Interview met Villa Maria’s Alastair Maling MW
Since when are you a MW and what was the subject of your dissertation?
2000. Profitability of Sweet Wines
Since when go you work for Villa Maria?
Did you work for other wineries?
Not in NZ. Prior to joining Villa Maria was a flying winemaker. As a flying winemaker I spent 8 years making wine in Spain, France, Italy, Chile, Argentina and South Africa
How many hectares does Villa Maria (VM) have in the different areas?
We source fruit from 7 different regions within New Zealand. Marlborough is our largest region followed by Hawkes Bay then Gisborne.
How many bottles are made in total?
Sorry, I’m not able to provide an answer to this question because it is commercially sensitive information however we export to over 40 countries with our strongest markets being UK, USA, Australia and Europe.
Do you have a special treatment for the viognier and gewüztraminer?
Not special treatment but specific techniques for each variety.
Gewurztraminer is a very aromatic variety and delivers wonderful lychee, turkisk deleight and rose petal characters. We do what we can to preserve these flavours through to the bottle and this means picking the fruit at optimum ripeness, handling carefully and fermenting the juice in stainless steel, no oak at a cool temperature. We would stop the fermentation with a small amount of residual sugar which gives the wine drinkability and balance. Gewurztraminer is a fantastic wine to drink with hot, spicy food especially Asian dishes.
Viognier is a very interesting variety which not a lot of consumers understand. To me a great Viognier is one that has aroma and flavours of ripe peach and apricot kernels. It is similar to a Chardonnay but typically more fruit. With our Viognier we have selected vineyards in Hawkes Bay and Gisborne, low yielding and picked at optmum flavour. A portion of the wine is fermented in stainless steel tanks at a cool temperature to preserve the fruit while the balance is fermented in old and new French oak using natural yeast. This provides a level of complexity not possible simply from a tank fermented Viognier. We would normally bottle this wine 8 months following vintage and it pairs extremely well with a rich seafood dish like crayfish or carbonara.
Do you think that NZ cabernet sauvignon will be a challenge or a player in the world CS market?
I would like to think so but its a big ask. We only make a very small volume of this variety so its not easy to find. New Zealand Cabernet Sauvignon (and it is often blended with Merlot and mabe Malbec and/or Cabernet Franc) is gaining a real following once the Gimblett Gravels Appelation in Hawkes Bay was established 10 years ago. The Gimblett Gravels is New Zealand’s only appelation and it is based on a specific soil type – river silt and stones. It is 3 C warmer than other parts of Hawkes Bay and it is consistently producing Bordeaux blends of true class. I describe our Bordeaux blends to be somehwere between old world and new world in style. They have the fine grained tannins of Bordeaux yet the modern fruit of New Zealand and they age extremely well. Despite all of this and the recognition this wines receive at tastings it is difficult to make headway with consumers because in most cases the trade/restaurants perceive New Zelaand to be a Pinot Noir producing country.
What items do help the success of the NZ and VM pinot noir?
The climate and New Zealand having a moderate temperature – the influence of the sea given New Zealand is a long narrow country is always present. What this brings is days and nights that are not excessively hot or cold and enable a delicate grape variety like Pinot Noir to ripen slowly and fully.
There is a “New Zealandness” to all our Pinot Noirs yet a stylistic difference between the main Pinot Noir regions of Martinborough, Nelson, Marlborough, Waipara and Central Otago. This uniquness adds mistique and intrigue to New Zealand Pinot Noir and the reputation that has been generated over the last 10 years has been nothing short of amazing – such that the general industry view is that New Zeland Pinot Noir rates highly in the Pinot world. A lot of this success has been down to the Pinot Noir conferences that New Zealand holds every 3 years. It is developing into a must attend event and showcases the maturity of New Zealand Pinot Noir.
Villa Maria is a strong proponent of Pinot Noir and sees this as a variety that New Zealand is becoming and will become world renouned for. Our Pinot Noir fruit comes from Marlborough. Marlborough is a region that has a range of sub regions each displaying different characteristics. The Awatere Valley more feminine and perfumed compared to the Southern Valleys in the Wairau which offers Pinot Noir with structure and depth of fruit. Villa Maria produces 3 single vineyards each displaying the characteristics of the vineyard, each unique in their own way along with regional blends of marlborough Pinot Noir.
Which part of New Zealand is your favorite?
As anyone who has been to New Zealand would agree there is a lot of beautiful places to visit and stay. A couple of areas I particularly love is in the deep South around Queenstown and the other at the top of the South Island near Nelson at a place called the Abel Tasman.
Is the NZ environment the most important factor for ‘green’ working or is the way VM works? Tell us how?
A bit of both. One has to have a desire to work green and if you have this desire then the environment and climate in New Zealand make this possible. Sustainability is a key focus for Villa Maria – not just in the vineyard but in everything we do – bottling process, energy efficient vehicles for the sales team, winemaking practices. Villa Maria has been a winner of green awards in New Zealand for its sustainability practices and it is something that all employees of Villa Maria work towards.
Can you shortly explain how you work with your organic wines?
It is a 3 year process from starting through the conversion to until a vineyard is certified organic. The key that we have learnt is that not every vineyard or variety os suitable to be organic. Some regions of New Zealand are easier to operate organically than others as well – in the North where it is more humid and the rainfall more regular creates more challenges than a drier region like Marlborough or Central Otago. The view is that while organics enable us to preserve the soil for the future it also delivers lower yields naturally – more intensity and the flavours of wines from organically produced fruit seems to have something complex about it.
Will this be the path for all your wines?
We are slowly developing more and more vineyards into organics and we see organics as the way of the future. A lot of it is about preserving something for the next generation and we are doing what we can to facilitate this.
Can you live outside New Zealand?
Not for the job I do at Villa Maria but I end up travelling considerably so that always reminds of how different every country is.