Once the wine of choice, Cloudy Bay now has some real competition
Whatever HAPPENED to Cloudy Bay? A few years ago the release of the new Cloudy Bay Sauvignon vintage was greeted with excitement amongst wine lovers. After all, this was a wine to celebrate – a taut yet ripe Sauvignon Blanc with real power and none of the austerity that Sancerre can often display. It put New Zealand and the Marlborough region on the international wine map. And it was often so hard to find that every bottle felt extra special – 750ml of alcoholic bragging rights around the dinner table.
In the past couple of years though, the excitement has drained. It is a sign of its decline that I barely noticed the release of the 2012 Sauvignon Blanc before Christmas. More tellingly, it is now a wine you can buy at Tesco but not at Berry Bros & Rudd; at Majestic, but not its upmarket alter-ego Lay & Wheeler, despite the £20 a bottle price tag.
Cloudy Bay Vineyards was established in 1985 by David Hohnen and burst onto the wine scene to huge appreciation. I remember my first bottle in the late 90s when it was already well established. Initially I was sceptical of any wine with a screw top but as soon as I had tasted it, I was bowled over and have not had a duff bottle since.
Perhaps the writing was on the wall, though, 10 years ago when, to everyone’s surprise, Cloudy Bay was acquired by luxury French group, LVMH. Instantly, Cloudy Bay ceased to be a wine; it had become a brand. LVMH is renowned for buying and building world famous luxury brands – it trawls the world looking for them like a neurotic stamp collector before sticking them in its corporate album. But originality and flair often have little room to flourish in its corporate portfolio – one taste of its flagship Moët & Chandon champagne will tell you that.
Around the same time, the winery began to grow and by 2009 the production of its flagship Sauvignon Blanc reached around 100,000 cases. From being sought after, Cloudy Bay was suddenly hard to avoid and served as the favoured tipple at more than a few corporate dos. Around the same time Kevin Judd, the founding winemaker, left to create his own winery, Greywacke.
I am sure that Cloudy Bay makes a great deal of money for its corporate owners, but there are signs it knows its pushed things too far: the production of the 2012 vintage is apparently 25 per cent lower than the ubiquitous 2011.
The winery’s problem now is that there is a great deal more competition nearby. Marlborough has spawned dozens of wineries and many of them have the verve and youthfulness Cloudy Bay now lacks. Greywacke’s wines are receiving rave reviews, too, and one of my favourites, Mike Pateron’s Lay of the Land Sauvignon, has all the body of Cloudy Bay at half the price.
Brands are important, but in the world of wine they will only carry you so far for so long.
THREE TO FOLLOW
One for the weekend
Lay of the Land Sauvignon Blanc 2012 (Naked Wines £9.49)
The 2012 has just come out and is wonderful drinking
One to impress the neighbours
Greywacke Sauvignon 2011 (Majestic £15.99)
Show off your knowledge of New Zealand wineries by serving this and drop Kevin Judd's name
One to tuck away
Cloudy Bay 2012 (31Dover £18.99)
Well, if you must. It is still an impressive wine – and 31Dover seems to be undercutting the market a little