We began making Nautilus Marlborough Chardonnay in 1989 buying grapes from a vineyard in Renwick. The fruit held such promise we bought the vineyard shortly afterward. Despite this early potential, it was undoubtedly a challenging beginning for Chardonnay in our portfolio. We struggled with inferior clonal selection, high yields and faulty corks – you name it. So in the late 90’s we decided to reduce production and get back to the heart of our winemaking philosophy: making expressive, textural and precisely crafted wines with minimal intervention.
The first step was to improve the quality of our grapes. We did this by convincing our long time growers, Jim and Debbie Greer, to plant a new Burgundian clone (95), which bore fruit for the first time in 2002. We moved to screw caps in 2004. In 2006 we built a dedicated winery for white wine, which meant we could refine each step of the winemaking process, including chilling the hand-picked grapes before pressing. Then we began trials with indigenous fermentation – also known as wild fermentation. We allowed the juice to ferment naturally with the yeast already present in the environment instead of introducing a specific yeast to influence the style.
With the right grapes, the right equipment and the right techniques, we were on the right track. We spent the following years refining our technique and slowly increasing volumes again. In 2012 we planted some of the latest quality clones sourced from Burgundy in our Renwick Vineyard. This fruit was the final piece of the Nautilus Chardonnay puzzle. These days, we press the chilled grapes directly to barrel because we know that less handling leads to better results. The wine is then barrel-fermented in French oak Barriques, 20% of which are new. Most of these barrels undergo malolactic fermentation, but we stop this in some to ensure the wine retains a crisp freshness. This hard-fought refinement of our Chardonnay-making process means we no longer have any need to fine our wines, so they’re vegan friendly.
I am very proud of our Chardonnay, I think it has really hit its stride in recent years. Marlborough Chardonnay is known for its wonderful cool climate intensity, and ours has great longevity and depth. Our Renwick Vineyard, where our Chardonnay story started, has remained at the heart of Nautilus Chardonnay and the alluvial soils bring a natural minerality and tightness that’s crucial to our style. The wine opens with gorgeous honeysuckle, citrus and white nougat on the nose, offering a well-integrated palate and a refreshingly long finish. The tight structure of the wine develops even more depth and creaminess with age. Nautilus Chardonnay is excellent with food, and a rewarding drop all year round – even in the depths of winter.