Saint Clair wines: The day I met New Zealand winemaker Kyle Thompson

saint clair family estate

One of the best things I do is meet people who make wine. I can enthuse forever about a glass of wine; and I can enthuse even more if I’ve met the people behind that liquid treat.

Wine isn’t just about what it taste likes –  it’s about why it tastes like it does. Learning about the grapes, the geography, the people, the weather, the skill and the science – all that adds up to Geek overload for someone like me.

I met Kyle Thompson, the senior winemaker at Saint Clair Family Estate in Marlborough, New Zealand, who was on a flying visit from his shores to our shores.

Winemaker Kyle Thompson with his Saint Clair Barrique Sauvignon Blanc
Winemaker Kyle Thompson with his Saint Clair Barrique Sauvignon Blanc

Marlborough has a fantastic reputation for sauvignon blanc and pinot noir wines yet it is still very much a region on a learning curve.

Kyle told me: “New Zealand is such a young wine-growing country. We Kiwis are learning fast – we’ve got to! We’re at the end of the world and we have to get out there and do it. We haven’t got 300 to 400 years of wine history, we’ve only got 35 or 40 years.

“At Saint Clair each vineyard has its own individual flavour and individual terroir and the whole ethos of Saint Clair is to capture the land and capture the flavour. That’s the secret to St Clair wines – power and pungency in sauvignon blanc and a beautiful intensity in our pinot noir.”

Here’s three Saint Clair wines:

Saint Clair Wairau Reserve Sauvignon Blanc 2017 (RRP £22.99, Majestic, Spirited Wines, New Zealand House of Wine) Tropical fruit, such as passion fruit, lychee and papaya play on the senses alongside blackcurrant leaf, green fruit and nettles. It has a wake-up call of acidity and vibrant fruit in the mouth, but the wine is beautifully in balance. The mouth sensation lasts a deliciously long time. It’s a power pack of Marlborough sauvignon blanc.

Saint Clair Wairau Reserve Sauvignon Blanc
Saint Clair Wairau Reserve Sauvignon Blanc

Saint Clair Pioneer Block 14 Doctor’s Creek Pinot Noir 2015 (RRP £19.99, Majestic, Oddbins, New Zealand House of Wine) The grapes are selected from a single vineyard called Doctor’s Creek which is named after a small stream which runs through its centre. It has a moreish, complex nose – one nose dip brings coffee beans, another blackcurrant. Then there’s black cherry, redcurrant and plums. The wine has been aged in oak adding layers of complexity and a subtle spatter of spice.

Saint Clair Pioneer Block 14 Doctor's Creek Pinot Noir 2015
Saint Clair Pioneer Block 14 Doctor’s Creek Pinot Noir 2015

Saint Clair Sauvignon Blanc Barrique (RRP £18.99,, Strictly Wine)  I just loved this wine which was fermented in French oak barriques.  The wine is then aged on its lees for nine months, and stirred twice a week. The wine takes up the notes of the flavour-filled lees. The winemakers then choose only the most interesting wines to bottle and ultimately be savoured by the likes of you and me.  What a wow. I found notes of preserved lemons, butterscotch, candied peel and pineapple. The wine had a luscious mouthfeel.

Saint Clair Barrique Sauvignon Blanc
Saint Clair Barrique Sauvignon Blanc

Find out more about Saint Clair Family Estate here

Thanks to Corrigan’s at Mayfair for a delicious lunch and to Hallgarten Wines who organised the event.

Braised ox cheek with a glass of Saint Clair Omaka Reserve Pinot Noir
Braised ox cheek with a glass of Saint Clair Omaka Reserve Pinot Noir

New Zealand: Win a trip with Villa Maria and follow in my (clumsy) footsteps

New Zealand Villa Maria competition
Villa Maria’s vineyards in the Awatere Valley, Marlborough

I’m very excited that 2018 is underway.  Happy New Year everyone!! In just 22 days I’ll be heading to New Zealand to visit one of my oldest friends and of course I’ll be visiting vineyards too.  It would be rude not to.

I’m giddy.

My plans are quite well-formed  … well actually I’m not organised at all. Celebrating friendship is the main reason I’m heading to the other side of the world for three weeks and so I’ve been dillying and dallying in my plans to explore New Zealand wineries.  There’s just so much to see and so little time – where to start? It’s all coming together now though thanks to the help of my wine contacts and I’ll share updates very soon.

One thing’s for sure, I hope to visit Villa Maria’s vineyards either in the North Island near Auckland or at their home in Marlborough.  I’m excited to visit the wineries in their heartland as Villa Maria wines are consistently classy affairs. Last summer I chatted to Villa Maria’s Angla Lewis at the Chatsworth Flower Show and discovered their emphasis on sustainability in the vineyard (oh, and I enjoyed a little tasting of their wines).

While I’ve been dreaming of my visit I discovered that Villa Maria has launched a competition to give people in the UK the chance to win their own trip of a lifetime to New Zealand. What’s not to love.

Two Villa Maria prizes are up for grabs:
  • Return economy flights for the winner and one guest from the UK to New Zealand
  • 10 nights’ accommodation
  • Self-drive car rental for 10 days
  • NZ$2000 spending money

Shoppers can enter the competition via a hidden URL and entry code found on stickers or neck collars on a range of Villa Maria Private Bin wines. They include bottles of sauvignon blanc, pinot grigio and pinot noir.

Look out for the special bottles in retailers such as Sainsburys, Waitrose, Tesco, Asda, Co-op and Majestic and independent wine shops.

The competition ends on February 19 2018 (the day I return home!!) and the lucky winners will be drawn on February 24.

Good luck. xx