Dog Point. The greenest New Zealand winery

You could debate as to whether the world would know about New Zealand wine had it not been for Cloudy Bay, but one thing is for certain – if it had not been for Cloudy Bay, there would be no Dog Point either. The phenomenal success of Cloudy Bay was due to the combination of several lucky factors: a novelty and excellent Sauvignon Blanc were coupled with a distinctive, evocative label and a savvy marketing strategy (for years they could maintain the misbelief that it’s a rarity with a waiting list). In the last three decades, marching under the flag of Cloudy Bay, New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc has conquered the world. And its stamina hasn’t diminished: since the millennium New Zealand wine exports have grown on average by 17% per year. Although the wine production of New Zealand is approximately the same as that of Hungary, compared to our €74 million worth of exports, the Kiwis turned over €980 million in exports in 2016.

The birth of Dog Point

Dog Point diverges from Cloudy Bay in 2002. The period marks an end of an era in the history of Cloudy Bay as the winery is purchased by LVMH (Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy) in 2003, which also sees the departure of winery founder David Hohnen. Viticultural manager Ivan Sutherland and chief winemaker James Healy also decide around this time to quit the large company’s treadmill and establish their own winery. Dog Point is a real family enterprise: two husbands, two wives (who also used to work for Cloudy Bay), at the time of the harvest even the accountant and the gardener pull their wellies on. The change didn’t mean that they had to start from scratch as the Sutherlands already had 80 hectares of excellent vines that they had planted back in 1979, the grapes from which they had sold to Cloudy Bay. In 2002, they already vinified the crop of the best parcel by themselves – it was Section 94.
Dog Point’s first vintage that came out on the market in 2004 meant a complete break with the New Zealand success recipe. In one of his statements, James Healey summed up the winery’s aims this way: “We mostly discarded what we had been doing until then and tried to return to what we found as the basis of quality winemaking.” In the name of defiant opposition – while driving the wine merchants to despair – they even excluded the grape variety’s name from the label. Sutherland and Healy are both Burgundy fans and it puts a stamp on their variety selection – alongside the Sauvignon Blanc, they also produce Pinot Noir and Chardonnay – as well as according to the winery’s philosophy: hand harvest, whole bunch pressing, spontaneous fermentation, barrel ageing, no malolactic fermentation, working with a low sulphur level and using cork. Their portfolio consists of four wines, and they only diverge from the above approach in the case of the basic Sauvignon Blanc – it’s made in steel tanks, mainly with cultured yeast and the bottle is closed by screw cap, however, in its style, it still distinctively diverges from the New Zealand mainstream. When Decanter magazine listed the world’s big age-worthy Sauvignon Blancs, Dog Point’s 2013 section 94 finished at the top of the list with 96 points.

 

The terroir

It’s 1,600 kilometres between New Zealand’s northernmost and southernmost points, if we moved the country to the Northern Hemisphere, it would stretch from Paris to North Africa. New Zealand essentially comprises two main islands that are separated by a narrow strip of sea. Grape growing is concentrated in the northern part of the South Island and the southern part of the North Island. The most important wine region is Marlborough in the northern part of the South Island, which accounts for 90 percent of the country’s grape growing.

Marlborough’s climate is cool, sunny and moderately wet. The average temperature of the warmest summer months – which mean January and February there – is three degrees below that of Tokaj, while the average annual rainfall is about identical. However, the number of sunshine hours far exceeds Tokaj’s: in Blenheim the average number is 2,400 hours while in Tokaj, it’s 1,900. Beside the cooler climate, the significant temperature fluctuation also contributes to the Marlborough wines’ crispy freshness and richness in aromas.

The wine region is characterised by the stony, sandy loam soil, which typically has good drainage. The best spots are the ancient river beds where there is pebbly alluvial soil under the lean and thin soil. Dog Point cultivates its vines in such a place.

 

Sustainable farming

According to the latest figures, some 98 percent of New Zealand wineries carry out sustainable farming. At Dog Point, they started the conversion to organic cultivation in 2009. Out of the organic waste that comes from grape growing, they make compost and they leachate for fertiliser. They grow buckwheat and phacelia between the vines to encourage beneficial insects for the biological control of insect pests. During the winter months, 2,500 sheep and 25 cattle are brought onto the property to keep the grass and weeds down, and to add organic matter to the soil. They place a lot of emphasis on protecting the natural environment, and visiting their estate is like walking around a botanical garden. They have been collecting and nurturing New Zealand’s native plants. In acknowledgment of their results in sustainable biodiversity, they won the ‘Prize for the greenest New Zealand winery’ in 2017. 

 

Dog farm and the cabbage tree

The origin of Dog Point’s name takes us back to the first Marlborough settlers who mainly lived from rearing sheep. Due to the lack of fences, keeping the herds together was left to the sheepdogs. Sheepdogs sometimes became lost or wandered off, eventually breeding to form a marauding pack that attacked the same flocks they were meant to be protecting. Over time the settlers were able to remove these wild dogs and the area was named Dog Point. These dogs lived on the tussock and scrub covered southern hills of Dog Point Vineyards. The unique plant on the winery’s label is the iconic New Zealand native plant, the Ti Kouka ‘cabbage’ tree. They grow to a height of 15-20 metres and have long narrow leaves. The cork-like trunk of the cabbage tree is so fire-resistant that early European settlers used it to make chimneys for their huts. Almost every part of it is edible and they used to brew beer from its roots.