The Art and Science of Wine Making with Jim White, Viticulturist of Cloudy Bay

Founded by Australian David Hohnen in 1985, Cloudy Bay has rapidly become an internationally famous wine brand, mostly for its refined Sauvignon Blanc that has captured hearts of many. BAZAAR catches up with Jim White, viticulturist of Cloudy Bay, during the recent launch of Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc 2017.

Jim White

For someone who isn’t familiar with the term viticulturist, what exactly does your role entail?

A viticulturist is in charge of all the growing of the grapes across all vineyards. That is the first step in the winemaking process, crafting grapes for winemakers to produce better wine. People always ask me how do I know what’s right? There are elements of science, but it’s also about Mother Nature intuition and getting a feel of the season. Reading the weather comes with experience.

What were the challenges this year for the production of the Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc 2017?

To be completely honest, we didn’t have a lot of luck this year! The 2017 vintage was really tough to make. We got off to a good start in the beginning of the season, but the end of the cultivation was a little tricky as there was more rainfall around our harvest period in mid-April. Time is the essence of making good bottles, it’s about striking the right balance in terms of flavour on the nose and palate.

How can you apply these lessons to the next harvest?

With resources such as high technology and state-of-the-art equipment, we are prepared for all eventualities. Our study of the cultivation of grapevine is very comprehensive, we have efficient irrigation systems, drones that monitor the vines and provide information on general vine vigours, weather stations with updates on the weather every ten minutes, and a network of probes to measure soil moisture. All these contribute to ultimately making better wines.

What’s one bottle of wine that has always been memorable to you personally?

When I was studying agriculture in university, I had a lightbulb moment when I was tasting the Mitchelton Cabernet Sauvignon Blanc. I guess you could say that was when I discovered my calling. Coincidentally, my first vineyard job was at the Mitchelton winery in Victoria, New Zealand. Out of curiosity, I recently bought the same vintage again and it was definitely as good as I remembered it to be!

Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc 2017

What is the story of the vintages from Cloudy Bay?

It’s about the purity of flavour and the beautiful layers of aroma. For the bright and loud Sauvignon Blanc, the citrus and stonefruit aromas dominate the palate, and the fresh acidity goes exceptionally well with Thai cuisine. As for the Pinot Noir, it’s a bit more complex. The growing of grapes and winemaking process are tough, but the result is extremely rewarding. It’s silky smooth on the palate, with a mix of red fruits, cherries, blackberries, and other savoury components like mushroom and nutmeg.

In which direction is Cloudy Bay headed towards? Are there plans to move out of just producing Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay wines?

For the time being, we want to get better at what we do. When people say Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir, or even Chardonnay, the first name to come up on their lips should be Cloudy Bay. We’ve recently broke winemaking rules by introducing Te Koko, a new, full-bodied Sauvignon Blanc that is made from wild fermentation and aged in old French oak. We’ve also moved beyond the Marlborough region to introduce Te Wahi Pinot Noir, an exceptionally fine, rich and powerful red wine that will continue to entice the palates of all discerning oenophiles out there!