After correcting reports that Michael Seresin has sold up his New Zealand winery in Marlborough, Anne Krebiehl MW talks to the celebrated cinematographer and winemaker about what connects the disparate worlds of making films and making wine, what got him into winemaking in the first place, why he chose New Zealand to make wine and Tuscany to live, his Damascene moment with Pinot and then gets treated to a horizontal tasting of all of the new Seresin releases. Krebiehl, remember, is a little partial to a drop of the good Pinot….
Krebiehl hears why Seresin believes Pinot Noir is the most stunning grape and wine in the world and then tastes the Moana Blanc 2010, Mārama Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Chiaroscuro 2012, Rachel Pinot Noir 2013 and Noa Pinot Noir 2012 with full tasting notes.
It’s all about the light…
Michael Seresin was in fine fettle as he took over the St. James’s Room at 67 Pall Mall on Monday night. The wine club had invited members to taste and experience Michael’s wines from Marlborough, New Zealand.
Having read the slightly misreported news that the Seresin winery had been sold I fully expected a valedictory dinner of sorts, but no, Michael Seresin will carry on. Only part of the winery has been sold and one vineyard, Tatou, but Seresin still owns the Raupo Creek and Noa vineyards. Seresin will go on making wine in his winery from these two chief vineyards.
Was he not interested in correcting the headlines of the widely reported sale?
Well, he is not into ‘dementing stuff’, he says, and you realise that the spiky white hair, the black t-shirt under the black linen suit and the horn-rimmed statement glasses are merely the outward signs of a very independent mind.
He is refreshingly outspoken and looks forward to working with his newly hired winemaker, Tamra Kelly-Washington (of Yealands fame): “She’s worked in Italy a lot. She has a lot of rigour – and no testosterone,” Seresin states blankly. The sentence is telling, as this veteran cinematographer’s love and interest for wine began in Tuscany.
Italy is at the very root of everything.
When Seresin left New Zealand as a young cinematographer in 1966 for the very best of European cinema, there was no real wine culture in New Zealand yet. In Tuscany, however, wine blended seamlessly with food, music, art and culture. He loved encountering and was part of a very diverse crowd as a guest of the Stucchi Prinettis at their Badia a Coltibuono estate in Gaiole, Chianti.
People, places, ideas, beauty: Seresin thrives on this kind of interaction. ‘Lateral’ is the term he uses to describe thinking that he admires.
On location for two thirds of the year, Seresin is at home in London and visits Tuscany and New Zealand “occasionally”. But sentiment is still strong; rather dismissively he says that “there is more going on in my village in Tuscany than in New Zealand.”
So while we Europeans fall over ourselves for the undoubted remoteness and unspoilt natural beauty of New Zealand, Seresin craves different things. Yet he chose New Zealand to make his wine – an idea that was born in Italy over a bottle of French red. It was at his good friend (and international wine consultant) Maurizio Castelli’s Italian table that they drank a bottle of Burgundy together.
“Neither of us spoke for a few minutes after that,” Seresin remembers. He also remembers that this was not a grand wine but a modest bottling from the small family domaine Rapet Père et Fils. Pinot Noir had done its magic.
“I don’t really have a palate, and that’s not false modesty,” Seresin confesses, “but that was stunning. Pinot Noir is the most beautiful grape and wine in the world.”
Seresin started looking for land in Italy but then a bottle of Cloudy Bay at Alice Waters’ Chez Panisse restaurant in Berkeley turned his gaze to New Zealand. This is how Seresin Estate was born.
Seresin may not be very present at the winery himself but he definitely sets the tone. Authenticity and his creative input are key – if that comes with some countercultural relish in “industrial Marlborough” all the better.
“I live in Europe,” Seresin says firmly. “The influence is what I drink in Paris, in London, in Munich.” Seresin calls the shots: he told his viticulturist in the 1990s that the vineyards should be converted to organic farming, long before it was mainstream.
By now the estate is farmed biodynamically and Seresin is rightly proud to be one of only two Kiwi estates to have become a member of the very purist biodynamic association Renaissance des Appellations. (The other estate is biodynamic pioneer Millton).
“If you can grow grapes and make wine like that, why not,” Seresin reasons. Right now, he is talking to his team about the soft pruning methods promulgated by the Italian viticultural gurus Simonit & Sirch. Even if the viticulturist and winemaker may sometimes dread picking up the phone, the wines prove that Seresin’s got the right ideas.
His first reaction to the question of a parallel between cinematography and winemaking is a joke: “One makes money, the other doesn’t,” he quips. Then he relents and says that the one thing that unites both is light. “It’s all about the light.”
So what were the wines tasting like Anne?
Moana Blanc 2010 (not currently available in the UK): a honeyed, mature fizz of lovely softness and poise. The honeyed edge becomes ever more pronounced, underlined by brisk freshness on this oak-fermented Pinot/Chardonnay blend.
Mārama Sauvignon Blanc 2014: an exceptionally creamy, floral, fragrant and unusual Sauvignon Blanc. The fruit was spontaneously fermented in used oak where it also underwent malo-lactic fermentation. While this owes more to Graves and Styria stylistically, it is a perfect synthesis of expressive, almost glowingly ripe stone-fruit and the absolute cool-climate nature of Marlborough. The richness of flavour seems to contradict the bracing freshness of the palate but that creates exquisite tension. To say that the aromatics are of heady elderflower and creamy, barely-there vanilla is an understatement.
Chiaroscuro 2012 (the currently available vintage is 2013): This co-fermented blend of equal parts of Riesling, Chardonnay and Pinot Gris is an ongoing project – one of Seresin’s unusual ideas. The nose has the chamomile lift of evolving Riesling and the Pinot Gris scent of ripe russet pear. Chardonnay adds its characteristic texture which, in connection with the Riesling, is almost emollient. Yet the wine is taut, bone-dry, light and slender. It has a way of growing on you with its aromatics and freshness. This has only begun its trajectory and firmly belongs on the table.
Rachel Pinot Noir 2013: The star of the night, singing with bright, spicy and brilliantly tart redcurrant and cranberry. Its lightness of touch and a disarming, spicy, translucent honesty shimmers with every sip. Brisk freshness underpins everything. A hint, perhaps, to allow Kiwi Pinot Noirs more time in the bottle. What a beauty.
Noa Pinot Noir 2012 (2013 vintage just about to be released in the UK): With its nose of smoky hay this was more closed on the night. While Rachel stole the show, Noa presented a savoury, smoky, earthy sense of tart redcurrant and lovely, defining freshness. On a different night, the boot may have been on the other foot. Lovely.