Feature Coverage

Kumeu River – an Auckland pearl

“Winemaker Michael Brajkovich MW was the chair of the judges in the Air New Zealand Wine Awards 2012, the original impetus for my visit to New Zealand at the end of last year. He whisked me straight off the ferry from Waiheke Island so that he and his brother Paul, marketing director, could accompany me through a vertical tasting of their 2009 and 2010 Chardonnays.

“My last visit to this West Auckland enclave of excellence was in 2000 and even then I remember being treated to a fine line-up of top-notch Chardonnays. This intensely family company continues to be under the managing directorship of Melba Brajkovich, mother of Michael, Paul, Milan and Marijana and widow of Maté, who moved as a child from Croatia to Auckland in 1937 and sadly died in 1992. Milan is the vineyard manager and Marijana the marketing director. All were there for the barbecued-lamb lunch immediately after the tasting. (For more on the history of the family and much more, including a detailed vineyard map, go to the Kumeu River website, a model of clarity and lack of hype.) Michael Brajkovich would also be the first to give credit to their long-standing cellar master Nigel Tibbits, who has been with the company for three decades.

“Unless it is to do with Chardonnay’s supporting role to Sauvignon Blanc in New Zealand, I cannot fathom why the Kumeu River wines are not more widely recognised. They are highly rated on many markets but I still don’t think they get the recognition their quality (and great value) deserves.

“Kumeu River wines follow the Burgundy model: estate, village and single-vineyard wines. The estate’s soils are generally heavy, deep clay that cracks in summer, with sandstone way down below. They had always vinified the vineyard lots individually but in 1993 they started bottling Maté’s vineyard separately, adding Coddington (ripest and richest) and Hunting Hill (more floral) to the line up in 2006 – and there are other candidates for single-vineyard bottlings. They have been fermenting with ambient yeast since 1986, making them an excellent subject for Dr Matt Goddard’s research into unique yeast populations (see my notes on Goldie).

“Michael Brajkovich, who is both thoughtful and skilful, has a very particular way with yeast lees for his tank-fermented wines that contributes to the fine texture of the Chardonnay and helps him avoid any problems with excessive reduction or oxidation.”

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Julia Harding MW, June 7, 2013
Kumeu River – an Auckland pearl