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Conversation with Stuart Devine


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Hello everyone:

I'd like to introduce Stuart Devine of Villa Maria Estate Limited. Stuart has a long career in viticulture and wine management, both from the vineyard perspective as well as the marketing perspective. In his current position as Viticulturalist for Villa Maria Estate, he oversees 30 contracted growers for Villa Maria, assists the growers with day-to-day operations of their vineyards, coordinates the harvest and is part of a Viticulture team that looks at research and technical issues for the company in improving grape growing in the unique cool maritime climate of New Zealand. In his position as USA Sales Manager for Villa Maria, Stuart spends several months of the year travelling throughout the United States overseeing the development of Villa Maria wines with the importer, Vineyard Brands, meeting with the VB sales force and distribution companies in each state that carry Villa Maria wines, and one on one meetings with restaurants and retail outlets for Villa Maria products. This is how I had the pleasure of meeting Stuart, on one of his swings through Philadelphia.

Villa Maria wines has chosen to use Stelvin closures (screwcaps) on all of their wines to eliminate the possibility of corktaint, and to insure that the wines are as the winemakers intended - preserving the freshness and expression of fruit. Stuart taught me the neat trick of how to properly open a screwtop bottle at tableside, so I hope he'll have a chance to explain that to everyone here as well.

Please join me in welcoming Stuart to eGullet and ask any questions you might have related to New Zealand wines, Villa Maria specifically or viticultural practices. He'll be with us until the end of this week and will be checking in to answer your questions all week.

Katie M. Loeb
Booze Muse, Spiritual Advisor

Author: Shake, Stir, Pour:Fresh Homegrown Cocktails

Cheers!
Bartendrix,Intoxicologist, Beverage Consultant, Philadelphia, PA
Captain Liberty of the Good Varietals, Aphrodite of Alcohol

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This is cool because Villa Maria's Sauvignon Blanc is one of my current white wine favorites. Here in B.C. it retails for just under $20.00 cdn.

The one characteristic I really get from the nose is asparagus. I really like it. In the past that would be an insult to a wine does Stuart feel that way? I also get grass and lemon, but really like the asparagus component to the wine.

I am a big fan of the Stelvin closure, it's great for re-closing and returning to the fridge. Can Stuart explain the difference between the Stelvin closing and a regular screw top?

David Cooper

"I'm no friggin genius". Rob Dibble

http://www.starlinebyirion.com/

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I've enjoyed a number of New Zealand SBs and rieslings in recent years, including those by Villa Maria. In fact, looking back on it, a mid-90s Villa Maria SB may have been the first Kiwi wine I ever tried.

Being a huge riesling fan, I've discovered and read about the distinct character that German and Aussie rieslings have. In addition, I've had a number of American rieslings from the NW. I tend to like the German or Pacific NW style of riesling--bigger, fuller-bodied--over the crsiper, drier style found in Australia and California.

I have not had the pleasure of trying more than a few NZ rieslings over the years. Stuart, can you provide a broad characterization of a NZ riesling? How does Villa Maria's compare to other rieslings, in your opinion?

Liam

Eat it, eat it

If it's gettin' cold, reheat it

Have a big dinner, have a light snack

If you don't like it, you can't send it back

Just eat it -- Weird Al Yankovic

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Stuart, welcome--and thank you for answering our questions. For those of us who have not yet been to NZ, can you describe the climate, soils, and terrain? What is your diurnal swing during the growing season? And what, would you say, is the greatest weather threat to NZ vineyards?

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Mary Baker

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Welcome, Stuart. We all look forward to the discussion.

I also want to offer a big THANK YOU to Katie Loeb, who spent a lot of effort to get Stuart to join us for this conversation.

We cannot employ the mind to advantage when we are filled with excessive food and drink - Cicero

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Good morning, everyone:

Here are Stuart's first three replies. They were accidentally sent as messages instead of posted here.

This is cool because Villa Maria's Sauvignon Blanc is one of my current white wine favorites. The one characteristic I really get from the nose is asparagus. I really like it. In the past that would be an insult to a wine does Stuart feel that way? I also get grass and lemon, but really like the asparagus component to the wine.

I am a big fan of the Stelvin closure, it's great for re-closing and returning to the fridge. Can Stuart explain the difference between the Stelvin closing and a regular screw top?

HI

The difference between Stelvin and screw cap is age, screw cap is Stelvin but over the years they have improved it's ability to work as a closure.

The big diference is the Stelvin wad which is what the wine contacts at the top inside of the bottle.

This stops the wine leaking and keeps it air tight.

Now Asparagus? to us Kiwi's that usually means the wine has reach it's time and is starting to go past it's best, unless we are talking about different smells , I like to say more green pepper or cut grass or gooseberry?? STU

I have not had the pleasure of trying more than a few NZ rieslings over the years. Stuart, can you provide a broad characterization of a NZ riesling? How does Villa Maria's compare to other rieslings, in your opinion?

Riesling the worst grape to eat in a vineyard but one of the best to drink in one!

The difference is we are truly maritime so heat units are always lower than places like Aussie and we have very little continental influence like Australia and Germany.

This usualy means Riesling is one of the last to harvest and it some times only beats the last leaves before Autumn.

This allows the grape to increase in intensity with flavour and even out in ripness as it is a big yielder.

There fore care is needed to keep the yields under 6 kilo/vine, some where arround 4 ton/acre.

Flavour is more Lime rather than lemonade (Aussie)? mainly dry finish with a little added residual to bring out the natural pear and peach flavours.

Sorry but what are those red socks in the corner?

Stuart, welcome--and thank you for answering our questions.  For those of us who have not yet been to NZ, can you describe the climate, soils, and terrain?  What is your diurnal swing during the growing season?  And what, would you say, is the greatest weather threat to NZ vineyards?

What a BIG question.

Weather threat is easy.

We are always worried especially during harvest about cyclones as they come from the north/west, the tropics and they are usually vey wet.

They either go down the west coast of NZ or east coast of Australia, so with all our vineyards on the east coast of NZ we are happy when they go the west direction.

This is where our milk industry is based so they enjoy it to some degree also.

These cyclones hit the tip of NZ and go either way and from there we watch them Very carefully if they go east, in 1987 we had 25> inches hit us during vintage!!

We can get up to 10 cyclones per year but they seem to be shared between the two land masses.

Vintage is when we do not want these patterns hitting us. In 2004 this was also the case but they hit in Feb and caused very little damage as March and April were bone dry.

Usually great weather follows these patterns. STU

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Mary Baker

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Congratulations on your commitment to Stelvin. Are you seeing an increase in demand of your products now that more consumers (especially American) are becoming aware of the quality of the wines closed with the Stelvin. Are you noticing a similar trend in European markets towards this acceptance in the same fashion as its beginning to catch on here? By the way I’m very fond of your wines especially for the quality to price ratio. Thank you for spending time with us. -Deidre

P. S. Can you share your trick that Katie refers to? "Stuart taught me the neat trick of how to properly open a screwtop bottle at tableside, so I hope he'll have a chance to explain that to everyone here as well."

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Sorry but what are those red socks in the corner?

----------

Thanks for your reply, Stuart. I'm gonna keep my eyes open for Kiwi rieslings in my new hometown of Madison, Wisconsin.

Those Red Sox? Just a small champion Boston baseball team. But no worries, they're nothing compared to the All Blacks.

Edited for spelling

Edited by liamdc (log)

Liam

Eat it, eat it

If it's gettin' cold, reheat it

Have a big dinner, have a light snack

If you don't like it, you can't send it back

Just eat it -- Weird Al Yankovic

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Greetings Stuart,

Would love to hear your opinion on the future of NZ wines in the States and Europe.

Around which varietals do you think the foreign market willl pivot ?

Thank you.

Andre Suidan

I was taught to finish what I order.

Life taught me to order what I enjoy.

The art of living taught me to take my time and enjoy.

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Stuart:

Since you've made reference to the "maritime" climate in NZ could you clarify exactly what that means in braoder terms for some of the folks here that might not know? And also, can you tell us a bit more about the various microclimates in NZ, which areas are best for which varietals and such so we can be better prepared to decipher the bottle labels next time we're at the wine shop?

Thanks!

Katie M. Loeb
Booze Muse, Spiritual Advisor

Author: Shake, Stir, Pour:Fresh Homegrown Cocktails

Cheers!
Bartendrix,Intoxicologist, Beverage Consultant, Philadelphia, PA
Captain Liberty of the Good Varietals, Aphrodite of Alcohol

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Stuart,

What is the largest geographic and demographic market segment for Villa Maria?

Does the Southern hemisphere's harvest/wine release schedule provide you with any particular advantages or disadvantages compared to your Northern hemisphere competitors?

Cheers

Percy

P.S: Katie, thanks for arranging this session.

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Congratulations on your commitment to Stelvin.  Are you seeing an increase in demand of your products now that more consumers (especially American) are becoming aware of the quality of the wines closed with the Stelvin.  Are you noticing a similar trend in European markets towards this acceptance in the same fashion as its beginning to catch on here?  By the way I’m very fond of your wines especially for the quality to price ratio.  Thank you for spending time with us.  -Deidre

P. S. Can you share your trick that Katie refers to? "Stuart taught me the neat trick of how to properly open a screwtop bottle at tableside, so I hope he'll have a chance to explain that to everyone here as well."

HhI AGAIN

Sales in the USA have gone up and that is not just due to the screw cap, it is due to the company we import through, Vineyarbrands, who are behind this brand plus the quality of the wine and then of cause been talked about a lot due to the screw cap.

Our sales growth has been higher than most so that is great.

"HOW TO OPEN" The screw cap is one cylinder so when it goes on the bottle at bottling time it is placed on the top neck of the bottle.

It then goes into a Stelvin machine which cramps it and makes the indents and creates the 1/3 screw cap and 2/3 neck seal.

So when you first get a bottle you hold the whole screw cap and neck seal and move it slightly and it will move as one, and loosens up, if you move it to hard it will crack the seal and the bottle is now open so do it carefully.

You then hold the bottle in your left hand presenting the label to the customer and with your right hand you grip the bottom 2/3 and not the top 1/3 and turn it into your self anti lockwise,(right tit to left tit) you make sure the label stays directed at the customer and it will take a good turn towards your self to crack the seal completly.

When you bring your hand back the other direction you take your grip off the bottom 2/3rds and use your thumb to screw the top 1/3 half open and then it is only a small twist to take the top 1/3 off.

That was hard work trying to explain that so hope you all understand it?? try a few bottles first!!

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Greetings Stuart,

Would love to hear your opinion on the future of NZ wines in the States and Europe.

Around which varietals do you think the foreign market willl pivot ?

Thank you.

Hi

Varieties out of NZ will still be strongly directed at SB as this is where we have done all our planting but Pinot noir is going to grow in strength but due to the high price of this product it is going to be via restaurants and high end wine shops.

Like the rest of the world, Pinot noir under $20 is usually not that good year in year out, so I think NZ need to be in the $20-$30 and offering quality that is worth $30 plus.

We will make some under $20 but it will be no better than any one elses.

Pinot gris is also a wine that is growing in strength in NZ so keep your eye on that one especially if we can sell it for under $15.

Also Riesling as this is one of the best food wines and as this grows with popularity then we will sell more.

We also do good Merlot and Syrah wines but the price is going to be higher than $20, other wise green flovours appear.

We do one at $13 which is great for the money so go have a look for it.

One of the great things about NZ wine weather it be red or white is the acid and the available fruit, this is to me the big difference and this is what the world markets like as we are so much into drinking and eating as one. You need acidity to go with food and if it does not have fruit it will not blend in with the different styles we are all cooking.

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Stuart:

Since you've made reference to the "maritime" climate in NZ could you clarify exactly what that means in braoder terms for some of the folks here that might not know?  And also, can you tell us a bit more about the various microclimates in NZ, which areas are best for which varietals and such so we can be better prepared to decipher the bottle labels next time we're at the wine shop?

Thanks!

"Maritime"

I need to be carefull here as I always say we are the only true maritime climate in the world and then an Hawaiian will read this and be after me!!

What I mean is we do not have continental influences as you do in this country and in Australia and Europe, these countries they talk about Maritime influences with coastal winds during the morning blabla.

Where in NZ we are an Island an we are 1000 plus miles from anything so maritime is all we have, no Continent is near us that can influence our growing conditions daily.

So the East coast of NZ is where it stays dry as the weastly patterns move the cold southerlies up the Island but the mountain range down the middle takes the snow and the rain an the sea breeze holds in there.

Starting from the north, Hawkes Bay has cool sea breeze arround the coast so SB and Chard grow well here but 30 mile in land is where we grow our reds on 20 yard deep gravels, the sea breeze is usually to weak to lower the temperatures here and the day time temp is kept up, but cool nights due to been inland give us intensity of fruit. Summer ranging from 65-95F mainly 70-85F

Marlborough has two valley's the first and the largets is Cloudy Bay where we grow 80% of our grapes and like HB the sea breeze weakens as it goes in land so we get different styles of SB depending on how far from the coast you are.

Also we have old river beds and here is where we also make use of these conditions to get our best SB on some of the bonest soils, where in the valley's arround the mountains we grow Pinot/Riesling to slow the ripening down as the soils are not so gravelly and cooler nights give us big diurnal levels.

We also grow SB in these areas so as to get different styles.

All these different growing styles give us a better blend at the end of the day and give us some insurance from bad seasons.

Clifford Bay is 30 min to the south and this is a valley that is 1 to 2 miles wide with vineyards planted 200 yards from the coast and then 20 min up the valley vineyards sitting under 3-4000 foot mountains.

Wind is a problem here and this also holds back ripening, hot days and cool nights due to the mountains also creat a difference, so great wine to use as blend as it gives more steely characters.

I hope this helps a little.

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Hello again Stuart, I’m so glad you mentioned the acidity in New Zealand wines. In my experience with the wines of New Zealand they are a great accompaniment to food. In summer I usually find NZ Sauvignon Blancs so refreshing on a hot day by itself, but during the fall and winter they match up well with certain foods. One thing I noticed in NZ Pinot Noir is the acidity when tasted without food however when paired with certain foods the acidity completely mellows out. I often associated NZ Pinot Noirs as a ‘food’ wine as opposed to a ‘sipping’ wine. Do you also feel that this is the case in general with regards to NZ Merlot and NZ Syrah as I have not been exposed to as many of these wines to make an overall statement? Do you think that consumers will be exposed to more of these types of varietals in the near future?

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Q1: Stuart, I see on the web that in 2003, about 76,000 tons were crushed in all of NZ. Does that equal about 4.5 million cases a year? How much of that is available for export?

(I want to be first in line for some of that Cloudy Bay sauvignon blanc.)

Q2: What kind of barrel program does Villa Maria subscribe to?

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Mary Baker

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Stuart, thank you so much for joining us. I work at a Napa-area winery that is making cabs intended for long-term cellaring. The biggest debate I have heard regarding the Stelvin is that there is not enough history in the Stelvin to really guage how it will be for wines that should be stored for twenty or thirdty years. While I can see the benefits of the Stelvin for short-term wines (Sauvignon Blanc, etc.), how do you think the Stelvin will work in the long run? Do you think there will be enough aging potential for cabs using the Stelvin?

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Stuart, welcome--and thank you for answering our questions.  For those of us who have not yet been to NZ, can you describe the climate, soils, and terrain?  What is your diurnal swing during the growing season?  And what, would you say, is the greatest weather threat to NZ vineyards?

Hi sorry I did not finish off your question.

Diurnal swing depends on the area.

In Hawkes Bay we are not looking for a huge one and usually get between 8 and 10, where in Marlborough where we grow Pinot we get 10-13, we even have an area which we are looking into at the mo which has a 14-16 rate.

Rain fall, Gisborne is late 500mm, HB is similar and Marlb is mid 400 up to mid 500mm. 60% fall in the winter as these areas do not get snow on the plans.

Growing degree days are Gisborne late 1400, HB 1400, Marlb 1200and Central Otago 1050. If you go into France it is 1300 to 1400 and California is 1700-2100 so a lot more heat units in California.

Soils, being old river beds 150 years old in HB with some areas being old volcanic run off which is 10,000 years old, top soils a silt and loam with some clay areas.

Also have a type of clay called Papa which is very dry and we have to drill for 200 feet plus to get water, this is in Clifford Bay with river beds on top and fine silt on top of that.

Valley's are mainly silt loam leading down to rivers where we get gravels ranging in density.

Not much limestone, plus different to France anyway.

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Q1:  Stuart, I see on the web that in 2003, about 76,000 tons were crushed in all of NZ.  Does that equal about 4.5 million cases a year?  How much of that is available for export? 

(I want to be first in line for some of that Cloudy Bay sauvignon blanc.)

Q2:  What kind of barrel program does Villa Maria subscribe to?

2004 was 9 mill cases so the up has occured, remember 2003 had a frost, still NZ is the same size as Jacobs Creek!

We used to be 60% drink at home but now that looks like it is going to be arround the other way.

You should look for our VM Clifford Bay as that is one of the best out of NZ only 200 cases come here.

Barrel, the whole lot is done in stainless.

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Stuart, thank you so much for joining us. I work at a Napa-area winery that is making cabs intended for long-term cellaring. The biggest debate I have heard regarding the Stelvin is that there is not enough history in the Stelvin to really guage how it will be for wines that should be stored for twenty or thirdty years. While I can see the benefits of the Stelvin for short-term wines (Sauvignon Blanc, etc.), how do you think the Stelvin will work in the long run? Do you think there will be enough aging potential for cabs using the Stelvin?

Storage and maturity of the wine is anaerobic with oxidization only taking place with the small amount of air that is already in the bottle weather it be cork or Screw cap.

At the moment cork is not giving you that guaranty, so I suppose why should screw cap?

They have been using screw cap since 1971 and the technology has increased since then.

You are right we do not know how long screw cap will last and after 30 or 60 years we may then know but the material it is made of seems to work long term in other uses, aluminium, and also the inner capsule has a polyethylene liner which is the same material we store blood in at hospitals and this has a special tin foil on top of it.

It all comes down to weather you are happy with oxidation occuring in your wine that is uncontroled and this is not good for wine, also TCA, do you want to open that Cab up in 20 years to find it has cork taint? or so oxidized there is no fruit left or the acid is gone with the colour?

Also these cork are sterilized and made inert, how do you think they do that??

At our winery we also have big Cabs which need storage and we use screw cap.

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Hello again Stuart, I’m so glad you mentioned the acidity in New Zealand wines.  In my experience with the wines of New Zealand they are a great accompaniment to food.  In summer I usually find NZ Sauvignon Blancs so refreshing on a hot day by itself, but during the fall and winter they match up well with certain foods.  One thing I noticed in NZ Pinot Noir is the acidity when tasted without food however when paired with certain foods the acidity completely mellows out.  I often associated NZ Pinot Noirs as a ‘food’ wine as opposed to a ‘sipping’ wine.  Do you also feel that this is the case in general with regards to NZ Merlot and NZ Syrah as I have not been exposed to as many of these wines to make an overall statement?  Do you think that consumers will be exposed to more of these types of varietals in the near future?

Acidity

Yes you are so right and yes even our reds have acid levels, our biggest problem in NZ is at harvest making sure we get the acid level down to a balanced number and this some time means having high brix levels and then alcohol in the wine. A good problem as long as you have good ripe fruit.

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Stuart my wife and I had the 2003 and 2004 SB side by side last night. I have to say the 2004 was less intenseky flavoured. Would this be a difference in the vintage, a change in style (the 2004 was more elegant) or bottle variation?

The 2004 was a different vintage with more tropical fruit and not so herbaceous which some like and some do not.

It will also change over the next months as 2004 is still very young. The higher end wines have that length you talk about so try our Cellar selection which is huge.

If anything 2004 was a better vintage with ripe fruit and good yields where 2003 was low yields and a short season due to the frost in Spring but very intence style with ripe fruit also, remember we are maritime and every season is different.

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You should look for our VM Clifford Bay as that is one of the best out of NZ only 200 cases come here.

Barrel, the whole lot is done in stainless.

Now you've done it, you've mentioned Clifford Bay! :shock: Folks, for those of you who have not tried this wine, and think that the pinnacle of Kiwi sauvvie is Cloudy Bay, I implore you to do whatever it takes to try one of the rare bottles that makes it to North America. It's a wowwer, worth the price, which will probably strike you as high. Suppress your frugal superego and buy this wine!

Kriss Reed

Long Beach, CA

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