When Takaki Okada was growing up in Tokyo, Japan, he naturally had no inkling of the world of fine wine that he now inhabits as an adult living and making wine in New Zealand. However, in Japanese cuisine, the ingredient is king – and a master chef’s skill is to bring that item to the table in a way that best expresses its individuality. Parallels with the skill of the winemaker’s art of showing the vineyard to the world through a glass of wine. When he starts university in Japan, Takaki develops a love of cooking and a fascination for wine and how this enhances the food.
But Takaki does not know about winemaking. However, from this blank canvas, he can learn. He chooses to study at a premier oenology and viticulture school – UC Davis in California, and, along this journey, gets ‘the Pinot bug’. In 2003 he moves to Marlborough and gets a job at Clos Henri, and learns more. Gradually the unique combination of training, opinion, technique, place and style becomes an artisan; and in 2011, Takaki is ready. Folium is born from an 8ha organic vineyard site in the Brancott Valley.
He takes the organic vineyard and turns off the water, believing that dry farming will, in time, produce stronger vines with deeper roots, and give a greater reflection of his newly-found terroir in the finished wines. He said “vineyards with regular irrigation produced similar wines each year” and he aimed for “the opposite” and seeks to embrace vintage variation. Starting in the (small for Brancott Valley standards) vineyard, everything is done by hand – apart from the attentions of the four sheep and two goats. Meticulous and passionate – Takaki strives to “produce the best fruit in the vineyard, and carefully working in the winery to keep the beauty of the fruit”
Fast forward to the tenth anniversary of this exceptional project. The wines tread a fine balance between old and new world, French and kiwi, and reference Sancerre and Burgundy as much as they tell us about the possibilities of Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir from Marlborough. Precise, aromatic, full, open and concentrated. They manage to be both delicate and vivacious, but always possessed of an outstanding purity and length.
To celebrate the 10 year anniversary, I’ve been given the opportunity to taste two ten-year old wines from Folium – my thoughts are below.
Under cork, the Folium Reserve Pinot 2011 is a bright but dark and broody burgundy in the glass. An intensely aromatic wine, with rosehip, lilac, thai basil, black cherry, autumn leaves and cranberry on the nose. Savoury elements of ‘sous bois’ – earthy moss, olive and bark, are enhanced by the supple, black tea tannins. Balanced with a concentrated, bruising fruit layer of bramble, damson, fig, and wet slate. Spices of sumac, star anise and cloves. A voluptuous and rounded texture is beautifully developed, but the wine still has plenty of fine acidity and bounce, with a structure and complexity that suggests years ahead of it, if cellared well. The finish is polished, elegantly long and shows a drying minerality. 95pts. Beauty and personality, one to take home.
The Folium Sauvignon Blanc Reserve 2011 steers away from the green herbaceousness you might expect from the Brancott valley, and finds focus in a wider circle of flavour, from a fresh clarity of citrus and heading towards tropical notes. Fruit is succulent and rich, even. Mandarin, white-fleshed nectarine, nashi pear – some of the more traditional flavours of gooseberry and passionfruit come to the fore first, with savoury nuance of oyster shell and chestnut in layers. There is ‘green’ here, but it’s not the primary element, and shows as crisper elements like pea pod, chamomile and sliced fennel. Acidity is still quite vibrant (after ten years), and adds a tension through the palate. It has, I expect, fleshed out over time in the bottle. Finishes with finesse and a wispy, ethereal minerality that circles back to the rounded, lengthy finish. 92pts.