Winemaker series: Jane Cooper

Alexia Jane and Lesley

Most of the articles in the WineFolio winemaker series are face to face interviews, but although I did travel to Greytown for the opening day of the Alexia Winery and Cellar Door, I haven’t actually had the chance to sit down and spend an hour with winemaker Jane Cooper yet. So, we have done a precursor to that session – with a quick Q&A over emails.

What’s the background to starting your own wines? I started making under Alexia in 2000, just really keen to do my own thing but at the same time keep consulting to others. I always just knew I would make under my own label and grow that. Took a few years and a few iterations, and I put Alexia on hold when I had my second child as I was just too busy with my GM/winemaking role at Matahiwi as well. Started it back up in 2017 when I had left Matahiwi.

Can I hear a bit of your back story, and what made you want to make wine? I did law and politics at University but knew I really was more suited to something more practical and creative. I grew up in a garden centre so the growing thing has always been strong for me too.

How are you settling in to your new home at the Greytown Winery? Its great that Alexia has a home and we now have control over our space and being able to interact with people who drink our wine directly.

Alexia wines

Tell us about the amazing looking egg! I’m really glad I pursued getting an egg, the results have been fantastic. The amount of texture and flavour you get from them has been great and I’ll continue to do Sauvignon Blanc in there. Also thinking I will get a second egg at some point as we have Gruner Veltliner coming on stream at the vineyard.

How do you approach marketing your brand and selling the wine as an independent label – is it hard, or easier than a bigger company? We have a very genuine, authentic story, so I feel like it’s easy to market that way. We also have a clear idea of what our model is – stay small, committed to quality no matter what and pursue excellence.

Have you had a lot of local support – especially in the last calendar year? Loads of support from the lovely Greytown community – I think it helps that we are the only winery in Greytown and we communicate very directly with them and want to hear from them and see them at the cellar door.

What do you feel are your strengths as a winemaker, and is there anything you struggle with (or don’t enjoy)? I’m pretty open minded – I always want to chat to others about techniques, vineyard sites, constant improvement. I’d like to think I am a thoughtful winemaker, I think hard about everything we do in the vineyard and the winery. Don’t struggle with too much really!

Can you tell us a bit about your winemaking style? Do you have a signature? As I said above, I hope that it’s a thoughtful approach. More recently, been pretty keen to replace oak tannin with fruit tannin so the wines don’t look too oaky.

What do you think of whole bunch? Wild ferments? Natural wines? Sulphur? Oak influences.. Love all of that and will always consider alternative techniques, my only conclusion is that the wines need sulphur. I’m not interested in bottling wines without sulphur. In most cases, wines are better with less rather than more oak.

Do you have other wines – NZ or overseas – that you aspire to, or benchmark yourself against? Pinot Noir from Clos Vougeot would be right up there but if I’m being honest, any of the top marques from Burgundy are to be revered, both for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. I think the very top Australian Chardonnays are scarily good. And I’m always keen to see what other kiwi winemakers are doing with Sauvignon Blanc in an alternative way, whether its barrel ferment, lees work, whole bunch skin ferment, concrete eggs etc. These will be the Sauvignon Blancs that are NZ’s future at the top end I think.

Would you agree that winemaking is Scientific, or Artistic? Definitely both.

Is there a moment in the winemaking year where you just ‘get a feeling’ for what’s going on / going to happen? When the grapes hit veraison it starts to give an idea of what we are going to get.

As a winemaker and a Senior Judge – are there any trends that you have you noticed – or are predicting? Subtle ones with each varietal actually and there is always constant evolution. Nice to see more thoughtful use of oak in NZ lately.

What’s the best (and worst) things about your role as a wine judge? Don’t see a lot of negative! I love judging, the challenge, the honing of skills, the concentration and dedication required. And the reward when the results are good and people are excited about the top wines.

In what ways do you think the NZ wine industry might be affected by Climate Change? Massively. Not sure people in general realise it but we are all having to look at different varieties and styles in our regions because it’s all getting hotter. Also I feel it’s changing the type of climate influence – yes we are still a maritime climate but in places like the Wairarapa where we are a big valley, starting to look continental sometimes

Do you have any advice you’d go back and give your younger self? Give things a go, take every opportunity, it’s amazing what you can do if you give it a go!

You’re making the wine at the ‘Ohau’ label – what’s that like – do you think this could bloom into a new wine region? Ohau is unique in that it’s the only vineyard on the West Coast of NZ. With climate change it is getting easier there as it is now warmer and dryer than it was 10 years ago when we first started. It’s a unique site too, very aromatic for both Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Gris, so loads of potential for those varieties. Not sure if anyone else will ever plant over there but not sure what will happen in NZ in general when Marlborough is fully planted (looming!)

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