Nature In a glass

We talk to Jamie Marfell, the Stoneleigh Winemaker in charge of their new Wild Valley range, about producing products in tune with nature

Stoneleigh’s new Wild Valley range of Marlborough grown wines has taken wine-making back to nature. Made with "wild fermentation", a holistic process using the naturally occurring micro-flora in the Rapaura vineyard, it results in wines that are in-tune with their local environment.

“There is more sitting back and trusting nature to do its work,” says Jamie Marfell, the winemaker in charge of the process. “Commercial yeast is really predictable, you know what flavour profiles you can expect. Using wild micro-flora is much more exciting; year-on-year you don’t know how the taste profile will change.”

Fermenting is the process of adding yeast to grape juice to convert sugar into alcohol. Most modern wines use a single strain of commercially cultivated yeast, with predictable results. Wild cultures are whole populations of yeast that occur naturally in the vineyard – and they’re seasonal, meaning the flavour of the wine will change according to the weather. Using only the fruit picked at optimum ripeness according to the season’s conditions, the flavour will also subtly change according to whether the summer has been wet or dry.

“This unpredictability is more like the traditional wine-making process, before yeast cultures began to be bred for commercial use.”

Jamie and his team had spent some time experimenting with chardonnay and pinot noir, with good results; but using wild fermentation with an aromatic like sauvignon blanc was a bold step.

“People are used to those big fruit flavours; the passion fruit and peach that come through strong,” says Jamie. “But with wild fermentation the flavours aren’t as bold.”

Instead, Wild Valley Sauvignon Blanc is a softer, rounder wine, low in acidity yet rich on the palate.

“It’s a very approachable young wine,” says Jamie. “It’s much less aggressive flavour-wise than people are used to, yet still complex and textured. I’m looking forward to seeing how it ages, but it’s beautiful just as it is.”

Wild Valley wines to try

•  Sauvignon Blanc: Distinctive citrus aroma and a hint of nectarine, with a generous texture and balanced acidity. Great matched to citrus glazed salmon.

•  Pinot Noir: Rich berry aromas with strawberries, raspberries and dark cherry notes. Perfect to pair with barbecued spring lamb or a mushroom risotto.

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