A blank canvas for an artist, like a blank piece of paper for a writer perhaps, can be full of hopes, dreads, and uncertainties. Until the first marks are made or words written, it’s sometimes hard to know just what will begin to emerge.
It seems the blank canvas name and its associations are entirely positive for winemaker Matt Thomson and his wife Sophie Parker-Thomson, as it’s the name of their recently-launched New Zealand wine brand, the first project entirely owned by the Kiwi couple. Matt has been one of the world’s most eminent ‘flying winemakers’for over 20 years. I spent a balmy summer evening having dinner with him in Marlborough a few years ago, tasting various wines that he was making, all very impressive. He has continued to rack-up successes, both in New Zealand and across the globe, making wines in Chile, Italy, France, Spain, Romania and Hungary.
Blank Canvas embodies, he says, a philosophy that “embraces using as little manipulation as possible to uphold, over everything else, the wine’s sense of place.” As a flying winemaker he acknowledges that you cannot make the more esoteric, perhaps more risky, wines that might be close to your heart, because the first obligation is towards the client to make wines that are both excellent, and commercially successful. Matt has described Blank Canvas as “Our sand-pit,” a suggestion perhaps that he and Sophie are rather enjoying the freedom to make their own experiments, safe in the knowledge that any risks are all theirs.
On the evidence of these four wines, that is not a concern. The wines are terrific, and acheive exactly what the couple set out to do: express not only their varietal character, but the typicity of the places they come from. And (with the exception of their Grüner-Veltliner, the Austrian variety that is still a relatively minor player in New Zealand), they have chosen classic terroir and grape matches: Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from clay soils in Marlborough, Syrah from the Gimblett Gravels of Hawkes Bay. I really enjoyed all four of the wines below, for their effortless and natural style, capturing the essence of this merging of European and Antipodean philosophies.
There are also a couple of Sauvignons Blanc and a Riesling in the line-up, as well as another cuvée of Pinot, which I look forward to trying, but it is clear that this is an agile set-up, sourcing fruit from trusted growers in the best sites that the couple know intimately, and a very sensitive and experienced approach to winemaking. Oak tends to be very carefully used, mostly larger sized barrels, with low- to medium-toast, and most ferments use only wild yeasts. The fruit also tends to come from single vineyard sites.
It’s a cracking range of wines with quality clearly visible, and well worth investigating. The wines are imported by Liberty Wines. My samples come from Rude Wines, who have more wines from the range and special offer prices at time of review.