The Great Chardonnay Collaboration

Yesterday (February 11) Richard and I flew to the Hawkes Bay for a very special wine collaboration; to work with icon wine winemaker Tim Turvey to blend a 2013 Chardonnay made especially to style for FWD Co. customers.

We launched this very special and unique wine program at FWD Co. last year, which involves my collaborating with iconic NZ winemakers from equally iconic estates to blend wines in a style that our customers want. FWD Co. customers have been saying en-masse for ages; we love those rich, creamy, buttery styles but we want them to have quality oak and good natural acid so they finish strongly but in a refreshing way.

Via our massive 5,000 wines per year in-house tasting program we are very watchful for these styles of Chardonnay and we can say there are simply not enough good ones to meet our customers demand. When it came to a Chardonnay collaboration, Tim Turvey of Clearview was ‘top of mind'. Making beautiful Chardonnay for circa 30-years off his Te Awanga, Hawke's Bay vineyards Tim has championed the fuller, richer, creamier style that always tastes of stone/citrus fruits, nutty, buttery lees aging characters and lightly charred oak. He has it perfected! So much so his Reserve Chardonnay has become a Michael Cooper Classic. It's also apparent that his vineyards grow some of New Zealand's finest fruit with ripe flavours and excellent acid balance apropos its close proximity to the ocean.

We launched Collaboration wines last November with the inaugural release of 2012 Collaboration Hawke's Bay Chardonnay blended by Tim Turvey and me (Tim's talented winemaker Barry Riwai orchestrated the session). Tim reduced yields significantly in 2012 to deliver perfectly ripe fruit in a cooler vintage. Accordingly our first Collaboration Chardonnay was restricted to just 200 cases and we are already down to less than 50 cases with a high repeat customer purchase evolving. If you're a lover of buttery, rich, full bodied Chardonnay with a degree of elegance then you should get around to enjoying the 2012 before it runs out.

The great news is that we have been able to blend 500 cases of Collaboration 2013 Chardonnay. Tim, Richard, Barry and I spent around 3-hours mix and matching juice from a comprehensive selection of barrels including components of the Reserve. Blending is loads of fun; it's the process of tasting numerous wine components with differing flavours, textures and characters that are nearly in a finished state and blending them into a specific style. And by now you'll understand the style we were earnestly seeking for our Collaboration label.

The first blending session results in the forming of the majority base of the wine and then that's where it becomes more demanding. All fruit was off the estate vineyards but the line up included numerous different clones off varying soil types with differing levels of oak, lees aging and winemaking influence.The art is to layer various components in precise percentages to achieve the desired flavours, mouth feel and overall style. We had fantastic array of barrel samples to blend with and it became a case of what to leave out in the end with the paramount objective to arrive at the perfect style.Tim and Barry are expert at their craft and great listeners; Richard was very helpful in identifying style throughout and it was both rewarding and fun to lead this exciting project.

FWD Co. Chardonnay customers should get their first taste of 2013 Collaboration around May 1st and we'll do something special to announce its arrival.

Chardonnay was the initial driver for me to launch FWD Co. Collaboration label and program. But watch this space for we're soon to launch three new varieties, which we collaborated with another iconic Central Otago Estate and winemaker whose wines are known and adored.Check out the photos, just so you can see we were working and not on a junket to Clearview. However we were not going to depart without enjoying a late lunch at Clearview, which most of you know is always a brilliant wine and food experience with friendly service. Flying back to Auckland Richard commented it was one of the most enjoyable days he has had in years and it showcased to him why we love the wine business so much.

Cheers, Jeff