Jules Taylor is one of New Zealand’s modern pioneers, producing outstanding wine, fiercely proud of her region, and mentoring the up-and-coming breed of Kiwi winemakers.
This is the fourth year that Gourmet Traveller WINE announces the New Zealand Winemaker of the Year. The first recipient in 2018 was Dom Maxwell (Greystone Wines, North Canterbury), Helen Masters (Ata Rangi, Wairarapa) was the winner in 2019 and last year Jenn Parr (Valli, Central Otago) picked up the top prize. This year’s deserving winner is Jules Taylor of Jules Taylor Wines in Marlborough.
Taylor is a wonderful orator on all things wine, as well as a mentor to many in Aotearoa’s thriving sector. She was born and raised in Marlborough: in fact, she was born in the same year the first sauvignon blanc vines were planted there. Her understanding of the region – its four-plus decades of viticulture and changing wine landscape – along with her winemaking skill set is unique.
‘Sav blanc is a variety that is very versatile ... exciting and vibrant, as well as sexy and understated.’
After graduating from Lincoln University, Taylor headed overseas for a few years to explore winemaking in the Northern Hemisphere – specifically Piedmont and Sicily – followed by a stint closer to home
After returning to New Zealand, Taylor worked her way up to senior winemaker, first at Kim Crawford and then Nobilo Wines, two of the country’s most acclaimed wineries.
In 2001, Taylor and husband George decided to embark on their own wine brand – Jules Taylor Wines. The reason? “Jules left her corporate winemaking career to give her the freedom to make wines the way she thinks they should be made. She only makes one batch of each wine every harvest,” according to her website.
After 20 vintages, it is abundantly clear to all concerned that Taylor is one of Aotearoa’s modern pioneers of wine, crafting outstanding sauvignon blanc, chardonnay, pinot noir, rosé and grüner veltliner.
When she finds some spare time, Taylor likes to cook, garden and jog (with running mate Bruno, a black labrador).
As far as cooking goes, she says the go-to dishes she’s known for are lemon cake and chicken marbella, and she’s a fan of shaved truffles on poached eggs. Her favourite wine and food matching experience? “Risotto bianco with truffles and a glass of Barolo”. When it comes to her own wine, she suggests pairing a 2020 Jules Taylor Sauvignon Blanc with prawns, “bathed in butter and a pinch of salt, then grilled on the barbecue”.
On the subject of white wine, I asked her thoughts on the reputation and perceptions of New Zealand sauvignon blanc, given the increase in plantings and exports of bulk wine.
“I have encountered plenty of Marlborough sauvignon blancs that are prepared to utilise the benefit of our regionality yet are very reticent when it comes to saying who the producer is or the location of bottling,” she says. "I think the initiative of Appellation Marlborough Wine recognises this as our provenance being taken for a ride, and it is a positive step to push back against this trend. I am a purist and I want drinkers of New Zealand wine to trade-up and drink Jules Taylor Wines.”
We also talked about climate change and the impact it is beginning to have on viticulture and wine in New Zealand, especially Marlborough. “Well, it is getting warmer so we have to look to our canopy management first and get the leaf and fruiting zones in perfect balance.” We also talked about regenerative agriculture. “There are many growers moving into that space,” she says. “What’s not to love.”
The respect and mana that Taylor has in the New Zealand community is as much a reflection of the wines she makes as it is the contributions she is making to the country's industry.
“I call Jules the quiet innovator. If I was looking for a common denominator in Jules Taylor’s wines, I would choose both texture and balance – get both right and you have the X-factor,” says judge and fellow Kiwi, Bob Campbell.
“The word I would use for Jules is ‘consistency’. From day one, customers have been able to know and trust that her wines will be consistently good and the style she has developed has stayed true to her place,” says fellow judge Liz Wheadon.
She’s also fiercely parochial, as she explained to me when I interviewed her after her nomination. “I love that in Marlborough winemakers are exploring different styles of sauvignon blanc and showing them off to consumers and wine buyers – especially the ones who don’t give Marlborough sav blanc the credit it deserves. It is a variety that is very versatile, and it can be exciting and vibrant, as well as sexy and understated.”
There’s no question that Taylor loves wine, food, her family and Blenheim, the town she calls home. This wonderful energy flows through into the wines she makes.
We urge you to enjoy the taste, texture, complexity and purity of fruit in the wines from this year’s worthy recipient of our 2021 NZ Winemaker of the Year Award. Congratulations, Jules Taylor.
Photography Courtesy of Jules Taylor Wines.