Cloudy Bay 2020, and back to 2006

This online tasting was hosted by winemaker Daniel Sorrell, who has been at Cloudy Bay since 2015. Daniel says he graduated from university in Australia “with no real interest in wine,” and ended up in London working in finance. It was a visit to Montpellier, and a couple of days helping to make wine with a friend, that made him start to think about making wine. So he returned to Australia, were he qualified in oenology, then experience was acquired in Australia, with Chapoutier in France, and then he took up the position of assistant winemaker, and then winemaker, with Cape Mentelle in Western Australia, another part of the Moët-Hennessy portfolio. He cites David Hohnen, who first planted Cloudy Bay and set up Cape Mentelle, as a major influence.

David also professes a love for Sauvignon Blanc, “especially in a year like 2020, when you have the chance to make something special.” It was a cool season to begin with, but exceptional weather carried on through to harvest. Coronavirus certainly presented challenges: many of their harvest workers come from northern Italy and would have to quarantine. But then New Zealand was locked down completely, and Daniel feared the most promising vintage he’s seen at Cloudy Bay was going to go to waste. The news that winemaking would be classed ‘essential business’, and could operate, came as a massive relief: “I confess, I opened a bottle of Krug,” he says.

Of course the need for Covid security made the vintage experience an odd one: “I really missed the emotions and the fun of the vintage, it was a bit of a sterile environment not being able to take the team for a beer at the end of shift, not being able to eat together, having to work two rows apart in the vineyard. There was not much banter, more shouting at each other over the vines. It was a bizarre season, but we got through it.”

2020 is the first year that Cloudy Bay has contained a proportion of fruit from their newly certified organic vineyard, only seven hectares, but Daniel believes “it is our future direction.” The new head winemaker is Nikolai St George (who I met almost exactly a year ago when I visited him at Geisen Estate). Under Nikolai, Giesen had been moving to organics and exploring single vineyard wines, such as their Fuder Chardonnay from the Clayvin vineyard, and Daniel says he would be interested in making single vineayrd wines at Cloudy Bay too, “exploring the differences between the heavier clay and gravels soils for example. It might be something Nikolai could be keen on.”

The Wines

This tasting of the new 2020 vintage of the Sauvignon Blanc was accompanied by the 2016 and 2006 for comparison. Though very few people will cellar a Marlborough Sauvignon for 14 years, the wine showed really well, and Daniel says “I really like the wines at four or five years of age, but ageability really is a strength for Cloudy Bay.”

(2020) There's normally around 7% oak fermented wine in Cloudy Bay, but this year was so good that it was pulled back to 4% to showcase the fruit. There is pea shoot and fresh leafy green herbs, a touch of elderflower, but also peachy, ripe and quite exotic fruit. The palate has beautiful balance, with arguably less 'aggression' than a brand new Marlborough Sauvignon might exhibit, a beautiful purity and focus, grapefruit and orange, and a long, shimmering finish of lime peel and salts. A very good Cloudy Bay this.
(2021) In this year there was drought, and water was cut off for over 20 days. Daniel says they were lucky that they crop lower than other producers and the vines didn't suffer. There was not the same diurnal shift of 2020, so the aromatics did not develop in the same way. More subdued, creamy and lightly vanilla-touched compared to the 2020. A more mellow nutty apple character, more orchard fruit and just the merest touch of exotic character. The palate has great minerality and dryness, much more European in character now arguably, with a really delightful zest and free-flowing freshness, that subtle nuttiness continues. So different from the 2020 in character, which is as much vintage and oak use, as we it is age I suspect. Price quoted is for a magnum (tasted from magnum).
(2021) An excellent vintage. A little darker but still green and bright. Toasty, nutty, like an aged Riesling in a way, lovely sheen and creaminess, and this made in all stainless steel. All those pungent SB characters now mellowed and subdued. The palate is superb, sweet orchard fruits, hints of melon, maybe kiwi fruit or melon, delicious juiciness of grapefruit and lemon. Lovely balance too, quite surprising for a 2006 wine, delightful concentration and intensity, balanced to the finish. A real treat to taste this. Not currently available.

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