“I don’t know why everyone isn’t organic. I think it’s really simple,” says Claire Allan, winegrower and proprietor at Huia (pron. ‘who ee ah’), located in the Marlborough winegrowing region of New Zealand. “It’s just a simple set of rules that you adhere to.”
Huia (named in honour of a native New Zealand bird, now (possibly) extinct) was established in 1996 by Claire, and her husband Mike, beneath the dramatic slopes of the Richmond Ranges, along the banks of the Wairau River. Their vineyards are certified organic by BioGro, New Zealand’s leading organic certification body, and Huia is apart of the Mana Group of Natural Winegrowers, which is a small collective of like minded Marlborough artisan wine producers growing their wines organically, with as little intervention as possible.
Claire and Mike returned to Marlborough from making wine in South Australia, at the end of 1989, intrigued by some of the wines coming out of the region. Back then, the Marlborough was a fairly unknown entity on the world wine stage, but, those who were fortunate enough to have this youthful regions’ wines thrust underneath their noses, were greeted with that distinct and unmistakeable zip of lemons and lime, green ant freshness, otherwise known as pyrazine.
“We were brought back (to Marlborough) by the flavours in the wines from the likes of Stoneleigh and Cloudy Bay,” explains Claire, “It was pretty interesting stuff.”
It’s the soils around Marlborough that give the wines their unique quality and flavour and their own sense of place. Huia owns and manages two separate vineyard sites. One is on the property they live on, in the Raparua region of the Wairau Valley, and the other is located across town, in the Lower Dashwood region of the Awatere Valley. They also buy some pinot noir from certified organic growers near the Southern Valley region of Marlborough.
“The flavours from the different areas are quite extreme,” explains Claire. “The Wairau side of the valley is all river terrace with multiple varieties of soils, mainly rocks, with very little earth, through to silt, sand and clay. This is where much of the tropical fruit characteristics from the Marlborough come from.” “Further, towards the sea,” continues Claire ,”where our Dashwood vineyard is, there’s more of an elderflower character that comes through.”
This huge variance in soil types makes for incredibly uneven vineyards at Huia, and throughout Marlborough, which can make them quite difficult to manage. However, the climate is nearly perfect for organic viticulture, with it’s low annual rainfall, and large diurnal temperature range.
“When we started Huia, we started off trying to be organic, but there was not a lot of information about it… so, you had to have a bit of courage,” says Claire, “but certification of organics, in it’s purest form, is just complying to certain protocols.”
In simple terms, organic farming is more about what not to do (spray with synthetic agrochemicals), where as biodynamics actively encourages inputs onto your farm or vineyard which have been prepared from organic raw materials. Huia is certified organic, but they do practice biodynamics as well.
“For me, organics is one thing,” says Claire, “but it’s not enough, so we do a whole lot of BD anyway… I just regard it as all being organic… Our vineyards are just lovely,” continues Claire, “there’s an atmosphere in them that includes all the beneficial insects, which is lovely, and we only want to make them healthier and more interesting.”
Making compost and various forms of compost teas, as well as using Preparation 500 (cow horn) and 501 (quartz silica) to spray out over the vineyards, keeps the vines healthy and is enough proof for Claire to know that it is the right way to grow.
“I hate dogma,” says Claire, “I have to use my intellect and I have to see a logical reason behind things, which is why I can’t subscribe to the more esoteric aspects of BD.”
Apart from the various preparations that are used in biodynamics, which are full of practical bacterial and microbiological life to stimulate growth and promote soil fertility, there is the more ethereal and philosophical aspects to biodynamics, such as recognising the interconnectedness of earth bound plant growth with the movements of the planets, and rhythms of the cosmos. Understandably, this can be hard to understand at first glance, and is usually the first thing to be dismissed by some sceptics.
“The era that Steiner lived in, there was a wave of interest in fairy folk and things like that,” explains Claire, “but everyone has a personal choice, and I’m quite happy with the natural world, and feeding it with good things.”
“I care about what goes into my body, and into everybody’s body, and what’s going into the world,” says Claire, “and, sometimes, you can feel defeated because you’re just a small cog in the machine, but, ultimately, you have to live with yourself, and that’s why we want Huia to be organic, and try to make the best wines we can.”
D// – The Wine Idealist
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During my visit to Huia in March 2014, Claire and I tasted through their range of wines, including their second label, Hunky Dory. They were all very different and distinct to the scenery around us, and here are some of my tasting notes from just a couple of wines that stood out to me.
– Huia Brut, 2009 – Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, traditional method – I don’t tend to make a big fuss over sparkling wines, in the same way I don’t fuss over sparkling mineral water, but this I could fuss and fawn over all night long. This sparkling wine pulses with an energy that comes in waves. Delicate beads of CO2 take flight within the glass as they float to the surface in cycles, carrying with them a vitality that really only comes from clean, quality fruit. A fragile whiff of vanilla and strawberries seduce my primal senses and then lemon shortbread instantly comes to mind, due to the malo ferment and stirred lees contact as it slooshes around my mouth. A teasing finish lingers for a while until I got the message… sparkling wines are good, OK!
– Huia Gewurztraminer, 2010 – In my humble opinion, Marlborough aromatics are the future. There’s something pleasant about raising your nose’s hopes to the sugary expectations of a sweet smelling aromatic white. Something that smells of lychees dripping with rose coloured toffee, and then having those expectations dashed as a cool slick of sliced pears dusted with ginger and musk texturise across your tongue, sending your senses flailing in the best possible way.