Look at the brands to the left. Any of these images immediately makes you think of what their company makes or provides and has a quality factor thrown in. Words you may use to describe Apple could be "computing, professional and expensive", McDonalds are maybe "burgers, unhealthy and inexpensive" and possibly for Ikea "Swedish, functional and stylish". Their logo or name has an immediate influence on what you perceive the producer to be. This is why I think that wine producer Cable Bay, located on Waiheke Island in New Zealand, is missing a trick.
Cable Bay has five vineyards on the island planted with Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Pinot Gris, Viognier, Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon. Notice what is missing? The two grapes that has made New Zealand famous, Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc. Yet four of the five wines I tried from this company were those two grapes, with the grapes sourced from Marlborough and Central Otago. There website says that this is to produce "a complete range of wines", and I can understand that as, like every other business, they need to make money. What I think it does however is dilute the potential individuality that their company could have.
Imagine a company in New Zealand coming out and saying "screw Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir, we make fantastic Cabernet and Syrah and don't need these two over planted varieties." The furore would be huge, the publicity would be even bigger and all of a sudden, one producer would be getting the wine world's attention for daring to do something different in a land stuck in a rut of two grapes.
The quality of these wines would have to be fantastic first and foremost, and affordable second, as if they were producing bland, boring wines or from high priced, artisan producers, this would quickly backfire, but from what I tried today, Cable Bay have the potential to do this. I started my tasting with their conformist wines.
2011 Cable Bay Marlborough Selection Sauvignon Blanc £10
Clean, grassy with a subtlety that is not normally seen in Marlborough. Crisp fruit, the lemon comes through with some subtle hints of lime. A tiny bit of hawthorn flower comes out as well. Fresh and does exactly what it should do, but if you want the 'Marlborough style', this won't be for you. 85pts
2011 Cable Bay Black Label Sauvignon Blanc £13
A little kiwi and passion fruit coming through, some simple fresh fruit and a nice crisp aroma. The palate is a bit bigger, some more of the elderflower and green chilli coming out. A little less appealing to me, but more Marlboroughy. 82pts
2010 Cable Bay Marlborough Selection Pinot Noir £14
Simple cherries and strawberries on the nose, a little wet earth comes through and a touch of spice. The palate is simple, a touch of alcohol up front before red apple skin and a little bit of pepper. Well balanced, crisp and just the slightest touch of alcohol at the end spoils it. 83pts
2010 Cable Bay Central Otago Pinot Noir £20
Boot polish, some menthol, mint and creamy strawberries on the nose. A bit of crisp pepper and apples, with some vegetal elements and spice - a quite big bit of spice. Good liquorice coming through, nice plum skin as well. Not bad - a lot going on 84pts
Then I tried their Five Hills. A blend of Merlot, Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc from their certified sustainable five vineyards on Waiheke Island. The difference in quality was immediately apparent.
2006 Cable Bay Waiheke Island Five Hills £20
Big, dark veggie notes with some unctuous red berry, cherry, damson and then some dark, liquorice and menthol aromas. The palate is lighter than I'd expect, fresh berries, and then green pepper comes through with a vegetal structure, but it doesn't overpower the fruit. The finish is clean, precise and well balanced, nice length with a lovely bright plum fruit meeting a dark savoury flavour. Lovely. 90pts
There is nothing wrong with the Sauvignon Blancs and Pinot Noirs that Cable Bay produce, in fact, I quite liked the subtlety that the Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc showed. However, with these wines in the Cable Bay brand, I just feel the company could be perceived as another brand making everything under the sun, when the quality of their Five Hills deserves more than that.
Cable Bay have a sister brand, named after the winemaker, and if the bought in grapes were produced under that, they would have two strong labels, one offering decent Sauvignon and Pinot and one offering good quality 'other varieties' from their own vineyards with a strong brand presence. I hope someone does it one day.