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Michelle Richardson, Villa Maria

by Tom Cannavan, 11/00

Update: Michelle has left Villa Maria and now runs Richardson Wines.

This was a very intersting event arranged by wine wholesalers Matthew Clark. Villa Maria's Chief Winemaker Michelle Richardson brought over tank samples of three different component Sauvignon Blancs from the 2000 vintage, and an invited bunch of wine trade and journalists got the chance to taste the components and have a go at blending their own version of the 2000 Private Bin Sauvignon Blanc.

michelle

Michelle, it has to be said, is a bit of a hoot! During the course of dinner after the tasting I discovered she selected Chairman Mao as a suitable penfriend as a child in New Zealand and began a regular correspondence with a member of his staff, believing it was the man himself. No doubt, the poor Chinese civil servant thought the 10-year old Michelle offered the makings of a revolutionary spokeswoman for the People's Republic in the Antipodes.

I have long been a fan of Villa Maria's wines, which are consistent and well-made, as might be expected from one of the country's largest producers, but which also show great individuality and character, especially in the mid-priced bottlings under the Cellar Selection and Reserve labels.

Villa Maria was founded in 1961 by George Fistonich, and is still his privately owned company. James Halliday rates Villa Maria as "New Zealand's best large winery". And large it is (the company also owns Esk Valley and Vidal) with three modern wineries, one in Auckland and two in Hawkes Bay. Graduating with a degree in Microbiology in 1985, Michelle first worked the 1992 vintage at Villa Maria and was promoted to Senior Assistant Winemaker in 1993. At the end of 1994 she became Chief Winemaker at Villa Maria.

Sample One: Graham Vineyard 2000
Cloudy sample, light green/gold. Very clean and crisp. Confectionery notes, perfumed, with ripe but crisp pear fruit. Very pungent flavours, powerful and citrussy with a smoky element and lots of lemony fruit. Powerful acidity.

Sample Two: Wairau Valley 2000
Much paler, greener colour. Really quite subdued. Faint aromas of crunchy green apple. The palate is richly textured and full, but again restrained, not nearly so explosively pungent and very dry.

Sample Three: Jackson Vineyard 2000
Cloudy tank sample again with more lemony tones, very pale. Most aromatic and really explosive nose bursting with typical lychee and gooseberry fruit, hints of nettle. Much riper and juicier with distinct pineapple sweetness, peach and mango. Lots of acidity too, but tempered and dominated by the fruit.

My blend 2000
The three base wines were so different: by turns crisp and lemony, dry and mineral, and exotically fruited. I based my blend around wine one, adding around one third as much of wine two for backbone, and half as much of wine three for aromatics and palate weight. I quite liked the result - Michelle made no comment!

Villa Maria Private Bin Sauvignon Blanc 2000
The real thing as you will buy from the supermarket shelves, blended from these plus the fruit of other vineyards. Lovely pale gold with a hint of lime green. Lots of bright, juicy fruit. Zingy and fresh with gooseberry and raspberry aromatics. Nice creaminess on the palate, notes of orange and grapefruit with tangy citrus acidity and a fine purity in the finish. Very good.

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