Matthew Jukes -Articles- Wednesday Wines

Wednesday Wines – Episode 69 – three amazing wines from the Eaton Family

Episode 69 – 21st July 2021

Three beauties from Eaton Family Wines 

Mike Eaton is an extraordinary man.  I first met him over twenty years ago and I learned that, as a teenager back in 1981, he planted some of the very first and most important vineyards in Marlborough.  There is not an inch of Marlborough that he doesn’t know from the ground up!  He and his wife Jo have pioneered hillside plantings and, over the years, they have been responsible for finding and realising some of the most extraordinary plots of land in the region.  Life brings a lot of ups and downs and Mike and his family have always bounced back in spite of everything that has been thrown at them.  I admire them greatly for their tenacity and strong beliefs.  You would be hard pushed to find harder-working or more positive people in the wine world.  The Eaton Family Wines are the epitome of the expression ‘hand-made’ and every single decision is thought through with forensic attention to detail.  Swig has secured stock of a few of these amazing wines and they are like nothing else on the planet.  I have tasted all of the 2018s and 2019s from the Eaton Family and I cannot wait for the other wines to arrive.  In the meantime…

2018 Eaton Family Wines, Thistle Hill Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc, Flaxbourne, Southern Marlborough, New Zealand (£39.50, www.swig.co.uk).

Only 378 bottles were made of this scintillating Sauvignon Blanc.  Coming from the Thistle Hill Vineyard, a north-facing slope first planted in 1996,  yields were kept very low and the vines were shoot-thinned, leaf-plucked and thinned by hand – some 30-40% of the crop was reduced.   40% of the crop was whole bunch pressed and there was a long soak on skins, too.  No SO2 was added and wild fermentation occurred in barrel.  Maturation was 10 months, 40% in a 600-litre French demi-muid and 60% in a seasoned barrel.  The wine was assembled and then the first addition of SO2 was made, whereupon it settled for four months before bottling.  This wine is a lesson in what I call ‘anti-fruit’.  It is born of extreme minerality (the vineyard was once the seabed) and there are none of the tropical, sweet, fruit cocktail tones found in everyday Marlborough ‘Savvie’.  By contrast, this wine is more reminiscent of grand Pouilly-Fumé with its raspy, saline tang and high-tensile acidity.  While some might label this a natural wine, I would rather say that it is a direct reflection of its vineyard with little to no intervention at all in its making.  It is as honest as winemaking gets and it is precisely what Mike and his family is all about.  18/20  Ps – I am lucky to have tasted the 2019 vintage, too, and when Swig receives stock you simply must taste this vintage, too.

2018 Eaton Family Wines, Fortissimo Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough, New Zealand (£39.50, www.swig.co.uk).

ffortissimo includes a definition of this word on its wine label and it says – ‘a very loud passage, sound or tone’.  This wine is therefore setting us up for excitement before we even pour a glass.  What does a very loud Sauvignon taste like?  Coming from the Thistle Hill and Breezemere vineyards in the sub-regions of Flaxbourne and Awatere Marama Road respectively, this is a truly fascinating wine.  Once again, the crop is thinned and concentrated and there is skin contact, minimal use of sulphur and this time it spends 11 months in a new Ermitage Cigar and a one-year-old 600L Demi-muid.  There is 100% malolactic fermentation employed, too.  Only 648 bottles were made.  There is superb balance between fruit, oak and minerality here and this is a more intense wine than the Thistle Hill, above, and it live up to its name by virtue of its prodigious length and memorable flavours.    Still youthful and looking amazingly fit in the glass, this will mature nicely, too.  18.5/20  Ps – Once again, I have tasted the 2019, renamed as Cuvée Forte and it continues in the same vein with exquisite control balancing the volume of flavour.

2018 Eaton Family Wines, Waihopai Pinot Noir, Marlborough, New Zealand (£45.00, www.swig.co.uk).

Coming from the Tyntesfield Vineyard in the Upper Waihopai Valley, the fruit was thinned, pre-veraison, by around 40%.  With the use of four different Pinot clones and 45% whole bunches, this is a highly complex and perfumed wine and with ageing taking place over 10 months in one new Mercurey Bourgogne barrel and one seasoned barrel it is not one that relies on oak for flavour either!  SO2 was only added after blending (or marriage as Mike calls it) and only 756 bottles were made in total.  Packed with aerial fruit, this is a pale, sultry, through-provoking wine with a stunning, ethereal texture and a super-long finish.  It is dangerously easy to drink while also being fascinatingly kaleidoscopic on both the nose and palate.  18.5/20