It was a perfect Marlborough morning at The Bell Tower. The coffee was fresh and strong, the muffins still warm and the view over the Wairau plain enhanced by the vivid colour of the spring growth. Our hosts at Dog Point Vineyard couldn't have done better with a direct line to the weather gods. This ‘meet and greet' began a day celebrating a Decade of Dog Point Vineyard, a milestone for the Dog Point team and an ideal opportunity to showcase the company's vineyards and wines. Dog Point Vineyard founders, Ivan and Margaret Sutherland and James and Wendy Healy, have created a very special brand admired internationally. It all began while Ivan and James hit their grape-growing straps working for Cloudy Bay; Ivan as senior viticulturist and James as oenologist. The two often discussed having their own brand and when they both turned 50, decided it was time to put their ideas into action. The first vintage of Dog Point wines took place in 2002 utilising the pressing facilities at Cloudy Bay. Two years later Dog Point's own winery was up and running, and the journey towards the 10-year milestone began. The Dog Point Vineyard portfolio isn't large, consisting of wines made from sauvignon blanc (two styles), chardonnay and pinot noir. This is in keeping with a philosophy of making regionally distinctive wines displaying a point of difference that also age well. Our tour of the Dog Point vineyards highlighted exacting viticultural methods and some individual charm. At Yarrum (Murray spelt backwards - and yes, there's a story attached) viticulturist Nigel Sowman commented on the pleasure he derived from working in such an intricate setting with the hills, beautiful trees - and excellent clay soils. Further over in Section 94 there's a stand of attractive trees Ivan and James wanted to keep but, as these stopped essential air flow during frosty spring conditions, frost fans were installed - ones that can be folded down so the beauty of the site is maintained. The vineyards are all undergoing conversion to organics, a task made easier by the strict adherence to limiting tonnage to no more than 8 tonnes a hectare. There's 210ha fully certified with "a few hectares to go". Boutique is a word that honestly applies to Dog Point Vineyard. It is individual, able to forge its own path and accommodate the personal preferences of its owners. The team of 24 includes two gardeners and, among other duties, they look after the attractive stands of native trees and shrubs that enhance the vineyards and streamside.
The Dog Point team were in town on November 4, to show off a decade of their wines in the airy high-ceilings-and-chandeliers elegance of the rooms above Ognisko in South Kensington. It was a fitting setting for wines that have a lift and luminosity of their own, and which, just 10 years on from the year in which Dog Point released its first wines, and the founders devoted themselves to the new venture full time, already feel like modern classics.
Dog Point is situated in Marlborough, on the tip of New Zealand’s South Island. Once Dog Point was the name given by early European settlers to the rough patch of land where stray dogs gathered, forming an unruly pack. Now it is both a wine label and a vineyard, set up by Ivan and Margaret Sutherland and James and Wendy Healy, after James and Ivan met working at Cloudy Bay, and it’s to Dog Point (or Greywacke, run by another Cloudy Bay escapee, Kevin Judd), rather than Cloudy Bay, that those in the know would go for an upmarket sauvignon blanc fix.
And yes, as you might expect from a Marlborough winery, sauvignon is the main focus here; the grape accounts for about 60 per cent of Dog Point’s production. But there are four wines altogether, and if you haven’t tried any of them yet then you’re missing out.