One on One With Winemaker: Jeff Fyfe from The Crossings Winery, New Zealand
Few days ago I was offered an opportunity to meet Jeff Fyfe, senior winemaker at The Crossings Winery from New Zealand – only I couldn’t. What about the title of this post, you ask? No, I’m not trying to purposefully mislead you with some dark intent. What I did was very simple and logical 🙂 – I came up with a bunch of questions, and asked Jeff to answer them on his own. We can call it a “virtual interview”. I also had an opportunity to taste two of the latest wines from The Crossings – including the 2015 Sauvignon Blanc. I was quite excited about it, as my first wine of the current vintage typically is Beaujolais Nouveau, so this was a welcome deviation.
Let’s start with the interview. Imagine yourself out in the vineyard, on a sunny day, with the glass of cold and refreshing white wine, talking to Jeff Fyfe:
What was your favorite vintage(s) for both Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc and why?
We have been extremely lucky in Marlborough in recent years with a number of great vintages in a row. In 2014 we had harvested all of the Pinot Noir prior to commencing any Sauvignon Blanc which is fairly unusual. This gave us the opportunity to focus on the varieties individually a little more than usual which was nice. There are some great Sauvignon Blancs from 2015 and we are excited about releasing them.
What was your most difficult vintage for both Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc and why?
Both 2008 and 2009 were reasonably difficult vintages in the fact that the crops were slightly heavier than normal and we had some unseasonal rain during harvest making things difficult.
Many winemakers in NZ experiment with oak and Sauvignon Blanc. What do you think of that? Is this an up and coming trend? Do you make any oaked Sauvignon Blanc wines?
I don’t know if I would call it a trend, I think it is now a style in its own right in Marlborough. Many producers are making them, and have been for some time. Dog Point Section 94 is a great example of barrel fermented Sauvignon Blanc. They wines obviously age well, in my opinion the better examples show great balance and integration of the oak and the fruit. Some producers are also creating wines with small amounts of barrel fermented Sauvignon Blanc to add texture and weight to their tank fermented Sauvignon Blancs.
Today, there are many new grapes been planted in NZ – Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Riesling, Gruner Veltliner, Syrah. I see that you are already making Riesling and Pinot Gris wines – do you have plans for any other new grapes?
Yes, we already make very small quantities of Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, and Riesling and we planted some Gruner Veltliner at our Willowflat vineyard 2 years ago, which is looking promising. I think Marlborough already produces world class aromatics, particularly from the cooler sites which enables longer ripening and extended hang time for the fruit which creates wines with texture, weight and acidity.
Outside of your own wines, what are your other favorite wines from New Zealand?
There are some great aromatics coming out of the Nelson region, Waimea, and Seifreid are favourites. Also Hawkes Bay Syrah, in my opinion the best examples can rival the great Syrahs of the world. Bilancia, Crossroads, Trinity Hill are all great examples.
What are your favorite Sauvignon Blanc wine outside of New Zealand – regions and/or producers?
White Bordeaux! If only I could drink them more often. Generally I like to drink Austrian or German Rieslings, there are so many amazing producers, Brundlmayer, Ansgar Clusserath, Donnhoff, Wittman to name a few.
Same question for Pinot Noir – favorite regions/wines/producers outside of New Zealand?
I tend to drink the wines coming from cooler climate regions as I like the elegance and finesse they can have, cooler parts of Australia such as Tasmania, and the Mornington Peninsula are great. There are obviously some pretty special wines coming out of Burgundy, I just can’t afford to drink them that often! Although when I do I enjoy wines from the appellation of Volnay.
If you would have a “do-over” opportunity – go back in time and start the winery again – would you still start it at the exact same place, or would you chose a different location, region or even country?
I wouldn’t change the location of the vineyards that’s for sure. We have 3 amazing vineyard locations in the Awatere Valley, each very unique which provides us with quality fruit to make the wines that we do.
Today, a lot of wineries around the world add sparkling and Rosé wines to their portfolios, but this trend doesn’t seem to catch up in New Zealand. Do you think this will change? Do you have any plans to start producing sparkling or Rosé wines?
There are already a number of producers in Marlborough making some great rosés. The demand for Marlborough Pinot Noir is strong, so I guess that has an impact on the ability of some producers to make Rose, hence why you don’t see them often on a global scale. At The Crossings we are hoping to make a rose in vintage 2016. It’s the same with sparkling wines in Marlborough, some world class wines being produced but on a reasonably small scale.
What is the oldest vintage of your own wines you ever tried? Do you think the wines held up well?
We recently had a vertical tasting of The Crossings Sauvignon Blanc from 2005 to 2015. We were pleasantly surprised at how well the wines were holding up. The majority of the older vintages still looked fresh, showing varietal character and maintained the mineral acidity that is signature of the Awatere Valley. All of the wines were under screw cap
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I think Jeff provided great answers. Hearing that 10 years old Sauvignon Blanc is still fresh makes me very happy – I love wines with an age on them, and I love it when the wines are aging gracefully, so I would love to try it by myself. Well, yes, I didn’t try the 2005 – instead, I tried the wine from the vintage Jeff was so happy about it – the 2015. I tasted latest releases of both Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir, which I got as samples, courtesy of the importer, Deutsch Family Wine & Spirits. For you to understand how new the 2015 was, the bottle even didn’t have an official label on it yet.
Here are my tasting notes:
2015 The Crossings Sauvignon Blanc Awatare Valley Marlboro, New Zealand (13% ABV, SRP $14)
C: straw pale
N: beautiful fresh cut grass, just a hint of grapefruit, lemon zest
P: clean acidity, fresh, lemon undertones, herbal notes, perfectly balanced
V: 8, one of the very best NZ sauvignon Blanc wines I ever tasted. Summer day in the glass.
2014 The Crossings Pinot Noir Awatare Valley Marlboro, New Zealand (14% ABV, SRP $18)
C: dark ruby
N: smoke and raspberries, lavender, touch of mint, baking spices
P: sweet cherries, plums, hint of vanilla, touch of spices, good balance, medium body, medium-long finish.
V: 7+/8-, classic Marlboro Pinot Noir
There you have it, my friends – virtual interview and very real, delicious wines. Now, let me ask you a question – if you would have an opportunity to talk to the winemaker, what would be your questions? What do you think of our Q&A session? Happy Friday and Cheers!