Mon 01 Sep 2014

Kumeu River – A Family ‘Domaine’


Society New Zealand buyer Sarah Knowles and I arrived in Auckland Friday before last, after a 26-hour flight from London. Within a couple of hours of landing we were sampling some of the greatest chardonnays that New Zealand (if not the entire Southern Hemisphere) has to offer, venturing 15 miles north of the city to the Kumeu River suburb, home to the eponymous winery.

Melba Brajkovich

Melba Brajkovich

Kumeu River is one of the first New Zealand producers with whom The Wine Society worked, and is very much a family affair. The late Maté Brajkovich first planted vines in the area in 1944, and his wife Melba is still at the winery most days, welcoming visitors from around the world and telling the Kumeu story with infectious enthusiasm.

Michael with his homemade 'ear trumpet' used for detecting when the malolactic fermentations start and finish.

Michael with his homemade ‘ear trumpet’ used for detecting when the malolactic fermentations start and finish.

Melba and Maté had four children, and all are closely involved in the business today, in different capacities. Michael is the winemaker, and the first ever Kiwi to be awarded the Master of Wine qualification, back in 1989. He took us on a fascinating tour of the cellar, pipette in hand, treating us to an extensive and very impressive barrel tasting of the 2014 chardonnays.

It was like being in a small Burgundy domaine, sampling wines from different vineyards and from barrels sourced from several different Burgundian coopers. 2014 is one of those rare vintages (in the Kumeu area at least) that produced high-quality grapes in copious quantity. The wines that we tasted had not begun the malolactic fermentation, but the potential was there for all to see, and Michael could barely contain his excitement for the 2014 wines, particularly after the tiny 2013 crop.

Milan Brajkovich, one of Michael’s siblings and the vineyard manager at Kumeu, then took us into a couple of the estate’s most highly regarded vineyards. Maté’s is the original vineyard, and consistently produces the best wines from Kumeu.

Milan Brajkovich with Society buyer Sarah Knowles at the Hunting Hill vineyard

Milan Brajkovich with Society buyer Sarah Knowles at the Hunting Hill vineyard

Members might be interested to know that The Society’s Exhibition New Zealand Chardonnay comes from a small vineyard attached to Maté’s. We are lucky to have exclusive access to this high quality fruit, and at £13.50 the wine represents a genuine bargain, giving a real flavour for the style its big brother, Maté’s. We also paid a visit to the Hunting Hill vineyard which, like all of the family-owned vineyards, is trellised using the lyre system, which ensures that yields are kept under control and air circulation is maximised, thus reducing the incidence of botrytis (rot) in this relatively humid climate.

The vineyard visit over, Sarah and I tasted newly bottled 2012 wines, which are due to be released next year. The entire range of chardonnays showed the classic minerality and crystalline freshness that Kumeu River has made its hallmarks over the past 20 years. A great visit to kick off our visit to the Antipodes.

Tim Sykes
Head of Buying

Categories : New Zealand


  1. Hugh McShane says:

    Sounds a great experience – I hope to repeat it on my trip in November to N.Z.- previous trips to S.Africa and Wine Society producers in France have always been memorable.

  2. Peter Brennan says:

    This is indeed a wonderful estate, which has stayed true to its principles. I wonder whether there was an opportunity to taste Kumeu’s pinot noirs which have so far rather played second fiddle to the chardonnays?

  3. Rupert Jones says:

    If you could find your way to Cloudy Bay and bring back a stock of the Pelorus Brut, that would be very much appreciated – it was the highlight of our all-too-brief tour of NZ wineries last November.

  4. I also had the pleasure in visiting and tasting at Kumeu in mid December before the crop was harvested. Always a privilege to have trodden the soil of the vineyard when one drinks the wine at home. I wait to see if your travels take you to Napier.

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