Two prominent staff members at Cloudy Bay -- one of New Zealand's top Sauvignon Blanc producers and perhaps the best-known in the United States -- are planning to combine their talents to make wine under their own label.
Chief viticulturist Ivan Sutherland and enologist James Healy will make their first wines, from New Zealand's Marlborough region, with this year's upcoming crush. They hope to release three wines -- Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir -- in 2004.
"We had hoped to keep the project quiet until shortly before we released our first wines," said Healy, who was surprised to learn that news of the venture had leaked out. "I am worried that it may look as though we are abandoning Cloudy Bay or that our actions could affect the quality of Cloudy Bay's wines. Nothing could be further from the truth."
Healy will stay at Cloudy Bay for two more years and will be retained as a consultant. Sutherland will remain on the Cloudy Bay board but will give up his position as the company's viticulturist.
Between them, Healy and Sutherland have worked 25 years for Cloudy Bay. Sutherland owns nearly 200 acres of his own vineyards and supplies about 35 percent of Cloudy Bay's grapes, as well as selling to other producers. Healy joined the company as winemaker Kevin Judd's assistant and has gradually assumed a more prominent role as Judd became increasingly involved with marketing and general management.
Healy and Sutherland dreamed of starting their own winery and discussed the possibility with Judd three years ago. When they both turned 50 last year, they decided to turn their dream into reality, with the blessing of Cloudy Bay's directors.
The two have not yet settled on a name for the new winery. "We plan to concentrate on Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and a small amount of barrel-fermented Sauvignon Blanc," said Healy, noting that they are aiming for different wine styles than Cloudy Bay as they don't want to step on their employer's toes. Barrel-fermented Sauvignon Blanc is atypical for New Zealand, and Healy says he is looking for new challenges, hence the strong focus on Pinot Noir. The grapes will be sourced from Sutherland's vineyards (without cutting into Cloudy Bay's production), including a site with 23-year-old vines and more recently planted hillside sites. A total of around 3,000 cases is planned for the first vintage.
Judd claims that the changes will not impact the strength or direction of the winemaking at Cloudy Bay, whose Sauvignon Blancs have made multiple appearances in Wine Spectator's Top 100 lists. "I have been Cloudy Bay's chief winemaker since the first vintage in 1985," Judd said. "We appointed a new winemaker, Eveline Fraser, a year ago. Eveline will be in a good position to pick up the reins when James leaves his full-time position."
Check our recent ratings of Cloudy Bay wines.
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