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Blanc slate

Pioneering a new wave of sauvignon blanc in Marlborough, New Zealand.

Blanc slate

It was love at first sight for Jean-Marie Bourgeois when he saw Marlborough reports MiNDFOOD.

Blanc slate

Some people naturally stand out from the crowd. Take Jean-Marie Bourgeois, for example. The 10th-generation winemaker and owner of Henri Bourgeois winery in Sancerre, Loire Valley, is a charming, dapper Frenchman whose enthusiasm is infectious.

Intolerant of ignorance, he says he can’t stand French people who talk up their own wine without having tasted comparative wines from further afield.

Ever since sauvignon blanc has been produced to critical acclaim outside France, Bourgeois has wanted a slice of the action. “Forever I longed to make wine outside of Sancerre,” he enthused to a small group of wine-lovers on a visit to New Zealand this year.

It’s not his first visit Down Under. That was in 2000 when his New Zealand importer and distributor, Jean-Christophe Poizat, suggested that Bourgeois and his family fly to Marlborough for a holiday. The rest, as they say, is history.

Bourgeois says it was love at first sight. He was so smitten with Marlborough on his trip in 2000 that he “just knew” he had to buy 98ha there, plant grapes and make his own Marlborough sauvignon blanc and pinot noir.

Five vintages into his New Zealand winemaking journey (his first Kiwi wines, Clos Henri, were made in 2003), Bourgeois explains he was attracted to this country because of its virgin soils, the freedom from French winemaking rules and the blank slate that Marlborough offered him.

Those French winemaking rules from which Bourgeois was free included using only permitted grape varieties and adhering to strict yields per hectare and to water restrictions. Not that he doesn’t adhere to those stringent measures when he’s home.

Bourgeois and his family own one of the largest and highest quality wineries in Sancerre. Their range of sauvignon blancs is adventurous, including several with “minimal intervention”. (Maison Vauron wine store in Newmarket, Auckland, stocks them.)

Bourgeois is now quietly ambitious about conquering new sauvignon blanc horizons.

If successful, he will harness a fan club of white-wine-lovers who enjoy his Marlborough sauvignon blancs for their adventurously subtle flavours. These are wines that play hard to get in the glass rather than overwhelm you with fruitiness.

It’s not only the French who succumb to overzealous self-appreciation, I remind Bourgeois. Some New Zealand winemakers are good at rating their own wines highly without always having tried their international counterparts. He suggests, ever so quietly, that we all need to get out more.

Clos Henri wines are available from specialist wine stores. For more information go to and


As if champagne wasn’t a victim of its own success already, prices for the world’s poshest fizz are set to rise. Champagne accounts for just 1 per cent of wine consumed worldwide each year, but demand now outstrips supply. So much so that the tightly controlled boundaries of the Champagne region in France are to be extended.

This will allow champagne-makers to plant more grapes and, ultimately, make more bubblies. It won’t happen overnight, said Christian Pol-Roger of Champagne Pol Roger. On his annual visit to New Zealand this year, he said geologists, historians and winemakers were all in heavy consultation about extending the Champagne region’s boundaries.

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