you that. It’s just so rewarding to make sparkling wine that is up to the calibre of Champagne’s ... The feedback we get is just awesome.”
That’s a far cry from when Méthode Marlborough began eight years ago, with its members “really fighting against the current”, to get people to choose a Marlborough sparkling wine over a French counterpart at a similar price point. “Now you walk in and people are excited by the calibre of the sparkling wines from Marlborough,” she says. That’s thanks to the quality of the offering, and also to the united work of the organisation, with a “shared voice” to promote the quality of the wines made here, says Stephanie, who’s also excited by the influence of recent buy local trends.
When Daniel Le Brun and his family moved to Marlborough 40 years ago, he was taking a big step into unknown territory. Twelve generations of Daniel’s family have been vignerons in Champagne, so when he first looked at Marlborough, and saw the potential of its climate and soil, he naturally thought of sparkling. “It was an unknown future, but I always thought I would give it a shot and should be able to produce something decent,” he says. “The surprise is that it has encouraged so many others to do the same.”
As well as making his seven labels under No.1 Family Estate, Daniel processes wine for customers from around the country, taking in their blended wine for tirage, before the wines are sent away to be stored on lees. When at the right age, the wines return to Daniel for riddling, using gyro pallets, then disgorging.
The demand for Daniel’s assistance is partly about the specialised and expensive equipment required and partly because people rely on the passion and knowledge forged over his lifetime – or over many generations – depending on your perspective. Known to many as Marlborough’s Godfather of Méthode, he says there’s increasing admiration for the sparkling that emerges from Marlborough.
As the Le Bruns celebrate 40 years making bubbles in Marlborough, Whitehaven has just released its first Méthode Traditionelle. The 2018 vintage Samantha Cuvée – named for the daughter of Whitehaven founders Greg and Sue White – was released on December 1, made from 70% Chardonnay and 30% Pinot Noir. “It’s quite a fine, delicate pure kind of bubbles,” says Whitehaven winemaker Peter Jackson, pleased to have the style in their portfolio, perfect for kicking off events.
“We think we have the ability to do it really well,” says Peter. “We have the varieties planted adjacent to or very close to the winery which means we’re able to hand pick and process the fruit very quickly and capture very pure juice.” Meanwhile, small tanks in the winery allow for the separation of different parcels, which is “very useful with bubbles”, he says.