A Visit to Te Whare Ra (TWR) in Marlborough
Our New Zealand Buyer, Stefanie Juelsgaard, just returned from a two week trip Down Under. Part of this annual pilgrimage is to taste as much wine as possible, and build as many relationships as you can, in a small amount of time. Sounds glamorous, but it can be rather exhausting. In fact, the better part of the trip is the quieter moments, when there is the chance to stop in and visit with existing relationships. For Stefanie, that meant stopping by Te Whare Ra (a.k.a. TWR), which is one of our favorite small producers from Marlborough. Owned by a husband-and-wife team, Jason and Anna Flowerday, TWR makes some amazing, hand-crafted wines from their organic estate vineyard. Although much of their wine doesn’t make it out of New Zealand, we’ve been lucky enough to direct import their wines since we discovered them in 2012.
When Stefanie arrived, Anna and her two dogs, Hugo and Max, greeted her right away. After a friendly welcome, and a good pet, they set off to the vineyard. To truly understand TWE wines, all you need to do is look at the vineyard, which is meticulously maintained and vibrant with life. Although relatively small at 11 hectares, it was exactly what they were looking for when they purchased the property in 2003. Both of them grew up in winemaking families and they wanted something completely manageable by their own hands and expertise. Their theory was quite simple: “good dirt makes great wines,” and they began by converting the site over to organic and biodynamic practices.
Today, that means several things. For starters, they make their own compost from grape skins and stalks. They also make their own biodynamic seaweed and compost teas to improve soil fertility and microflora. They plant cover crops, and weed using machines or hands, rather than herbicides. They best part, however, is the cows. Not only because they produce beneficial manure, but because they’re just a peaceful presence on the property. In every sense, Anna and Jason are as much farmers as they are winemakers. Today, TWR’s estate vineyard is completely organic.
This thoughtfulness continues every step of the way, from the dirt to the glass. All the steps between - canopy management, leaf pulling, hand picking, hand-sorting - are done by a small team and with detailed attention. When walking through the rows of vines, it’s clear to see the difference between their vineyard and traditionally farmed vineyards in neighboring plots. It simply has a vibrancy to it. Jason compares it to a person who is healthy from good habits (exercise, healthy eating, good social life) to a person who is propped up on vitamins, prescriptions and stressed. There is a visible difference in energy and liveliness. The same is to be said about their vineyards.
That vineyard vitality translates directly into the bottle. Their wines have a distinctive freshness and delicate purity that radiates through the rich flavors. Anna and Jason have a passion for aromatic whites, and in addition to the traditional Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir, they grow Gewurztraminer, Riesling, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay and Syrah. As Anna says, “we wanted to show that Marlborough is not just a one trick pony.”
Their “Toru” Field Blend White Wine is a great example of their love for Alsatian varietals. Toru, which means “three” in Maori, is made from Gewurztraminer, Riesling and Pinot Gris. The varietals are co-fermented, seamlessly marrying the flavors and textures, and it’s a lovely example of the purity and distinction of their site. Another unique varietal for the area is the Syrah, which has a savory, structured style. Although it is highly allocated and we only get a few bottles, it is definitely worth seeking out. Of course, the Sauvignon Blancs and Pinot Noirs are huge stars in their own right. The “SV5182 - Single Vineyard” Pinot Noir was recently #14 on James Suckling’s Top 100 New Zealand Wines 2018. It is a phenomenal wine that shows both elegance and intensity. (The number #5182 is their BioGro organic certification number. They include it on all estate wines to celebrate the hard work put in to get there.)
One benefit of stopping in for a visit is also to see what’s up next. Namely, their newest Pinot Noir from the Clayvin Vineyard. Highly regarded as one of the finest Pinot vineyards in the area, Clayvin hired Jason to consult with their organic practices. As a result, TWR was able to secure a small amount for their own label, and we should see this wine hit our shelves this summer. Currently, we have the following:
To taste more wines from this area, join us at our Saturday tasting. We will have a selection of Stefanie’s finds from New Zealand, Australia and South Africa. Check out our website for more details on wines and times.