Never one to shy away from experimentation, Nicholas Brown has an uncanny knack for creating wines that not only speak to the site, but also of the man.
You’re only as good as the grapes that you grow and they’re only as good as the place that they come from,” says Nicholas Brown. His dedication to Black Estate’s three Omihi vineyards over the past 12 years has resulted not only in some of the most compelling single-vineyard wines from Waipara, but the whole of New Zealand.
This achievement is grounded in his thoughtful and sensitive approach to winemaking and grape-growing. “I love following the seasons, and the way the vine is connected to that rhythm of nature. I think that’s what drew me to [winemaking]. I really love getting inspiration from nature.”
Brown’s interest in nature manifested early, with a degree in botany. But it was chance early jobs in wine that drew him into winemaking, which he went on to explore through cellar hand positions from a large Marlborough winery, to Isole e Olena in Chianti Classico and Napa Valley’s Opus One. By 2004 he was studying viticulture and oenology, followed by work for Waipara luminary, Daniel Schuster. Then in 2007, with wife Pen Naish and her family, he took over Black Estate, with its well-established 8ha vineyard.
One of the early projects was extending its Home Vineyard, adding rare local plantings of chenin blanc and cabernet franc. He was convinced they would be compatible with Waipara’s soils and climate, and was proved right, inspiring others in the region to try the variety. Black Estate has acquired two further old vineyards – Damsteep and Netherwood. The three sites are certified organic and Brown is working towards biodynamic certification.
Trying something different has characterised Brown’s approach. From making all Black Estate’s wines with yeasts propagated in the vineyard to using clay tinajas, he produces some deeply interesting wines. Serious single-vineyard pinot noirs, chardonnays and a riesling have recently been joined by light-hearted pét-nats and red and white rosé blends. He’s also producing more wines without sulphur, including the new additive-free Wildlife range.
“I won’t force a style on each of the wines, as it’s about it expressing where it’s from, which is why we removed additives,” explains Brown. “We don’t want to be adding things from other parts of the world that have got nothing to do with Omihi. And when you start to reduce the inputs you can look really closely at the ones you keep, such as the yeasts. ”
It’s a process of continuous improvement for Brown, who is working to further refine his soil and vine health. The fact that there’s a lot of work still to do excites him.
Text by Dr Jo Burzynska
Photography courtesy of Black Estate.
REGION | North Canterbury
YEARS IN INDUSTRY | 21
STANDOUT WINES | 2019 Netherwood Pinot Noir, 2019 Home Cabernet Franc