Being labelled a specialist frequently implies that, in producing only a small number of wines, one must surely be producing the best. This belief probably stems from the observation that the great chateaux of Bordeaux and proprietors of Burgundy frequently make only one or two wines. Clearly, over hundreds of years, the people from these regions feel they have found the ultimate combination of 'terroir' and grape variety or varieties for their area. But have they? Maybe they have simply become comfortable with their traditional varieties and they could be making alternative wines that are even better?
Across the borders in Alsace is Olivier Humbrecht, rated by Robert Parker as one of the few truly great winemakers in the world. This man makes literally dozens of wines each year from 6 or 7 varietals in different styles and from different vineyards. Every wine he makes is sought after as a masterpiece. He is not unusual for Alsace (except perhaps in the extraordinary quality), and I can only conclude that in the rest of France they are not adventurous. Maybe in Burgundy they should consider growing Riesling, in Bordeaux Chardonnay…
Of course, in Burgundy, most vineyards make both white and red wines and although both Pinot noir and Chardonnay are the dominant varieties, Aligoté and Pinot beurot (Pinot gris) grapes are also grown and made as wine by a few producers. It is also interesting to note that in years with prevalent botrytis, Burgundians have been known to make (deliberately) sweet Botrytis Chardonnays … Quel horreur! As far as individual producers are concerned, negociants typically make 10 - 20 wines per vintage: Drouhin, for example, make wine from each of their 18 vineyards and buy in yet more to be sold under separate labels. Similarly, Latour have 10 vineyards, and wines in excess of this number, for the same reasons. Progressing on to the more important domaines, readers may be surprised to discover that they too are very well endowed in vineyards and wines just as the negociants are. The important factor for all these producers is not the number of varieties they produce. Each Pinot noir (for example) must still be made with reference to the requirements of the 'terroir' and the public expectations of the label, and many wines from the same domaine will therefore be made quite differently.
Back in New Zealand, if we accept the view that there are only 2 or 3 optimal varietals and styles for each area, what are we going to do without? If Martinborough concentrated on dry Chardonnay and Pinot noir, would we be happy doing without our Pinot gris, our Gewurztraminer selections, our Botrytis Rieslings and Botrytis Chardonnay? Dry River considers its public to be intelligent and curious, and to follow its wines because of their quality and continued ability to surprise and create interest with differences in variety and style.
The perception that 'making fewer wines means that they will be better' seems to be rather more rare in the world of wine that it would first appear. I do agree that if a winemaker cannot give sufficient attention and thought to a wine (both in the vineyard and the winery) the product may not be as good as it could be, but it is not the number of wine styles he or she makes that is necessarily the obstacle to each wine receiving its due. The essence of good winemaking is the same as that for any job well done; having the means, the talent, the time and finally the dedication … Dry River will continue to offer what is different or unusual.