During a visit to the UK, Jackson Estate’s Head Winemaker, Mike Paterson, took time out of his hectic schedule to tell us more about this iconic estate and its unique range of wines. At the heart of the Marlborough wine region, Jackson Estate has a long and distinguished history under the stewardship of the Jackson and Stichbury families who have farmed the land for more than 160 years.
On a cold, snowy January morning, it’s easy to imagine how much Mike must be missing his native New Zealand, which is currently basking in warm sunshine. However, despite his shivers, he is decidedly upbeat and endlessly enthusiastic about the wines and the winery he has been an integral part of for the last 10 years, “I still walk out of the door everyday with a good feeling,” he explains. “I can’t imagine working for anyone else - the philosophy at Jackson fits me too well.”
The passion Mike has for winemaking becomes obvious as he explains how he gave up a career in banking to fulfil his yearning to try something new, “Although I was happy enough in what I was doing, I wanted to work with something tangible, something living,” he says before explaining how he met with various wine industry professionals inspiring him to embark on an educational journey to learn his new trade. After two growing seasons on a small family-run domaine in Burgundy (an experience he describes as character building) and, at the opposite end of the scale, working at a large, highly mechanised producer in California, Mike returned to New Zealand in 2001, ready for a new challenge.
One key consideration Mike took from his time abroad was the importance of the team in any winery, no matter what the size. A chance meeting with the charismatic John Stichbury convinced him that when it came to winemaking teams, smaller could be better, “John wanted to develop his winery and I wanted to work for a family company,” Mike said.
Working for Jackson Estate is a decision Mike has been extremely happy with over the last decade, “I love the variety of each year,” he enthuses, “everybody gets involved in everything.” He attributes this contagious delight in his work to Stichbury, who “is a pioneer for the industry - he’s done the hard ground work with good will thrown in.” Mike explains that the philosophy at the heart of Jackson Estate is to make wines “that truly reflect the land they come from and the people that made them, rather than to fill quotas.” Quality and a strong sense of identity have always been prerequisites; principles that Mike feels have been particularly important during the meteoric rise of Marlborough wines over the last few years.
Mike explains that careful vineyard management determines the quality of any wine, so at Jackson Estate only varieties that the team think are ideal for the terroir make the grade, leading them to focus on Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Pinot has been making huge strides across New Zealand in the last 5 years but is notoriously difficult to grow, so the estate held off planting any until they discovered the perfect site. Still only in its 10th year and already producing exceptional wines, Mike is keen to see how the Pinot vineyard will develop over the next few decades.
Mike feels that his time in France may have shaped his winemaking style, “Burgundy introduced me to the concept of treating wine as part of the occasion rather than something that sits on a pedestal,” he explains. Back in New Zealand, this may have influenced the versatility, minerality and freshness of the wines he creates, with the harsh acids rounded out to create a more drinkable style.
As an example of the effort and skill needed to produce the fabulous Jackson wines, Mike explains the process of blending the iconic Stich Sauvignon Blanc, which comes from the fruit of 4 vineyards, each with unique features. For example, one vineyard is on clay soil, which adds dense, tropical notes to the grapes and another sits on the mineral-rich river channel, which adds ‘punchy’ characters, “The homestead vineyard provides the fruit for the heart of the blend, making up about a third of the final wine. All the other elements are built around this core,” he says. This gives the wine its unique minted-citrus and mineral style. By knowing what the fruit from each vineyard will bring to a blend, Mike can tell structurally what he needs to create the Stich. Even so, in any year, the team sample about 20 different blends before they reach a winning formula.
Sustainability and biodiversity have always been high priorities at Jackson Estate, although solely for the protection of the Estate’s future rather than any marketing opportunity, “John has simply always had a strong belief in biodiversity and protecting the habitat in and around the vineyards,” says Mike. Recently, however, sustainability has become a hot topic across New Zealand, with every winery looking to reduce their waste, carbon emissions and energy usage by 2012. Mike feels that with this environmental focus, the next natural step for the winery may be organic production, as he already creates wines with as little mechanical or chemical intervention as possible.
With Mike’s continued enthusiasm and the hard work of all the team, the future for Jackson Estate looks bright. By defining their own path and sticking firmly to core beliefs, this small group of like-minded people continues to produce seminal styles that are distinctly New Zealand but more importantly, distinctly Jackson Estate, “It’s an interesting next chapter for New Zealand wine and Jackson Estate is happy to be a part of it.”
Discover the wines head winemaker Mike Paterson is so passionate about with the delicious range from
Jackson Estate Gum Emperor Pinot Noir 2005/07 Marlborough, New Zealand, £18.99
The Gum Emperor has all the hallmarks of a truly great Pinot Noir.
Beautifully defined aromas of lifted wild black cherry and violet lead to a silky texture with layers of rich forest fruits. This is a wine of exquisite elegance, complexity and restrained power with a velvet-smooth feel. The fruit was harvested from a single plot within the Gum Emperor vineyard, which Jackson Estate has identified as the best location for Pinot Noir in the Wairau Valley.
Jackson Estate Shelter Belt Chardonnay 2008 Marlborough, New Zealand, £12.34
Grapefruit and softer citrus fruit flavours combine with a subtle swirl of cream to give a vibrant Chardonnay.
Juicy and well textured on the palate, this fine Chardonnay has a crisp frame that encloses smooth citrus and stone fruit flavours. The wine is a testament to the vision of the Jackson family who have farmed the land on the Wairau River plain at Jackson’s Road for more than 160 years.
Jackson Estate Vintage Widow Pinot Noir 2007 Marlborough, New Zealand, £14.24
Aromas of dark cherry and cinnamon spice laced with bramble fruit make this a seriously good Pinot Noir.
This delicious red has a subtle smokiness and a silky structure balanced by minerality and lifted herbaceous notes. A small amount of time in oak barrels adds roundness to the rich flavours but still allows the depth, focus and complexity of the fruit sourced from Jackson’s finest vineyards to shine through.
Jackson Estate Grey Ghost Sauvignon Blanc 2008 Marlborough, New Zealand, £14.24
A beautifully crafted, aromatic wine with flavours of ripe gooseberry and blackcurrant leaf.
This delicious Sauvignon Blanc has a rich and focused palate, with well-defined green fruit bound by a subtle gunflint-like minerality; a trait more commonly seen in Sauvignons from the Loire in France than those from New Zealand. The Grey Ghost refers to the giant gum tree planted in 1867 by the great grandmother of the current owner, which remains a focal point of the vineyards on the Wairau Plain. Today its image graces the labels of all Jackson Estate’s wines.