Kumeu River Estate is unequivocally one of the very best wineries in New Zealand, famed for making wines that are widely acknowledged as world class. Their chardonnays are benchmarks of the grape and are the wines upon which their reputation has been established, but they have also introduced other impressive whites from pinot gris and sauvignon blanc, as well as fine pinot noir.
They were pioneers of the New Zealand wine industry, their business built from the ground up by Maté Brajkovich and his family, immigrants from Dalmatia on the Croatian coast who had arrived in New Zealand in 1938. Through hard work in New Zealand’s gum fields, the estate was established with the enterprising purchase in 1944 of a small farm and vineyard not far from Auckland.
In the years that followed the family tended grapes and other crops, and steadily built a reputation for their wines. By the end of the 1970s the brave decision was taken to plant the then new to the island and relatively untried varieties chardonnay and pinot noir, together with some sauvignon blanc, merlot and cabernet franc.
In 1982 Maté’s son Michael (who was to become New Zealand’s first Master of Wine) took up the reins and was joined by his brothers Milan and Paul, all of whom had grown up on the estate. They have transformed the business.
Improvements in viticultural techniques, from drainage to trellising, resulted in better fruit and throughout the 1980s the focus was on quality, with a particular emphasis on the chardonnay wines made in a European tradition of elegance and refinement that have earned such acclaim over the years. That focus has never wavered.
Today, Kumeu River has 30 hectares of their own vineyards in Kumeu and buy in fruit from 10 hectares of vines owned by trusted local growers. The soils here, clay over a sandstone base, retain moisture well so that the vineyards need no irrigation. All grapes are hand harvested and carefully sorted, before being gently pressed as whole bunches to extract the best juice. The chardonnays are barrel fermented with indigenous yeasts and aged on the lees for 11 months in barrel, in the pursuit of restraint and finesse rather than power and weight.
The best sites have been identified over the years and are the source of single-vineyard wines that are the top of the Kumeu tree, peaking with the superb Maté’s Vineyard Chardonnay but very closely followed by wines from the Coddington and Hunting Hill vineyards.
Not ones to rely on their success, the family have now expanded by buying their first vineyard on the east coast of New Zealand’s North Island, with Ray’s Road vineyard in Hawke’s Bay acquired in 2017 from which chardonnay, pinot noir and sauvignon blanc now come. Knowing the Brajkovich family, we can confidently expect great things.
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