Red, white and blue: New Zealand has a new grape variety
Brya Ingram / Stuff
Hans and Therese Herzog launched New Zealand’s first Blaufränkisch, a dark-skinned Austrian grape variety.
It’s pronounced ‘Blahw-fran-keesh’, spelled Blaufränkisch, which translates to ‘blue wine of the Franks’ and it’s new to New Zealand.
Swiss winemaker and winemaker Hans Herzog is the one who brought the dark-skinned grape to Marlborough, widely grown 18,000 km away in Austria and Hungary.
Herzog discovered the Austrian varietal by chance in his own garden, after importing a load of Zweigelt vines in 1994.
He realized that of the 100 Zweigelt factories, two were very different.
* Room Review: Hans Herzog Vineyard Cottage is as Marlborough as it gets
* Nature and education help the stars align for Hans Herzog
* The typical Kiwi house of a Swiss couple
His wife Thérèse Herzog says that in the early 1990s, nurserymen did not always know the heritage of their vines and that they were “quite vague about the origin of the plants”.
“Hans is a winemaker by training, and he’s used to a lot of different grape varieties, and he could see the similar but smaller leaves, the loose clusters with smaller berries.
“The rich-tasting grapes budded earlier but ripened later and tasted slightly more peppery…so he kept an eye on them,” she said.
Initially assuming that these two vines were just different clones, Herzog discovered that they were actually Blaufränkisch, a parent varietal of Zweigelt and Saint Laurent, mostly grown in Austria.
A visit by winemaker friends Herzog from Burgenland, a state in eastern Austria and ancestral home of the two grape varieties, confirmed the find.
Herzog began taking scions from these two different vines to graft onto other vines.
The next 15 years were devoted to trials and observations before obtaining a satisfactory harvest to fill a barrel.
Herzog said it was quite difficult to find the right site on their 11-hectare vineyard by the River Wairau for Blaufränkisch.
“It ripens late, so it needs a fairly warm place, but to retain its characteristic coolness you also need some cooling influence. And Marlborough, with its long sunny days but cool nights, provides the perfect match,” he said.
Decades of painstaking work culminated in 2019, when the Herzogs finally hand-picked enough Blaufränkisch to fill two barrels.
The dark red wine was aged 18 months in barrels and a further 18 months in bottle.
Before releasing the wine, the Herzogs requested a DNA test.
The Plant Identification Lab and Foundation Plant Services at the University of California Davies (UDC) have confirmed the identification of Blaufränkisch – the first to be seen in New Zealand.
Only 546 bottles were available from the vintage, priced at $86 each, with tasting notes of “heavenly blueberries, dark cherries mingling with baking spices, peppercorns and chilli dark chocolate,” Herzog said. .