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Hawke’s Bay Syrah Poised to Charm US Market

August 25, 2010

Hawke’s Bay’s unique style of Syrah has the potential for putting this region on the world wine map much as Sauvignon Blanc has done for Marlborough, says newly-appointed EIT viticulture lecturer Mark Krasnow.

An American who has lived most of his life in California, Dr Krasnow took up his position at EIT Hawke’s Bay after five years’ post-doctoral research work at University of California Davis in the USA.   Located in the small town of Davis near Sacramento, the university enjoys a world-wide reputation for its winemaking and viticulture training programmes and as a leading wine research centre.

While Dr Krasnow has previously toured New Zealand, the interview for the EIT job was his introduction to the Hawke Bay wine scene.  Since then, he has tried many of the region’s wines and is hugely impressed by what he has sampled.

“They really excited me,” he says of the first three local wines tried-Bordeaux styles from Hawke’s Bay’s highly-rated 2002 and 2004 vintages.  “There is huge potential here for red wines.”

If fellow Americans are given the opportunity to read about the quality of our wines in the press and are able to buy them in the USA, he believes consumers will enthusiastically embrace the Hawke’s Bay brand.

“They are delicious,” he says of our wines.  “Hawke’s Bay Syrah is as unique as Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc” – one of his favourite white wines.  “I have tried Syrah around the world and there’s nothing like the Hawke’s Bay interpretation.  It has more black pepper flavours, and I believe I could always pick out a Hawke’s Bay Syrah.

“What I see happening is Hawke’s Bay becoming internationally known for this variety just as Marlborough and New Zealand are already well-known for Sauvignon Blanc.”

Hawke’s Bay also deserves wider recognition for its “Bordelaise” wine styles based on Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec and Petit Verdot – varieties whose traditional home is the Bordeaux region of France.

“When it’s good, it rivals anything in France,” he says of Hawke’s Bay examples of the style.  “In tastings, people can’t always pick that it’s not from France, and that’s a huge compliment. “He finds Hawke’s Bay’s “really nice” Chardonnays taste of fruit rather than the woody flavours that are a hallmark of wines matured for lengthy periods in new oak barrels.  By contrast, most Californian Chardonnays are low on acid, are very oaky and are high in alcohol.

Hawke’s Bay Sauvignon Blanc he slots somewhere between the high acid wines typical of Marlborough and California’s tropical fruit-flavoured wines.   Preferring high acid white wines, he likes this region’s take on Pinot Gris.

Dr Krasnow was attracted to the EIT position because it combines teaching with opportunities for research work – both roles he enjoys.  Initially drawn to winemaking, he is convinced that future advances to be made for wine will be achieved in the vineyard.

“Winemaking techniques are already state of the art.  The potential lies in better management of the vines and that’s the exciting challenge for viticulturists – to be able to optimise wine quality.”

Dr Krasnow is currently liaising with EIT viticulture lecturer Dr Petra King in targeting areas for future research projects.

The focus of his UC Davis’s post-doctoral investigations was a fruit ripening disorder formerly known as berry shrivel – a condition where grapes start to ripen but then fail to develop colour, shrink and stop accumulating sugar.

“I’m told it also happens here in Hawke’s Bay so I hope to continue work on that as well.”

The opportunity to be part of the burgeoning local wine scene is very exciting, he says.

“The regional wine industry is small scale now, but demand will really rise if Americans get a chance to taste Hawke’s Bay’s wines.”