Interview with Brancott Estate Chief Winemaker: Patrick Materman
Like many winemakers, Patrick Materman is a rather humble man that doesn’t put himself in the spotlights as much as his contribution to the wine industry could legitimately allow him to.
As we know, the Marlborough region is at the forefront of the New Zealand wine industry producing about 75% of the country’s grape – and wine – outcome.
Brancott Estate did not only pioneer viticulture in the region, planting the first grapes in Marlborough in 1973 and the first Sauvignon Blanc in 1975, but it has also become the biggest wine producer in the country.
Despite these 40 years of History, Marlborough has only really taken off as a prominent world wine region over the past two decades or so.
Patrick Materman, now Chief Winemaker supervising all of Brancott Estate production, has witnessed it all and played an important role in the success of Marlborough on the international stage, and the impressive development of his winery as well as the overall viticulture in the region.
Materman joined the Pernod-Ricard winery as early as 1990 before the explosion of plantings in Marlborough. He spent the first four years as a cellar hand, then as a trainee winemaker, before becoming assistant winemaker in 1994. He then continued to make his way up to the position of Chief Winemaker.
Acknowledging the success of his wines, he was awarded ‘New Zealand Winemaker of the Year’ by Winestate Magazine 2001.
At Social Vignerons, we love learning about wines from the men responsible for making and refining them day in, day out.
Over a day and plenty of wine tastings at Brancott Estate’s Marlborough Heritage Centre, I have caught up with Winemaker Patrick Materman to hear more about him, his wines, and his region.
Where are you from originally and what brought you to become a winemaker?
Born in Germany to a Dutch father and English mother, I then lived in France until I was four years old, with my family then moving to New Zealand. My father worked as a textile chemist, involved in the dying of fabrics and my mother was a secondary school physics teacher. At age six, I decided I would study horticulture and embarked on growing flowers (perhaps my Dutch father’s influence)!
Studying Horticulture at Massey University, floriculture led to viticulture and then to winemaking.
I’ve been working for Pernod Ricard New Zealand since February 1990 when I started as a cellar hand in Auckland progressing to trainee winemaker, before moving to Marlborough in 1994 as assistant winemaker. Prior to my appointment as Chief Winemaker for Brancott Estate six years ago, I was Marlborough Regional Winemaker for a number of years.
Can you tell us briefly about the History of Brancott Estate in Marlborough – or Montana/Brancott should I say- and how it relates to your own story as a winemaker?
Brancott Estate (formerly Montana) have been innovators right from the word ‘go’; from the decision to plant Marlborough’s first commercial vineyards in 1973, to planting the region’s first Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir in 1975, and launching the first Marlborough Sauvignon Gris on the NZ market. This innovation culture continues, making it an exciting environment to work in.
I’ve loved being involved with pioneering a number of new wine styles for Brancott Estate, including Brancott Estate Flight, Brancott Estate Sauvignon Gris, and Brancott Estate Chosen Rows. I’ve learnt more about Sauvignon Blanc in the last five years than in the twenty years prior, and this is due to the company’s commitment to research and innovation.
I have a love of the land, and coming from a horticulture background I have a fascination with the effect of terroir on wine style. I’m always seeking ways to better understand and highlight Marlborough’s sub-regional differences, as well as the differences between regions.
Can you give us an idea of the vineyard surface areas of Brancott Estate today, and how this translates into percentage of wine production for each grape variety?
Brancott Estate has a significant amount of land within Marlborough. These vineyards span the whole region giving us an amazing fruit resource and the ability to create a diverse range of wine styles.
We also have an important contract grower base across the region, though this is a relatively small percentage of our overall grape intake. Sauvignon Blanc is by far the main variety, with Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, and Sauvignon Gris also important for us.
So out of these vineyards, you produce a large array of different wines, at all price tags and under different brands like Stoneleigh, Tripleblank, or also Deutz for sparkling wines. How is your wine offering structured and what is in short the winemaking philosophy behind each product range?
Our key brands are Brancott Estate and Stoneleigh. Brancott Estate at ‘Classic’ level is a Marlborough blend (fruit sourced from across region). All higher tiers are sub-regional expressions, Southern Valleys (Brancott) for Letter Series and Living Land, and Awatere Valley for some of the Terroir Series range.
Brancott Estate Chosen Rows is a single vineyard expression with all fruit coming off Brancott Vineyard.
Stoneleigh is a Rapaura story, with fruit sourced from the northern side of the Wairau Valley off stony free-draining river bed soils. For Stoneleigh ‘Classic’ and Stoneleigh Wild Valley, the fruit is from the Northern side of the Wairau Valley; for Stoneleigh Latitude from the ‘Golden Mile (Rapaura Road), and Rapaura Series a single vineyard story.
Other brands such as Triplebank (Awatere Valley) and Deutz are more focussed on the New Zealand domestic market.
Your winery is one of the most important in New Zealand, both in terms of vineyard surface area and of production volume. What are the pros and cons of this leadership both from a winemaking and marketing perspective?
Being a pioneer of Marlborough ensured security over some of the region’s best sites. Our plantings are widespread across the region allowing us the ability to craft a wide range of wine styles using vineyard site rather than relying solely on winemaking input to differentiate styles. Our scale allows us to invest in research and to experiment and this gives us a competitive advantage.
From a marketing perspective our scale allows us to invest behind our brands, providing consumer insights which can direct wine style evolution, and also in creating brand awareness in our markets.
The pros far outweigh any cons, any preconceptions about being a large producer being dispelled with the quality and complexity of the portfolio.
Now to Sauvignon Blanc. It is obviously very important to Brancott Estate and Marlborough. New Zealand is now the second biggest producing country for the grape in the world (after France) and has acquired a worldwide leading reputation for Sauvignon Blanc wines. 2 questions here:
- As a winemaker, do you still look at some Old World Sauvignon Blanc wines as points of reference in quality or are you already better than everyone else? If yes, which regions and why?
For ‘Alternative’ Sauvignon Blanc styles such as Brancott Estate Chosen Rows, we do reference some of the benchmark wines from Sancerre, Pouilly-Fumé and Bordeaux. It is largely the textural aspects, complexity and age-worthiness we look at in these wines rather than fruit expression.
For the ‘Classic, fruit-driven’ styles likethe Brancott Estate Sauvignon Blanc we set the global benchmark in Marlborough, and the emphasis is on research work here to further increase this competitive advantage. Although we monitor other Sauvignon Blancs from around the globe, more relevant benchmarking is done against our domestic competitors.
- The table below shows how important the production of Sauvignon Blanc has become in the New World today, and in the Southern Hemisphere in particular. Which countries are your biggest competitors or your biggest threats on world markets?
Julien, there is updated data for this – in 2015 New Zealand had 20,266 Ha of producing Sauvignon Blanc, and there are more hectares coming into full production. Marlborough is the world’s largest Sauvignon Blanc producing region, with France’s production coming from multiple regions.
Can you tell us about the recent innovations in your production like the Organic range, the Flight, or Chosen Rows? What are they and why did they come about?
Brancott Estate Living Land, our organic range was initiated by one of our vineyard managers who wished to explore organic management as a means to better run his vineyard, rather than a marketing led opportunity.
Brancott Estate Flight was a marketing led NPD and crafted based on consumer insights around occasions for lighter in alcohol (and calorie) wine which was naturally made (harvesting earlier in the season), and didn’t compromise on quality.
Brancott Estate Chosen Rows was winemaker-initiated and set to challenge previous price thresholds for selling Sauvignon Blanc, based on the premise that if the wine was complex and age-worthy it command prices equivalent to the great wines of the world. The super-premium Brancott Estate Marlborough Chosen Rows, a complex, age-worthy Sauvignon Blanc sells for $80NZ.
We have also released Brancott Estate Terroir Series Fumé Blanc – showing clear oak impact, and offering a great alternative Sauvignon Blanc style.
Do you see in the above innovations an important part of Brancott Estate’s future?
They are important in terms of technical development and applying learnings across other wines we are making. They also give a halo effect over other wines within our portfolio, demonstrating industry leadership.
We will continue to innovate and push the boundaries of wine styles, and particularly so as we learn more about the vineyard sites we have.
With most land available for viticulture already hosting vines, plantings in Marlborough are going to plateau soon. Is this going to trigger an evolution and affect the way you make wine over the next 10 years?
For supply/demand balance to continue, there is very much a premiumisation strategy. With high land values, the emphasis will need to be on crafting wines which achieve premium price points in markets around the globe. It will be about targeting markets prepared to pay for premium wines, and to ensure that expectations are met at these price points.
And finally, do you think New Zealand wine in general will evolve in the same direction or is Marlborough distinctively more advanced?
There is great opportunity for New Zealand wine in general due to our cool climate and the fruit expression this delivers. The most successful wines will be those most differentiated on the world stage. Though Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc is the country’s most differentiated style (hence its success), there are also great opportunities for Pinot Noir, Syrah and Chardonnay.