Video: Kumeu River, New Zealand’s most celebrated Chardonnay producer

A film from a visit to Kumeu River in west Auckland, New Zealand. The Brajkovich family started making wine here in the 1940s, and now are known around the globe as New Zealand’s top Chardonnay producer. Here, Michael and Paul Brajkovich explain how they farm – with a distinctive take on viticulture involving a lyre trellis system.

Here’s my write up on the wines: Kumeu River Chardonnay

And Treve’s report from her most recent visit to the winery:

I tasted with Paul Brajkovich at their Kumeu River estate the morning before heading to the airport to fly to Canada, in late October 2019. It was my second such visit to the estate before the 17-hour flight west, and while it’s impossible to say ‘save the best to last’ in NZ, this has been a pretty memorable way to close out my visits. We focused on the recently bottled 2018s, a small harvest due to the proliferation of botrytis, and appearance of sour rot. “2018 was a huge amount of work in the vineyard” according to Paul. They decided not to use any new oak for the Chardonnay this year. 

I was also able to taste their first wines from their Rays Road vineyard, in Raukawa, Hawkes Bay. The recently purchased vineyard was originally a joint venture between Trinity Hill and Pascal Jolivet from Pouilly-Fumé. 

As is typical for the Kumeu wines, they were all native fermented, went through MLF, and rested on lees. 

Kumeu River Estate Pinot Gris 2018, Kumeu
Entirely in stainless, to preserve the bright fruit, which is welcome against the bump of RS this wine is left with. Lovely ripe pear leads the concentrated, medium palate, scented with fennel, and with a fine hum of extract around the sides. 89/100

Kumeu River Village Chardonnay 2018, Kumeu
Almost too easy to drink this year’s Village Chardy included 20% from their Hawke’s Bay property, and is a mix of Mendoza and Clones 6, 5, 95. Whole bunch pressed, this was 80% in barrel (aged 5 years) with the remainder in stainless. Light silken pear and fragrant lemon is seasoned with fine tight stony spicing, riding a creamy pillow of lees through the finish. 90/100

Kumeu River Chardonnay Rays Road 2018, Hawke’s Bay
From their new vineyard site in Hawkes Bay, this dry-farmed vineyard rests on a northerly facing limestone hillside at 180m altitude. This was whole bunched pressed and fermented in older French barrels, where it remained for 11 months on lees. This has a lovely savory edge and creamy mid-palate, driven by a potent line of lemon that drives this through the vibrant, and chalky finish. The limestone soils are evident here. 92/100

Kumeu River Estate Chardonnay 2018, Kumeu
From six different vineyard sites, all on clay soils, this was entirely barrel fermented where it remained for 11 months. In this youthful wine, the oak is strident at present, but the clay weighted palate will absorb this with time in bottle. Light clove and light smoked stone seasons the creamy, lemon-led palate. Needs time. 91/100

Kumeu River Coddington Chardonnay 2018, Kumeu
From a vineyard 3km away, owned by Tim and Angela Coddington, these grapes have contributed to the blend of Kumeu River Estate Chardonnay since 1998. Kumeu has been running the vineyard entirely since 2015. Coddington is a north-facing site planted in 1994 on heavy clays to clone 15 (known for its hen and chicken berries). Round and full, with ripe lemon, white peach, apricot ruling the plumper palate, seasoned with wood spicing and toasted hazelnut. This was fermented in barrel, where it remained on lees for 11 months. 90/100 

Kumeu River 2013 Coddington Chardonnay 2013, Kumeu
Flinty, full, richer and concentrated, holding a lovely honeyed, grippy edge around the apricot and peach skin palate. A backbone of acidity drives this weight forward seamlessly. 93/100

Kumeu River Hunting Hill Chardonnay 2018, Kumeu
Hunting Hill vineyard is Kumeu River’s home site, and this clone 15 chardonnay was planted in 1982, replaced in 2000/01, and faces north but rounds slightly south west on clay over iron pan soils. Because it was planted earlier, it’s picked earlier, allowing these vines to fully express their complexities. Fermented in barrel, where it remained 11 months on the lees, this is tight, nervy and edgy through the linear palate, based with mineral salts (you can feel the intensity of the soils on the palate). Aromatic lemon pith leads the drive through the tight finish, flicked with flintiness. So youthful, you can feel the potential ahead. 94/100

Kumeu River Hunting Hill Chardonnay 2014, Kumeu
Lemon pith and taut mineral throughout, with smoked sea salt seasoning the lean, firm structure. Alluringly reductive, with laser-lemon and lime pith fruit driving to a lingering, amply mineral salted finish. Subtle white honeyed notes are appearing amidst the light white florals.  Stunner still, and with much time ahead. 94/100

Kumeu River Maté’s Vineyard Chardonnay 2018, Kumeu
This vineyard was named for Maté Brajkovich, the patriarch of the family. Planting this vineyard in 1990 was the final project before his passing in 1992. The first vintage of Maté’s Vineyard was released in November 1994 to coincide with celebrations marking the 50th Anniversary of the family’s arrival at Kumeu River. Entirely Mendoza clone, this was fermented in barrel where it remained for 11 months on lees. Very complete, even at this youthful age, this is a powerful and rich wine, with ample white peach, lemon, green and yellow apples, seasoned with white grapefruit on the generous palate. Certainly age-worthy. 93/100

Kumeu River Maté’s Vineyard Chardonnay 2009, Kumeu
Wearing its age beautifully, with alluring earthy, elastic, lees notes on the rich and savoury palate. Roasted almonds and mineral salts rule the lightly honeyed palate, still hemmed in with a potent grip around the sides, to a long, saline finish. 93/100

Kumeu River Rays Road Pinot Noir 2018, Hawke’s Bay
From their new limestone hillside vineyard in Hawke’s Bay, where various clones of Pinot Noir had been planted by the previous owners in 2008. This is led by MV6, and was destemmed with 3 weeks skin contact before fermented and aging in older wood over 11 months. Tight, fresh, and grippy with black tea tannins housing cherry and black raspberry through the humming finish. A lot of energy in this youthful Pinot, and an exciting project to watch. 92/100

Kumeu River Hunting Hill Pinot Noir 2017, Kumeu
In 1994 the family set about to plant Burgundian clones of Pinot Noir at their home Hunting Hill, to complement their successful Chardonnay program. 2017 was the 4th release of this wine. 777 clone, this was destemmed with 3 weeks skin contact before fermented and aging in older wood over 11 months. Earth, walnuts, and dusky autumnal plum and black raspberry ride the supple, medium+ palate, finishing with a grippy, smoked stone finish. Still feeling tight, this structural Pinot will continue to relax in bottle. 91/100

Kumeu River Crémant NV, Kumeu
This was based on the 2014 vintage, and is a 60/40 Chardonnay / Pinot Noir blend, bottled in February 2015, and disgorged December 2018 after 36 months on lees, with 4 g/L dosage (from 2011 bottled Chardonnay that they had remaining in the cellars). Sharp stone, bright lemon, green apple, and orange pith is chiselled with tight and grippy sides, licked with anise and driven with searing acidity. A brisk, seemingly bone-dry style. 4744 bottles made. 91/100