2012 Saint Clair Estate Sauvignon Blanc Thomas Vineyard Marlborough
 
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Saint Clair Family Estate New Math in Marlborough

In the 1850s, the principal land agent of Marlborough, James Sinclair, imagined the agricultural future of Marlborough more than a century before winegrowing became the region's calling card. Sinclair had done his geological homework. Over the course of the previous 14,000 years, Marlborough's soils had been carved and eroded by high country glaciers and carried down to the coast by melt-water rivers. The finest, well-draining alluvial soils -- influenced by the region's close proximity to riverbed fog and mountain breezes -- would eventually give birth to some of the most prized Sauvignon Blanc in the world.

In the early 1970s, Neal and Judy Ibbotson adopted Sinclair's vision. Identifying a spot at the top of the South Island, protected by hills to the south and mountains to the north, the Ibbotsons planted vines, experimenting with a number of varieties, identifying the inclines, exposures and soil types where each would flourish. Chardonnay, they'd learn, did best on poor soils hillsides. But Sauvignon Blanc wanted deeper, well-drained, sandier soils. Over the next fifteen years, the Ibbotsons pioneered Marlborough grape growing, farming Sauvignon Blanc that would become the backbone of New Zealand's greatest brands.

In 1994, over fifteen years after his first harvest, Neal Ibbotson decided to make a little bit of wine under his own label. That first release of St. Clair Sauvignon Blanc turned heads from Auckland to NYC. Even as the Ibbotsons continued to sell most of their fruit, they identified a handful of small vineyards from which they'd begin releasing single-vineyard "Pioneer Block" bottlings. It wouldn't be long before the St. Clair "Pioneer Block" Sauvignon Blancs were giving Cloudy Bay a run for its money.

In response to a steady diet of emails from members anxious to see New Zealands finest single-vineyard Sauvignons on WineAccess, we traveled to Marlborough in last March. After two weeks in the valley, we understood the challenges of the task in front of us.

The most meticulously farmed Lower Wairau parcels eke out small yields, roughly the same as those of Sancerre and Pouilly Fume. Labor cost is high. During harvest, day workers in Australia and New Zealand told us they were paid nearly $20/hour (time and one-half for overtime!), more than twice the wage paid in California or France. Far worse is the continued weakness of the USD against its New Zealand counterpart. As importers continue to go down market, pushing out oceans of insipid Kiwi Sauvignon Blanc at $7.99, the top estates of Marlborough -- the likes of Dog Point, Auntsfield, St. Clair and Cloudy Bay -- are slowly being shut out of the American market.

Today, we're swinging that door wide open!

The 2012 St. Clair "James Sinclair" Sauvignon Blanc, like all the stunning St. Clair "Pioneer Block" wines, is entirely drawn from the superb Thomas Vineyard in the Lower Wairau Plain. Brilliant green-golden to the rim with strikingly mineral aromas of ripe apple, bitter pineapple and quince. Broad, rich and finely muscled on the attack, slowly peeling off fine layers of chalky pineapple and ripe citrus, the finish is brisk and firm, showing of Sancerre-like minerality and verve.

St. Clair "Pioneer Block" Sauvignon Blancs fetch $30/bottle. That's why you see so few of them on local store shelves. So how to explain today's $16.99 price tag?

First, we broke out the pencil sharpeners. Then, we huddled with St. Clair and the winery's American importer. Finally, almost where we wanted to be, we explained the new math to Brass Knuckles, convincing her to tighten her belt like the winery and the importer. (There goes our quarterly bonus!)


Tasting Notes

2012 Saint Clair Estate Sauvignon Blanc Thomas Vineyard Marlborough
"(Drawn entirely from the Thomas Vineyard in the Lower Wairau Plain.) Brilliant green-golden to the rim with strikingly mineral aromas of ripe apple, bitter pineapple and quince. Broad, rich and finely muscled on the attack, slowly peeling off fine layers of chalky pineapple and ripe citrus, the finish is brisk and firm, showing of Sancerre-like minerality and verve. Delicious now on release, but unlike most Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc that make it stateside, don’t hesitate to lay this one down. The mineral stuffing argues for 3-5 years of cellar slumber."
– WineAccess Travel Log

 

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