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.”
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.”