We think it is fair to say that Kumeu River have a formidable reputation for Chardonnay that dates back to the 1980’s when we started to evolve our style of barrel-fermented wine from Kumeu. In the ensuing 30 years we have tweaked it, honed it, tuned it and nearly even perfected it. The viticulture has improved beyond recognition, and in the winery we have learnt from each vintage and continue to make improvements in both style and quality. We pioneering in New Zealand the use of techniques such as wild yeast fermentation and malo-lactic, and were also at the forefront in the use of barrel fermentation and the concept of ageing the wine on yeast lees for an extended period.
We have taken what we have learnt over 30 years of Chardonnay winemaking and applied that experience to making the Kumeu Village Chardonnay.
Artisanal can still be affordable and the creation of this wine recognises the need to have everyday wine that is inexpensive but still very good quality to drink at the table or simply as an aperitif. From Chardonnay vineyards that offer a higher yield, with a little less intensity of fruit, we are able to make wine in stainless steel tanks and older oak barrels, at less cost, and make it less expensive for the customer. But there are some things we will not compromise in order to save cost, and at the top of that list is hand-harvesting. This is so important that we even state it on the label. The fruit must be handled and sorted carefully before whole bunch pressing, and these steps are crucial to maintaining quality. We absolutely refuse to consider mechanical harvesting or crushing of the grapes.
Just like our upper echelon Estate and Single Vineyard wines, the Village Chardonnay is fermented with our own local wild yeast, and spends a long time maturing on the yeast lees. It goes through 100% malo-lactic to reduce the naturally high acidity, and is bottled quite late once it’s had time to mature properly.
Chardonnay is a wine variety that has suffered somewhat from the vagaries of fashion. Since the 1980’s the increase in popularity of Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Gris has certainly impacted the sales of Chardonnay. These varieties are characterised by very distinctive and memorable fruity markers. Although Chardonnay does not smell of roses, passionfruit, grass or cats’ pee, it always delivers more presence, texture and complexity than any other white grape variety, and ultimately is much more satisfying. Even the noble variety Riesling lacks the textural quality, palate weight and food worthiness of Chardonnay.
2010 Kumeu Village Chardonnay is certainly the wine to drink this summer and beyond.
We were very pleasantly surprised to see the below comment from James Suckling about the 1994 Kumeu River Chardonnay. It is a wine that we thought to be very special at the time of release but we also would not have thought the wine would look so good at this age. The last time we tried one at Kumeu River was about a year ago and it was surprisingly lively but it sounds like Mr Suckling's bottle was even better! We know the Chardonnays from Kumeu River age well a up to about ten years but this one shows that the wines can live even longer.
"I was trying to find some 1994 wines for my son's birthday dinner last night, and the only two I could find were lone bottles of 1994 Masseto Toscana and 1994 Kumeu River Chardonnay Kumeu. They were dusty and long-forgotten.Yes, I know that I should have 1994 Vintage Port in my cellar. I had a lot of it years ago but a divorce
changed all that. Oh well. The good news is that both of the wines were excellent in their own right.The 1994 Masseto showed its wonderful pure merlot character with olives, blackberries and balsamic character. It was full-bodied with velvety tannins and a savory finish. 94 points. It was not actually a good period for Ornellaia, the mother winery of Masseto. The estate overproduced and made rather weedy cabernets. But the 1994 Masseto last night was wonderful. I guess more quality went into the Masseto than the Ornellaia back then. I had little hope for the 1994 Kumeu. But it was outstanding. It was also bottled with a cork and not the ubiquitous New Zealand screw cap. It was a bright yellow-gold color with that dense and rich chardonnay character of dried pineapple and honey flavors. I picked up some anchovies too. It was full-bodied and rich with a petrol undertone. 90 points. It proves how well the best whites of New Zealand improve with age."
Last Sunday was the 21st anniversary of Mate Brajkovich’s death. Time heals, and 21 years is a long time, but never a day goes by without us thinking of him. His presence is all around us: the property he farmed, the winery he built, the business he nurtured and the family he loved. Regarding everyday decisions I still find myself asking “what would Dad think? What would he do?”, and his example continues to provide inspirational guiding principles to us all.
Our family got together for a commemorative lunch of steak barbequed over manuka embers, something
of a speciality of Dad’s, and emulated brilliantly by Paul. Among our own wines we also enjoyed some nicely aged iconic wines from the great regions of France, wines Dad would have delighted in:
Champagne Prelude from Taittinger (his favourite house);
2007 Carillon Puligny-Montrachet Les Referts;
1989 Chateau Magdelaine St Emilion;
1996 Henri Jayer Echezeaux, and
2001 Chateau Climens Barsac.
We raised our glasses and saluted his memory. He would have loved it.Michael Brajkovich.
Many of our customers have been asking when we will be releasing the 2010 Kumeu River Chardonnays. Well, the wines are now released and customers have been quick to get in and buy their favourites. These spectacular Chardonnays are now available for purchase on the Kumeu River website here
We delayed the release of these as long as possible due to the tiny nature of the 2010 vintage that was affected by a spring frost in September 2009. The quality of the wines is magnificent but unfortunately the quantity available miniscule. In some cases the yield was less than half of what we usually expect.
The wines have already been reviewed by The Wine Advocate and in the report on New Zealand by Lisa Perrotti Brown MW quite rightly talks at length about New Zealand Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc but the two top wines of her tasting are both Chardonnays and we are pleased to say that both of them are from Kumeu River. The 2010 Hunting Hill and Mate’s Vineyard both scored the highest marks of 94 points. The Coddington and Estate Chardonnays received 92 and 91points respectively.
You can read our own tasting notes as well as the Wine Advoctate reviews from Lisa Perrotti Brown MW here
The Brajkovich family
2010 Kumeu River Estate Chardonnay 91 points
The 2010 Estate Chardonnay has expressive ripe peach, shaved almond, apricot, green mango and pineapple notes with a faint suggestion of meal. Medium-bodied with crisp acid, it shows good concentration, a satiny texture and a long finish. Approachable now, it should drink to 2016+.
2010 Kumeu River Coddington Chardonnay 92 points
The 2010 Coddington Chardonnay opens with delicate notes of warm lemons, white peaches and fresh ginger with hints of apple tart and crushed stones. This medium-bodied, vibrant and silky Chardonnay has great concentration and a long, citrusy finish. Drink it now to 2017+.
2010 Kumeu River Hunting Hill Chardonnay 94 points
The 2010 Hunting Hill Chardonnay is a little more closed than the Coddington, yet reveals distinctive grapefruit, honeysuckle and chalk aromas with hints of mace, ginger and croissant plus a whiff of cedar. Medium to full-bodied, it is silky, rich and spicy in the mouth and ends with a long, toasty finish. Absolutely delicious now, it will really reward cellaring and drink best 2013 to 2020+.
2010 Kumeu River Mate’s Vineyard Chardonnay 94 points
The 2010 Mate’s Vineyard Chardonnay is also a bit closed, displaying a chalky, lemon / lime, orange peel and jasmine nose with a hint of honeyed toast. It has a tightly knit texture with layers of citrus and mineral flavors, lifted crisp acidity and a long finish. Medium-bodied, it is built for the long haul and should drink from 2014 to 2021+.
Huon Hooke, Sydney Morning Herald
2 October 2012
For a long time New Zealand chardonnay wasn’t really on the radar. Australia has always been a jump ahead. We fell in love with their sauvignon blanc and drank it like water, but chardonnay was lost in the wake of the savnami. Few Kiwi wineries even bothered to export it here.
The best were outstanding: wines such as Te Mata Elston, Fromm, Ata Rangi Craighall, Neudorf Moutere, Cloudy Bay, Villa Maria Reserve, Clearview Reserve and Kumeu River Mate’s Vineyard. And in more recent times, Felton Road and Bell Hill. But if there is one producer of New Zealand chardonnay that rings the bells consistently, it is Kumeu River.
Winemaker and co-owner Michael Brajkovich graduated dux of the oenology course at South Australia’s Roseworthy Agricultural College in 1982. Since then he’s been making chardonnay at his family’s winery and has developed and refined the wines enormously.
Kumeu River makes five chardonnays now, with the Village ($24) at the base of the pyramid, the Estate ($42) next – frequently of gold-medal quality – and then three single-vineyard wines: Coddington and Hunting Hill (both $54) and Mate’s Vineyard ($68), named after his father, the late Mate Brajkovich, who was also a leader of the country’s wine industry.
Why has New Zealand traditionally lagged with chardonnay? It has a lot to do with the cold climate and naturally high acid in the grapes, which necessitates malolactic fermentation.
The wines of the 1980s and early ’90s had massive malos because the grapes had such high levels of malic acid (which the bacterial malolactic fermentation converts to softer, lactic acid). This resulted in big fat yellow wines dominated by butter and butterscotch aroma and flavour.
As well, the grapes were often affected by botrytis to a greater or lesser degree, which added even more weight and fatness as well as eccentric apricot flavours. And if such wines were grown in Marlborough, they often also had passionfruit/tropical characters like the region’s sauvignon blanc.
Add all these elements to the vanilla derived from enthusiastic use of new barrels, and what resulted was a bizarre cocktail that didn’t always resemble something drinkable.
There are now many more wines that have restraint, finesse and drinkability.
Oak has been pared back and vines have matured, giving deeper, more structured and complex wines. And winemakers have learnt how to tone down the buttery effect of vigorous malolactic.
Brajkovich says if the winemaker chooses to leave the wine on its yeast lees in the barrel unsulfured, the buttery character – produced by a compound called diacetyl – doesn’t appear. And there’s a side benefit: ageing chardonnay on its lees in oak tends to add softness and improve texture, at the same time contributing its own creamy aroma and flavour elements.
Brajkovich was one of the first to adopt this technique, and as a result his chardonnays are some of the finest in New Zealand. All Kumeu River’s vineyards are owned by the Brajkovich family, except Coddington, which is owned by filmmaker Tim Coddington. This vineyard is near Waimauku and is the furthest from the Kumeu River winery, 3.5 kilometres away.
Its grapes consistently achieve the highest ripeness, giving the richest and ripest-tasting wines. Hunting Hill has the highest acidity and most restrained fruit character because it’s a cooler site thanks to its higher altitude and south- and west-facing slopes. Brajkovich is most excited about this vineyard, but it’s still early days (the vines were quite recently planted, in 1999; Coddington in ’94).
Then there is Mate’s Vineyard, a favoured site as it’s directly across the road from the winery.
It was planted in 1990 and has a character all of its own. This is because the clone of chardonnay is Mendoza, a virus-affected clone that yields hen-and-chicken bunches (small, undeveloped berries alongside fat ones). It’s the same clone West Australians call Gingin and is largely responsible for the particular character of Margaret River chardonnays.
The Mate’s Vineyard wines don’t taste much like Margaret River, though, because the terroir is markedly different.
Margaret River is much warmer, and drier, and the soils are different. To give an idea of how cool the growing season is in Kumeu, Brajkovich says most years they only have one or two days above 30 degrees, and last summer, none.
‘‘In 2008, a hotter year, we had one day of 33 degrees, which is unheard of,’’ he says.
When Brajkovich returned to New Zealand in the mid-’80s, he introduced malolactic, barrel fermentation – ‘‘to get a more subtle integration of oak characters into the wine’’ – and has gradually moved towards more subtle barrels to achieve a more balanced oak effect.
All grapes are hand-harvested, whole-bunch pressed and fermented by ambient yeasts.
‘‘Because of the high humidity, we have high disease pressure so we do a triage as the grapes come into the winery,’’ Brajkovich says. ‘‘We want the fruit as clean as possible.’’
In other words, no botrytis or other moulds. ‘‘We try to be on the same page as Burgundy – with our own terroir differences,’’ he says.
A perfect 10
I tasted 10 recent Kumeu River chardonnays, and all were outstanding. There were subtle differences: the Coddingtons were richer and fuller-bodied, the Hunting Hills more restrained and taut with slightly higher (but balanced) acidity, and the Mate’s Vineyard were more rounded, ample and mealy.
The Estate wines showed tremendous value: a little lighter, and with restrained oak, but also complex, with a marvellous honeysuckle character and a propensity to dance on the tongue. The wines covered ’09, ’08, ’06 and ’04 vintages – all splendid years. They age gracefully, gradually building colour, complexity and richness. If these aren’t the best chardonnays in New Zealand (and some of the best in the world), I’d like to see what could roll them.
We are very pleased to announce that the 2008 Kumeu River Estate Chardonnay has been named in Wine Spectator Top 100 wines in 2011.
This years list was selected from more than 16,000 new releases rated in Wine Spectator independent blind tastings. The list is based on four criteria: quality (represented by score); value (reflected by release price); availability (measured by cases made or imported); and what Wine Spectator call the “X-factor”–the excitement generated by a rising-star producer, a benchmark wine or a significant milestone for a wine region. But no equation determines the final selections: These choices reflect the editors’ judgment and passion about the wines tasted.
Every year since 1988, Wine Spectator has compiled a list of the most exciting wines reviewed over the past 12 months. These 100 wines reflect significant trends, recognize outstanding producers and spotlight successful regions and vintages around the world. Kumeu River has been part of the Top 100 on seven occasions
To put this in another perspective, of the entries into the recent Air New Zealand Wine Awards only 5% of the entries received gold medals which makes this a tough wine show. With the number of wines Wine Spectator reviewed from around the world in the course of the year less than 1% of the wines make the top 100 .
# 76 2008 Kumeu River Estate Chardonnay 92 points
A benchmark for New Zealand Chardonnay, Kumeu River is located in the Kumeu region whose cool Pacific-influenced climate is remarkably consistent each year. This Estate Chardonnay from choice parcels on the 99 acres Kumeu owns or maintains was fermented and aged 11 months in barrel. As owner-winemaker Michael Brajkovich has done with all his wines since 2001 this wine is sealed with a screw cap.
As well as the international accolades we are also very pleased to have four wines in the Metro magazine 100 wines for summer. Through their tasting panel, Metro conducted a blind tasting of several hundred wines in order to identify 100 top wines for every summer occasion. In the Metro 100 wines is: 2009 Kumeu River Mate’s Vineyard Chardonnay, 2009 Kumeu River Hunting Hill Chardonnay,
2009 Kumeu River Pinot Gris and 2009 Kumeu River Village Chardonnay. The Mate’s Vineyard was considered the best white wine overall and the Village Chardonnay in the top 10 best values. It is very pleasing to get accolades for wines that are reasonably available.
2009 Kumeu River Mate’s Vineyard Chardonnay
Exotic fruit characters mingle with spicy oak and savoury secondary characters. A big, powerful wines, concentrated and deep, yet with great structure and a fine elegant finish. A special wine for enjoying at Christmas dinner and with well-chosen friends.
2009 Kumeu River Hunting Hill Chardonnay
Very pale in colour, with a smoky, minerally nose, in the mouth it is full and multi-layered, yet with a tight, linear structure. Altogether a very complex and stylish wine for that special occasion.
2009 KR Village Chardonnay
A really good example of mid-weight Chardonnay. With no one feature dominating, but instead all the elements working in harmony. There is a hint of creamy malo, and some toasty oak, but also a nice balance between sweet fruit and savoury secondary characters. Great value.
2009 Kumeu River Pinot Gris
Baked apple and honey aromas, with an interesting savoury-cum-earthy undertone. A fuller-bodied example of Pinot Gris, with a touch of creamy oak. Just off dry, a generous and supple style to enjoy alongside food.
The latest issue of Robert Parkers Wine Advocate, #197, includes an extensive report on New Zealand wine by Lisa Perrotti Brown MW. Each issue of this publication is eagerly awaited by wine lovers all over the world and we are delighted that the wines from Kumeu River have received such high praise. Two of our Chardonnays: Mate's Vineyard and Hunting Hill were the highest scoring white wines in Lisa’s report and in the top 5 wines out of 892 wines tasted overall. Below are the reviews of the Kumeu River wines that Lisa tasted. The full report is available to subscribers on www.eRobertParker.com
2009 Kumeu River Mate’s Vineyard Chardonnay 94+ points
The 2009 Mate’s Vineyard Chardonnay has a beautifully expressive and complex nose already, with notes of ripe apples, white peaches, butterscotch and pineapple over savory undertones of croissant, crushed nuts and yeast extract plus a whiff of struck match and wet pebbles. Medium bodied with a beautiful satiny quality to the texture, the fruit remains a bit tight though very concentrated with crisp acid to enliven and a long layered finish. Consider drinking it 2013 to 2019+.
2009 Kumeu River Hunting Hill Chardonnay 94 points
The 2009 Hunting Hill Chardonnay is a little youthfully mute, giving delicate lime zest, chalk dust and pink grapefruit aromas over toasted almonds, meal and buttered scones. The palate has an elegant medium body yet packs in wonderfully concentrated toast, meal and citrus flavors with racy acidity, a satiny texture and a very long finish. I love it now, though it will benefit from another 6-12 months in bottle, drinking best 2013 to 2019+.
2009 Kumeu River Coddington Chardonna 92+ points
The 2009 Coddington Chardonnay displays expressive notes of pineapple, pink guava, peach kernels and warmed pear slices with hints of cashews, marmite on toast and oyster shells. Medium bodied and with a pleasant touch of viscosity, it gives great concentration, lively acidity and a long savory finish. Approachable now, it should drink to 2017+.
2009 Kumeu River Estate Chardonnay 91 points
The 2009 Estate Chardonnay gives intense notes of ripe apricots, guava, green mango and honey coated nuts with nuances of lightly browned toast and white blossoms. Medium bodied with a silken texture, it gives great concentration, crisp acidity and a long toasty finish. Drinking now, it should cellar to 2016+.
2009 Kumeu River Village Chardonnay 88points
The 2009 Village Chardonnay gives delicate aromas of fresh peaches, baking bread and orange blossom with a hint of crushed stones. Medium bodied with a good amount of ripe apple and yeasty flavors, it has refreshing acidity, a gentle creaminess to the texture and a long finish. Drink it now through 2014
2010 Kumeu River Pinot Gris 88 points
Kumeu River’s 2010 Pinot Gris gives delicate peach and pear aromas with hints of apple blossom and baking bread. A dry, medium bodied style in the mouth, it has a pleasant satiny texture and a long apple tart laced finish. Drink it now to 2014
September sees the release of our single vineyard Chardonnays from the 2009 vintage and we are thrilled with their quality. Following the very ripe and luscious vintage of 2008, the 2009 vintage in Kumeu produced wines that are a little more restrained, but still with good concentration and racy acidity on the finish. The Chardonnays are beautifully fragrant and elegant and quite similar to those from the 2004 vintage.In their youth the 2004 wines were quite tight and retrained and have now blossomed into delicious silky wines with great length.The terroir differences between the various Chardonnay cuvées this year seem even more pronounced than ever, with the typical vineyard characters of Estate, Coddington, Hunting Hill and Mate’s Vineyard really shining through.This vintage seems to be particularly favorable to Hunting Hill with its subtle floral aromas and very precise mineral texture. The 2009 Coddington Chardonnay does not have the voluptuous richness of the 2008 wine but still shows the distinctly peachy aromas and lovely mealy undertones that we consistently expect from this vineyard.The 2009 Estate Chardonnay is very reminiscent of the 2004 with its close to perfect balance on the palate and length of rich fruity flavour. It will certainly be a long-lived wine for the cellar.Every year we seem to say the Mate’s Vineyard Chardonnay is the best yet, and the 2009 wine is no exception. It truly is magnificent in its depth and complexity, and will perhaps only be superseded by the release of the 2010 wine next year!Over that’s past couple of weeks we have held some tastings of these wines and older Kumeu River Chardonnays with the press and members of the trade. We served them along side some very smart white burgundies from Vincent Dauvissat, Coche Dury and Domaine Leflaive. We are pleased to report that the Kumeu River wines more than held their own among some very salubrious company and indicated that our wines are achieving the balance, texture and sheer drinking delight that we strive for.
Iconic New Zealand Chardonnay producers Kumeu River Wines have once again come up with the goods, this time with their 2007 Kumeu River Estate Chardonnay. In their annual "Top 100" list of wines from around the world the Wine Spectator Magazine has ranked the Kumeu River Chardonnay at Number 41 with a score of 92 points, and a price of US$35.00 per bottle. This is the seventh time that Kumeu River has featured in the Top 100, highlighting a consistency of both quality and value derived from decades of experience and increasing skill with what is surely the King of white wine varieties.
The Estate Chardonnay is a blend of six vineyards in the Kumeu region, the same six vineyards each year, giving this wine great complexity and consistency of character. It is produced exclusively in Burgundy-style small oak barrels, of which 20% are new. The Estate Chardonnay typically combines citrus zest with beautiful peach and hazelnut aromas, along with a rich silky texture and crisp mineral finish.
Kumeu River actually produces five Chardonnay wines, starting with the Village wine which is produced from several local vineyards. It is fermented in a combination of steel tanks and old oak barrels to minimise the influence of oak and presents a lively, crisp and fruity expression of Chardonnay.
There are also three single vineyard wines which highlight the influence of their individual sites, or "terroirs". The Coddington, Hunting Hill and Mate's Vineyard Chardonnays are very individual and distinctive styles, and represent the epitome of the Kumeu River style of Chardonnay.
Kumeu River was among the pioneers of barrel fermentation of Chardonnay in New Zealand, and also a ground-breaking exponent in the use of wild yeast and malo-lactic fermentation. In the making of Kumeu River Estate Chardonnay these traditional techniques have been adapted and honed over 25 years experience to harmonise with the natural attributes of grape variety and vineyard site, to produce a wine style of outstanding quality and balance, and with a very strong sense of place.
Kumeu River Estate Chardonnay has also proven its ability to age gracefully in the bottle. In a recent vertical tasting of this wine in Boston going back to the 2002 vintage those present were very impressed with the ongoing development of bottle bouquet and the building of texture and complexity on the palate that occurs with these wines over a period of 4-6 years, giving more than ample rewards to those of us with patience.