Auckland is one of New Zealand's smallest wine regions today (the 8th out of the country's 10 wine producing areas), so it's easy to forget that the seeds of modern Kiwi wine were planted here by Dalmatians. And many of their descendents are still heavily involved in wine production, management, marketing and exports today. On our latest staff education trip, retail staff from both Regional Wines & Spirits and the Hamilton Beer & Wine Company were able to learn first hand about the history and modern winemaking at Babich Wines and Kumeu River Wines.
West Auckland is home to both of these iconic wineries.
Regional has a range of Babich and Kumeu River wines in store.
First stop... Kumeu River Wines, Kumeu
Begun in 1944 by Maté Brajkovich and his father Mick, who had emigrated from Croatia. The family had experience tending vines and making their own wine at home in Croatia and after working in the Kauri gumfields in Northland, they moved to West Auckland where they worked in local vineyards and orchards, purchasing their own land in Kumeu in 1944. In 1957, Maté met Melba, they got married and not only ran their winery, called San Marino in its early days, but they also had four children, all of whom now run Kumeu River Wines today.
Their eldest son Michael studied winemaking at Roseworthy in South Australia where he was Dux of his year and in 1989 he became New Zealand’s first Master of Wine. The family have spear headed high quality Chardonnay from Kumeu River since the mid 1980s and always made from West Auckland grown grapes, the vast majority of which are company owned and tended.
In 2018 they bought a vineyard off Trinity Hill in Hawke’s Bay, which is extending their range of Chardonnays and also a Pinot Noir.
The other family members running the winery today are Michael's siblings; Milan an engineer who looks after the vineyards; Paul who studied commerce at the University of Auckland and looks after marketing and their sister, Marijana, who works at the winery and manages much of the business.
They now export about 50% of production.
• 100% hand harvested fruit
• All Chardonnays have time in lees
• All wild yeast fermented
2019 Kumeu Village Chardonnay
Best vintage of the past 30 years. This wine is a blend of Kumeu grown fruit and Hawke’s Bay fruit which comes from the Dartmoor Valley from a grower they’ve been buying from. They made this change in 2015 due to a heavy frost which decimated most of their fruit that vintage.
The wine is 80% tank fermented, 20% older barrels, but not about oak. It’s all about liveliness crisp refreshing wine to drink.
2019 Kumeu Roy’s Road Hawke’s Bay Chardonnay
From a 30 hectare vineyard in Hawke’s Bay which KRW has now purchased. It is 180 metres above sea level on limestone. A property they are excited about. Fermented with some oak and a portion of tank ferment. Crisp, Chablis like wine with richness and freshness.
2019 Kumeu Estate Chardonnay
This wine was the first Chardonnay the family ever made and it was later supplemented with the single vineyard wines. Made from about six different sites around Kumeu. All French oak, hand harvested, whole bunch fermented
In 2006, the Coddington and Hunting Hill single vineyard Chardonnays were launched as separate wines instead of having the fruit blended into the Estate Chardonnay.
2019 Kumeu Coddington Chardonnay
North facing vineyard on heavy clay, leased by the Brajkovich family for another three years. Produces a riper style of Chardonnay with rich flavours and a full body. Bigger than the Kumeu Estate Chardonnay in style and with a flinty undertone.
2019 Kumeu Hunting Hill Chardonnay
Flinty, lime and lemon flavours with zesty fresh style made from a site the family owns. This wine impressed the author of this story the most with its high acidity beautifully balanced by a full body and lingering finish. A great wine now and to age.
2019 Kumeu Mate’s Vineyard Chardonnay
Made from grapes grown on the original site that Maté bought in Kumeu and was completely uprooted in the 1970s. Maté passed away in 1992 and the plan was originally to vinify the grapes in this wine as part of the Estate Chardonnay but the first harvest showed significantly different flavours so they decided to make a separate wine in honour of Maté.
2014 Kumeu Mate’s Vineyard Chardonnay
Deliciously refreshing and crisp with great acidity and brightness.
2013 Kumeu River Hunting Hill Chardonnay
Pale lemon, fresh, brilliant wine – star of the entire line up.
2006 Kumeu River Mate’s Vineyard Chardonnay
Fading slightly, showing age in colour, aroma and taste but retains clean fresh qualities.
2018 Kumeu River Pinot Noir Hawke’s Bay
From Roy’s Vineyard, the first vintage and will soon by followed up by the 2019 Pinot Noir. Light colour and flavour has a vibrant freshness. Good quality.
All Hawke’s Bay grapes are trucked up for complete vinification at Kumeu River Wines.
Next stop was Babich Wines on Babich Road in the Waitakere Ranges. We were given a great history of this fascinating winery by David Babich, general manager and third generation family member.
David shared the incredibly interesting history of his grandfather, Josip Babich, who left Dalmatia (now Croatia) in 1910, never to see his parents again. Their sacrifice in sending all their sons to New Zealand meant that their children had a better life than the poverty stricken one they grew up with.
Josip landed in New Zealand as a 16 year old with nothing but the rucksack on his back. His brothers later joined him and together they planted the vines that grew to become Babich Wines today; one of the country's oldest continuous wine brands, which began in the Waitakere Ranges and now produces the bulk of its production from grapes grown in Marlborough and Hawke's Bay.
The story of this family and their tenacious grandfather was inspiring and humbling to our team, who treasured the time and the history we all learnt from David Babich.
Babich Wines is...
• Based in the Waitakere Ranges
• Replanting the home vineyard with Albarino which suits rainy conditions
• Seeing growth in vegan and organic wines in their international markets
• Export 93% of production
• Have been making some certified organic wine for 10 years now
• Currently converting two more vineyards to organic certification
• No longer make any wines from Auckland grapes but may produce an Albarino
• All the vinification for the Marlborough wines takes place at the family’s winery there but maturation happens in Auckland, where there is a larger barrel facility.
2019 Babich Marlborough Albarino – certified organic
This is an incredibly characterful wine with fresh acidity, 100% stainless ferment with indigenous yeast and no oak in the production. Succulent and dry style with fresh acidity. A great white with dryness and fleshy flavours.
2017 Babich Marlborough Chardonnay – certified organic
Very citrusy, dry, full bodied Chardonnay fermented with indigenous yeast. Lees stirring adds fullness to the palate and malolactic fermentation softens the wine.
2018 Babich Irongate Chardonnay Gimblett Gravels
One of the pioneer wineries to make wine from the Gimblett Gravels, known as Gimblett Road when they planted grapes there in 1982 and made their first wines in 1984, then in 1985 made the first Irongate Chardonnay. Full barrel ferment. Ages well thanks to its firm acidity.
This wine has been a trend setter from its inception; both for its vineyard source from stony soils and for its barrel ferment characters. It triggered a groundswell of full bells and whistles oaky barrel fermented Chardonnays, due to its early success as a winner at the country’s National Wine Awards. The winemaker was Joe Babich.
2019 Babich Winemaker’s Reserve Cowslip Valley Pinot Noir
Made from a relatively high altitude vineyard with fewer growing degree days than most of Marlborough. Crop manage to intensify flavours. Hand harvest, open top fermentation and oak matured for 10 months. The Cowslip Valley is part of the Waihopai Valley. Great commanding wine
2015 Babich Patriarch
Cabernet 51% Merlot 27% Malbec 22%
Low crops, open top fermenters, pressed into oak for between 12-18 months, depending on the vintage, 40% new oak. Tends to be Cabernet dominant.
Beautiful wine but so youthful - a keeper.