Kumeu River Wines thrives amidst challenging 2023 growing season

Kumeu River Wines grow their own grapes on around 30 hectares of land locally, purchase grapes from another four growers and own another 28-hectare vineyard in Hawkes Bay. Having first grown grapes in Kumeu on 12 acres (approximately five hectares) in 1944, they’ve built their reputation along with their size.

Their chardonnay is one of the most sought-after in the sophisticated UK market where it’s known as rivalling the best of the French but with a much better price point. Kumeu River Wines consistently do well in the New Zealand market too, but given that 60% of their wines are for export, international recognition is important for overseas sales.

“We’ve had some really good news recently about the 2022 vintage,” says the family vineyard’s co-owner and chief wine-maker Michael Brajkovich.

“My brother Paul is in the UK showing the chardonnay predominantly to a very receptive audience and we’re getting rave reviews. Our chardonnay matches up very well with what we generically call white burgundy which is from the Cotes de Beaune particularly.”

“The other area we’re entering into stylistically is Chablis, particularly from our vineyard down in Hawke’s Bay which is all on limestone, I’d even go so far as to say it’s along the same lines as a Premier Cru Chablis. Our grapes here in Kumeu are all on clay soils so there’s a bit more richness to them,” says Michael.

Kumeu River Wines' chardonnay vineyards
Kumeu River Wines' hectares of chardonnay vineyards.

Having spent some of his formative years of training learning the art and craft of being a winemaker in France, drawing from centuries of traditional knowledge and practice, and complementing the years already spent learning its science with a Bachelor of Oenology from South Australia’s Roseworthy Agricultural College, Michael should know what he’s talking about.

Their highly respected UK wine merchant Farrs Vintners agrees with him, marketing the chardonnays as ‘great white wines that frequently out-perform famous Burgundies in blind tastings,’ and having imported every vintage of Kumeu River since 1989.

After four excellent vintages up to and including 2022, the weather experienced through the 2023 growing season was cause for concern. What had been looking like another good year looked a lot less promising when more than a month of extensive rain fell in the lead-up to harvest with the bird nets already in place.

With the rain came downy mildew and the frequent deluges meant the copper spray that normally gave the vines protection was washed away while the nets meant further spraying wasn’t an option. Michael was relieved when the harvest proved better than he had feared when he saw the state of the vines.

“By the time we had harvested some of our Chardonnay vineyards, they were effectively defoliated. So, even though Hunting Hill, Coddington and Mate’s all looked amazing on the vine, there were few leaves to continue the ripening process. Having said all that, the wines in the cellar are looking very good, albeit a little lighter in texture than the previous four vintages.”

What Farr Vintners will have to say only time will tell, but Michael remains optimistic about their 2023 vintage even as the next season’s grapes begin to show their buds on the vines.

© Waterford Press Ltd 2023 – Independent Print Media New Zealand

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