Long recognised as one of the country’s most successful brand stories, Cloudy Bay continues to go from strength to strength while retaining the title as New Zealand’s most well-known winery.
Established in 1985 by David Hohnen, the winery was one of the first to champion the idea that New Zealand – Marlborough in particular – could produce not just good wines, but great ones. Now, more than three decades later, and having been bought by the French multinational luxury goods giant LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton in 2003, Cloudy Bay wines are exported to some 30 countries around the world.
Whilst initially building its reputation on sauvignon blanc wines (still the label’s most popular), Cloudy Bay also produces consistently awarded pinot noir and chardonnay wines along with the two Pelorus sparkling rosé and white wines.
Cloudy Bay’s global positioning, reputation and the sheer might of the LVMH behemoth, place it in an enviable position to focus solidly on self-promotion. But the essence of the brand continually references its New Zealand roots and, in particular, Marlborough and Central Otago. Consequently, a ‘Cloudy Bay experience’ is not just about enjoying world-class wines, but also sampling the very best local produce, ingredients and cuisine, that can be found. It’s about taking the regions along for the ride.
The Marlborough Sounds are home to some of the country’s most spectacular scenery and top many an international tourist’s must-see bucket list. With some 150km of coastline, pristine waters and sandy bays surrounded by green forest-covered hills, it is best enjoyed by sail.
On board the yacht Voilà, with a flute of Pelorus rosé in hand and plates of the freshest local King Salmon and avocado on tap: life is pretty darn good. We anchor in one of the many pretty bays and most members of our small party assume a seated or horizontal positon staring skyward, shifting only to enjoy a sip of Pelorus or Sauvignon Blanc 2018. The waters are turquoise, the sky is blue, blue with white fluffy marshmallow-like clouds and the sun obliges by coming out and shining bright. Bliss!
Cloudy Bay offer half to full day Sail Away excursions in the Marlborough Sounds. Click here for more details.
Rising like a phoenix from the ashes of an old building in the same spot that burned down in 2009, The Shack is, as writer Kat Pickford so aptly put it: “a shack in name only”.
A hop and a skip away from the Cloudy Bay Cellar Door and surrounding vineyards, 10 minutes from Blenheim, this award-winning structure was designed by architects Tim Greer and Paul Rolfe and opened in 2012.
An elegant two-level structure of steel, timber and glass with four guest bedrooms and interiors that are a riff on the consummate Kiwi bach, it’s a showcase for some of the country’s top artists and designers including David Trubridge.
The Shack is also a private place to wine and dine and amp it up the Cloudy Bay way for VIPs, media and others, both local and international. Consequently it’s a delight to experience.
The trio of Japanese media with our group are justifiably “in love” with their bedrooms upstairs, which are individually designed to emulate the surrounding landscape. One says she has an “unforgettable” view of the best of Marlborough from her bathtub. (The architects have said they shaped the building to: “gain vistas along the vineyards to the Richmond Ranges, whose silhouette adorns each bottle (the Cloudy Bay wine label).”
Our dinner kicks off with a lesson in how to shuck Cloudy Bay Clams, the taste of which results in a personal love affair with these delicious molluscs. Issac Piper of Cloudy Bay Clams, tells us theirs is the country’s only family-owned surf clam wild harvesting business. It was started in the 1990 by Issac’s father Ant. Issac, his wife Kerry and brother Aaron now run the company. Although not easy to get your hands on, (exporting is a big part of the business) the clams are unique to New Zealand and come in four varieties including the more well-known tua tua. (See cloudybayclams.com for local suppliers).
The cuisine that night is exquisite with perfect wine pairings - naturally - culminating in the generous decision by Estate Director Yang Shen to open a magnum of Pinot Noir 2016. ‘Unforgettable’ indeed.
Central Otago and The Shed
Following a charter flight, we touch down in Wanaka and head to Cromwell and a tour of the vineyards that are behind the label’s impressive Te Wahi Pinot Noir.
The vineyards stretch out in front of us, green and lush with budding grapes. As we walk, Technical Director Jim White explains that it has taken time to master an understanding of how to create the wines they want from the region. “Slowly we learned how to grow the grapes here,” he says. “You have to be a lot more delicate in handling Central Otago fruit. The land is rich in tannins and the grapes come with a lot more to the table. Our vision is all about making a Central pinot noir that will grow in stature, volume and complexity over many years ahead.”
Cloudy Bay has been making wine in Central Otago since 2010 and the Northburn vineyard in Cromwell was purchased in 2012. Cloudy Bay also leases part of the Calvert vineyard on Felton Road in Bannockburn. Te Wahi Pinot Noir combines the qualities of the two distinctive vineyard sites.
A short drive later and we arrive at The Shed. Like The Shack, The Shed is a shed in name only. Officially opened to the public just last year, this is the brand’s fabulous new Cellar Door in Central Otago. Based at the winery’s Northburn vineyard, it was also designed by architect Paul Rolfe. Located on the banks of Lake Dunstan with views of the ranges beyond, it is open for to the public daily from 11am to 5pm. There is a second, large space that combines dining and lounging areas to cater for private groups, VIPs and events.
We are spoilt with a tasting of specially selected pinot noir in the private area before sampling a menu that again heroes local ingredients, matched with some vintage Cloudy Bay wines. Picture butter-poached hapuka with fermented black garlic and pickled radish, partnered with the smoothest Te Koko Sauvignon Blanc 2011 and a Chardonnay of the same year, followed by a stand-out roasted cauliflower dish and a glass or two of Te Wahi Pinot Noir 2011.
The Big Guy’s Favourite Wines
Around 14 years ago Australian Jim White came to Cloudy bay as a viticulturist. He stayed on with his family and is now the Technical Director. We ask him about his favourite Cloudy Bay wines:
1. What – for you – is the ethos of Cloudy Bay and how do you try to express this in the wine?
“We try to make wines that are expressive of the place they are grown in both Marlborough and Central Otago, that set the benchmark with regards to quality from these regions and are just delicious.”
2. What has been the hardest factor in making the pinot noir work?
“Pinot noir is a fickle grape to work with in the vineyard. It demands a lot of work during the season on the vines, ensuring the vine yield and fruit exposure is just right to achieve the desired flavour profile and body of the wine. Very focused winemaking and subtle use of oak help highlight the desirable characteristics of pinot noir, always with an eye to ensuring these elements don’t overshadow the flavours of the variety and site characteristics.”
Jim’s Top five
Sauvignon Blanc 2018
“A great wine from a tricky vintage, lifted and mouth filling.”
Pinot Noir 2015
“Classic rich and opulent Marlborough Pinot Noir”
Te Wahi Pinot Noir 2016
“Floral, fragrant, silky palate.”
“My first vintage at Cloudy Bay: flinty, fresh and ageing beautifully.”
Sauvignon Blanc 2001
“Mature, complex, rich but fresh.”