Kumeu River – Burgundy, a world apart?

Old World. New World. There is a tendency amongst wine writing and wine writers to compare the two in every way they can. Understandable; maybe. The old world remains the known, the new world is perhaps the unknown. The suitability of these comparisons is a debate for another day, another article.

But in the meantime, and for the purposes of these few notes, there is one comparison that I’m going to make; that indeed I should make. The wines of Kumeu River are comparable with top White Burgundy. There, I said it.

Meaning ‘Pulling the Breast’ in Maori, an action used to incite a warring party apparently (I seem to have let my Maori lapse!), Kumeu is a small town to the north of Auckland.  Far (500km+) from the ‘classic’ Kiwi region of Marlborough, it might, at first glance seem to be too northerly to create such elegant, fresh, sophisticated wines. Fortunately for Kumeu, and for all of us, The town benefits from the effects of Pacific ocean and the Tasman sea, bringing the recognisable poise to these wines. The district was initially settled predominantly by immigrants from Croatia’s Dalmatian coast, amongst whom were the Brajkovich family, who, having first arrived in New Zealand in 1937, were able to purchase a small property, importantly with vineyard, in Kumeu in 1944.

To cut a not particularly long story short, Mick, Katé and their son Maté built the estate up, Maté married Melba, and they had four children, who run the estate today. To see the story in slightly more detail, and considerably better written, visit the Kumeu River website.

But what is it that makes the wines from this small estate so wonderfully alluring and charming? What is it that leads to such comparisons with Burgundy? In terms of the structure of the estate, it is, and remains, incredibly family focussed. The four siblings Michael, Marijana, Milan and Paul have been able to build on their parents and grandparents heritage, creating a new world estate which seems almost Burgundian in the importance it places on patrimoine.

And the vineyards? Kumeu River stands out in its single vineyard approach. The wines come from three single vineyards, Coddington, Hunting Hill and Maté’s, all of which maintain their very own personalities, each one full of charisma. This is certainly a terroir driven New World estate.

Kumeu River is reflective of the Old World, and of Burgundy in particular, in many respects. This is not meant to dilute Kumeu’s New Zealandness (probably not a word) but rather to try to help to understand the sheer level of quality coming out of this fantastic estate. The time will come, and should come, where such comparisons are not necessary to demonstrate Kumeu’s excellence. But until that day, if you love White Burgundy, and want something of equal quality at a fraction of the price, then I implore you to give Kumeu River a go. It’s what I (and the majority of the Lay & Wheeler sales team) have done!

Published on 07/11/2014 / By Robbie Toothill