More than 20 years ago Ross and Barbara Lawson planted their first Gewürztraminer grapes on the original Lawson’s Dry Hill Vineyards. From contract growers through the 80’s they launched their own wine brand Lawson’s Dry Hills in 1992. In 1995 they met current owner and shareholder Tim Evill and started buying up vineyards around the area. Now more than 20 years on the winery has expanded to include vineyards in the Wairau, Waihopai, Omaka and Awatere Valleys with a full range of wines including Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir and their famous Gewürztraminer.
The middle of last year saw the start of many significant changes for the Lawson’s Dry Hills brand, the change of ownership for the company being at the forefront of this change. Barbara Lawson and her children made the decision to sell their shares to fellow share holder Tim Evill, with 3 senior Lawson’s Dry Hills staff also taking an opportunity to invest in the brand. Tim & wife Pauline are firmly at the helm of the company. The General Manager, Sion Barnsley, Head Wine Maker, Marcus Wright and Sales & Marketing Manager Derek Lilley are all engaged in the business and work locally at this Marlborough based business.
The ownership change has been the catalyst for embarking on a process of rebranding their core range. With Tim’s background in advertising (international advertising agency roles with DDB, Creative Director for Singapore Airlines, Brand Strategist for Mercedes Benz Asia), Sion’s background in the banking industry, Marcus’s international experience in award winning wine making and Derek’s wine industry sales and marketing experience with both multinationals and family owned wine businesses on both sides of the Tasman, the future looks extremely positive with the new branding just starting to roll out into the market. “The relaunch of our brand and packaging respects our past and presents a new modern feel” say’s Derek. With some products already being introduced to the market like the 2015 Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Rose & Pinot Gris; understated, stylish and tasteful, the new branding is the perfect match to an outstanding stable of wines.
Variations in the soils and microclimates in these Marlborough valleys serve up quite different characteristics in the grapes which allows many options when it comes to blending them , but, as it states on their website, it is the dedicated team and their ‘hands on’ approach that makes their wines outstanding:
‘Almost every vineyard in the world will tell you that their wine is special because it embodies the nobleness of the land from which it came. But great wine is made by people. People who use their skill, experience and passion to create something amazing from the raw materials of nature’
They are a dedicated bunch too, pouring their passion into the viticulture and wine making process that has produced more gold medals than you can imagine.
We have lost count of all our gold medals – the certificates cover the walls in our cellar door while the shelves are buckling with the weight of all our trophies – both local and overseas
As marketing manager Derek Lilley points out, they are able to make great wines because they don’t look to main stream. One of only a few wine companies in the Marlborough area still privately owned they are a relatively small producer. Unlike many Marlborough brands Lawson’s are still locally owned and operated, which is refreshing when often you go to many outlets locally and internationally and try and find a New Zealand wine not owned by a large corporate under foreign ownership. Without shareholders hammering them for bigger and bigger profits and the need to create massive volumes for the mainstream, winemakers Marcus Wright and Rebecca Wiffen with viticulturist Mark Ludemann can focus instead on producing premium wines to a more sophisticated market.
LDH prefers to focus in retail, on premise, corporates and higher end grocery outlets, says Derek. Grocery venues like Farro Fresh, Nosh, some New World’s, Fresh Choice & Moore Wilson, retailers such as Glengarrys, Vino Fino, First Glass and other fine wine outlets with many restaurants, hotels and high end luxury lodges all supporting the brand.
Producing smaller volumes by cropping at lower levels allows Lawson’s Dry Hills to focus on the quality which is key to their success in achieving so many wine awards over the years.
“Consistency of climate and vineyards plays a big part. We have great vineyard sites which we have worked with for many years. This has allowed us to figure out how to get the best from each block. And of course the sun always shines and the climate is amazingly consistent from year to year. And if we have the vineyards right it is just a matter of attention to detail through the harvest and winemaking process. An over-arching vision of what we are trying to achieve is also critical.” says Marcus Wright.
The Lawson’s Dry Hills Gewürztraminer is the most highly regarded in this LDH stable. Being the first grapes planted in their original vineyard and delivering a multitude of awards over the years this wine has people travelling from all ends of the globe to the LDH Cellar door to get a sample of their famous Gewürztraminer.
The Pioneers Block – a label dedicated to the late Ross Lawson – a tribute to his pioneering spirit (Lawson’s were the first winery in New Zealand to introduce screw tops across their entire range back in 2001 – now a main stay of the industry) produces an outstanding Gewürztraminer. This is a late harvest Gewürztraminer’ “less floral and more musky” says Marcus Wright – chief wine maker at Lawson’s. Recent accolades include Lawson’s Dry Hills Gewürztraminer 2014 winning PURE ELITE GOLD in the Air New Zealand wine awards and SILVER in the International Wine Challenge in London. The wine is beautifully scented with rose, ginger, citrus and much more. The palate is rich and round with hints of honey providing a sliver of sweetness that makes it appear to melt in your mouth. They recommend cellaring this for eight to ten years to bring out more of the honey, musk and toasty flavours in this wine.
We are always striving and pushing for improvement but this is a patience game and gains are incremental. – Marcus Wright, Wine Maker.
But the results don’t stop there, like any good Marlborough winery, the list wouldn’t be complete without a great Sauvignon Blanc. The Lawson’s Dry Hills Sauvignon Blanc 2015 certainly hits the mark. It’s been awarded 3 GOLD medals including the Royal Easter Wine Show 2016, The Marlborough Wine Show and International Aromatics Wine Show plus SILVER in the International Wine Challenge in London and the Air New Zealand Wine Awards. Brandishing the new label, this wine delivers the passionfruit, lime and fragrant lemon grass aromas we have come to expect from a perfect Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc. The palate doesn’t disappoint ‘crisp and focussed with a juicy texture’.
The Lawson’s Dry Hills Chardonnay is another one of their range to recently take on their new label. It ticks all the boxes and is a delightful Chardonnay, well balanced with a creamy finish and lovely citrus and stone fruits characteristics. Malolactic fermentation has kept the acidity in check while still retaining a crisp dry finish.
With the harvest season upon us – what can we expect from the current vintage and when will this be on sale?
“Expectations for 2016 are for more of the same. We are always striving and pushing for improvement but this is a patience game and gains are incremental. So more of the same and hopefully just that slightly little bit better. First wines from 2016 will be on the shelf just before Christmas. These wines don’t benefit from being rushed through the winemaking process. Patience through the winemaking process is rewarded with wines of character and texture.” Says Marcus Wright.
It’s not just their white wines that are getting all the attention either. Marlborough has a growing reputation for producing some of our finest Pinot Noirs. With quite different characteristics from their cousins further south, these wines are now gaining international acclaim. The Lawson’s Dry Hills Reserve Pinot Noir 2013 is no exception. The hero of their range, this wine has taken out GOLD MEDALS in both the Marlborough Wine Show and the Air New Zealand Wine Awards, CHAMPION PINOT NOIR (Classic Oak Products) in the Marlborough Wines Show, SILVER in the Decanter Wold Wine Awards. As if the wine needed anymore acclaim, Air New Zealand has chosen this Pinot Noir to serve as a part of their business class pouring programme. And all well-deserved too, deep dark burgundy in colour with bright purple hues, enticing floral aromas with hints of raspberry and cherry offset by the spice and char of vanilla oak. On the palate you’ll experience rich red berries with well-balanced acidity and supple tannins, warm and generous this is a great wine for the coming winter months.