Winemaker series: Bryce Edmonds

Zaria wines

Towards the end of last year I picked up a couple of Hawke’s Bay wines simply because the label caught my eye. These were a pair of bottles from Zaria – a superb Chardonnay (94pts) and a ‘classic’ Merlot – “soft but dense on the palate, with ripe fruit everywhere” (91pts). The wines in the bottle matching the elegant labels that I noticed at first. A brief email exchange resulted in a new rosé – from Malbec no less – being sent over and a promise to catch up with the winemaker, Bryce Edmonds, when I was in town…

WineFolio: You know I’ve been staying up at Millar Road, and Hayden’s just dropped all his Organised Chaos 2020s over for me to get through, and The Supernatural have a red this time around – a Cabernet Franc, which is really darn good. When I first went there in June this year, that was my introduction to ‘their world’. Hahaha. I like them. They’re not just ‘interesting’, they are really good wines.

Bryce Edmonds: Hayden’s one of my good friends. We were each other’s groomsmen at each wedding, and we had a band at University, must have been twenty odd years ago now. I’ve known him since first year University in 2000. He started working on this vineyard and helped us establish it ultimately. He didn’t know what he was going to do at that point, but working here over the summers got him into it, and he changed – I think he was doing a PE degree or something – so enrolled in a double degree and topped the class in both. The rest is history.

The Supernatural Sauvignon Blanc is one of the few Sauvignon Blancs that I’m really keen to try every vintage. Just because it’s such a nice wine. Even in ’17 which was a real struggle here, they managed to make a cracking wine. It was only about 11.5% even, but it was full of flavours. I do love Sauvignon Blanc and I would consider making one if there was any possibility that I could sell a reasonable amount. It’s such a tough sell in the market.

Lesley's vineyard Zaria

WF: How’s Zaria going?

BE: Good – very good. Best month ever this month – I’m just trying to get it out there a bit more. There’s a new wine shop in Napier called ‘Deco City Cellars’, which was the only place that the Chardonnay was available when you said you’d tried it. He just started a couple of months ago, and he’s done a magazine which he just gives out for free. There’s a couple of blurbs and shots of us in the back of it.

WF: Your product is certainly good looking – the label really stands out. As you know I tried the Chardonnay first, then found the Merlot, and then you sent me the rosé. I’m a tricky customer when it comes to rosé and that really ticked the boxes for me.

BE: I worked in a place called Umathum in Austria in 2009 and he made a rosé. He had three single varietal top wines that he sells for about 50 euros a bottle. He brings in the reds and saignées 10% off each of those reds and makes a special rosé from those saignée parcels. And he prices it quite high, it’s the most expensive rosé in Austria, but it sells just like that every year. People treat it as a secondary product a lot of the time and he just wanted  to treat it as one of the primary products. And it’s a pretty top end rosé and he’s put it into a really nice bottle. It’s not see-through, it’s got a glass capsule. It resonated with me at the time, and I decide to make a really nice rosé that was a little bit interesting. My point of interest it that it’s 100% Malbec. I do have an opportunity where I can just take the free run and sell the pressings to someone else, so that helps to lessen the phenolic edge on the wine. It allows me to bring it bone dry. I always check as we’re coming down to dryness… in fact in 2019 I did retain about 3.7 grams of residual sugar because the acid was a wee bit stingy. It still tasted dry and was ultimately a dry wine. But I am careful as it goes dry. This last one I think it got down to 0.5 and it’s still got an element of sweetness even though it’s got no sugar.

WF: I liked that it’s dry, and it had real character. I worry that there’s this tendency to err on safety and leave rosé a bit sweet..

BE: I don’t get that. It doesn’t resonate with me at all. I think to err on the side of safety these days is to make it dry. Everyone I know says they want a dry wine, or at least they say they do.

WF: Consumers don’t. They want 5 grams of sugar in it please. It stood out to me because it was dry. Still lots of fruit sweetness in it though. A lot of consumers here in New Zealand seem to expect that their rosé will be made from Pinot Noir? They’re obsessed with colour. And a perception that the darker the colour, the sweeter it will be? The preference, I’d say, is for pale, as far as looks goes. Yours is a little on the darker side.

Zaria rose 2020

BE: Everyone seems to have a different idea of what colour is the best colour? Do they want salmon or do they want bright pink? You think mine’s a bit dark – Since it’s free-run, I’m not sure how I’d get any less colour (laughs)!

WF: Well, look at ‘Blondie’ which makes it into the rosé category, and it’s practically clear! People love that wine. Isn’t rosé supposed to be put on a lunch table in summer and its job is to brighten the mood and the food?

BE: It’s a fun wine but I think there’s a gap in the market for top end rosés. You’ve heard of WineFriend? They’re always screaming out for expensive rosés. A lot of winemakers say ‘I can’t bring myself to price it above other wines’.

WF: It was your Chardonnay though that really stopped me in my tracks. Tell me about that wine.

BE: I really love Chardonnay and we didn’t have any here at the time. I’ve just planted some here though and will be getting a first crop off that this coming vintage.

That wine wasn’t actually from our vineyard, it was from over the back fence, some Mendoza clone Chardonnay – about 12 rows. I bought a tonne off them and I only made 3 barrels – a new barrel and two older barrels. I think the key to a good Chardonnay is to whole-bunch press it – for me there’s no other way. I normally take about 550-600 litres per tonne and cap it at that. I went wild ferment for two of the barrels and I innoculated the third.

And the interesting thing about that wine – one of the barrels was quite aldahylic and worrisome to me. I hadn’t sulphured it – I don’t tend to sulphur them until the following summer. And one of them wasn’t dry, so I had to kickstart the ferment leading into the next vintage. And that just seemed to bring everything back together again. I’m actually doing the same thing with my ’20 chardonnays. That little bit of extra ferment, there’s something about it that just kind of cleans everything up. When you’ve got it in barrel on lees and you’re stirring it up, so it gets that developed character. Then you take those and freshen it up by just doing that last bit of ferment. Without that it might not have that tightness and be a bit too generous.

WF: It’s funny you said you love your chardonnay – I do too. I keep this list of great New Zealand Chardonnay in my head, and it’s bloody hard in a great vintage like we’ve had.. you get all these new ones, and then you think you have to relegate a couple from the Top 10. And I find my tastes change year by year.

BE: I even like things like the Kumeu Village chardonnay, at $20 a bottle. I had the Coddington ’19 the other day and found it overtly ‘clovey’ – dunno if that’s from the new oak that they were using. After tasting that I just couldn’t get past.


WF: The Hunting Hill was hard work this year. I thought the Coddington was quite good – it’s usually the most approachable. I didn’t think the ‘19s were even remotely ready to drink at their best though. Even the Estate was such a baby that I thought it a waste to open any of the case I bought. But I have found a lot of the ‘19s I’ve had, across the board, quite shy. 6 months on has definitely helped a lot of them settle down.

BE: For 2020 I’m hoping to get that tonne as before, plus a tonne from here, and maybe a tonne off a Te Awanga vineyard as well, which I’m teeing up at the moment. My idea with chardonnay is to make it as complex and interesting as you can, so a little bit of malo here, and a bit of not-malo over there. Some full-solid ferments. Wild over here, some stuff that’s being cold-settled and inoculated over there. Stuff from this vineyard, that vineyard and pull it all together and see what happens.

Lots of winemakers I see tend to like that sense of control, and they always are manipulating it at every point in the process to get it to where it needs to be. Depends on their personality. A lot of people have a need for control. But I’m more relaxed in my approach. Don’t get me wrong, I know what I’m doing. I don’t need to get in there at every point. I don’t need to fine it heavily or add acid or sugar or whatever. I’m more interested in seeing what nature can deliver.

WF: One of the things I like about this chardonnay is the balance of it. It is noticeably oaked but in a specific, integrated way.

BE: It’s a Serugue barrel, made for Chardonnay. It’s a top end barrel. I find if you’re going to spend money on oak, don’t skimp on it. You may as well get top quality, top end oak, and I really like the Serugues. They’re more spice and gives palate weight but not so much that planky thing that can come through with some.

WF: I like that the fruit is really ripe, heading in a tropical direction. One thing I hear people say about Hawke’s Bay Chardonnay is ‘they’re so acidic and grapefruity’.

BE: Hawke’s Bay Chardonnay? If that’s grapefruit and acidic, then what’s Marlborough? It leaves no space for Marlborough chardonnay then?

WF: I’m always looking for the best of its kind – whether it’s a supermarket wine, natural wine, old school wine.. We had our ‘Top 10 Tasting’ of Chardonnay, and Hawke’s Bay just walked away with it. There were wines from all over New Zealand, but they finished, 12th, 18th, 23rd.. most of the Top 10 was Hawke’s Bay.

BE: We make awesome Chardonnay here. It’s what I think we should be hanging our hat on. It’s a no brainer. You can see why Tony made a business from it. I’m a big fan of Hawke’s Bay Merlot as well, and that’s why I’m trying to champion it myself. As much as people say they love it, it’s a hard sell. I think it’s been taken for granted, but it’s slowly coming back. There’s not that many people make it any more. From 2019 onwards I’m going to have a Cabernet Franc/Merlot blend.

WF: Noooooooooooooo. Keep the Merlot as is, and then do a separate Cabernet Franc, on it’s own. We need more Cabernet Franc, on its own. It’s a brilliant wine.

BE: It’s too late. My issue is I only have a 1000 vines of Cabernet Franc and about 10,000 vines of Merlot.

Back to Chardonnay – have you tried the Beach House chardonnays?

WF: I’ve had a few a while back and they were quite good. But to be honest I struggled to find any information about them. Do they have a Cellar Door?

BE: My boss isn’t the best at marketing them.. he just doesn’t understand how to get the name out there. There used to be a Cellar Door for about 15-odd years. If you look at Google, it still says we’re in Haumoana, but the winery is on Mere Road. Nobody knows.

WF: But you’ve got your own vineyard – that’s something a lot of people are aspiring to, and you’re still a young winemaker with many vintages to come. Speaking to Dan or Olly and Amy, they’d love their own patch, but how do they do that. So, you’re in a good spot.

BE: Our family trust has a vineyard. My Father passed away recently, so my brothers and I will be making some decisions in the next year or so as to how we’re going to run this place. My idea is to buy the place off my brothers, but it’s what this place is valued at – and there’s a massive spectrum that could come in there. All those decisions will be coming up.

Zaria Merlot 2018

WF: Cellar door?

BE: I worked at the Beach House Cellar door every summer Saturday for 5 years, and that was OK for a while but I got over it. Once I’m there and I’m doing it, I actually do enjoy it. Talking to the customer and I find that 90% of the people that come through the door are keen and want to listen. Once they’re aware that I’m actually the winemaker, and I can talk about every single facet of every single bottle, they hang off my every word. I did enjoy that side of it. Maybe. Have you been to Element Wines where they have a little gazebo and people can come and taste the wines? One step at a time. I’ll get the vineyard locked in, and take one step at a time.

WF: There’s the opportunity to be at festivals, or like that Hawke’s Bay Pop-Up thing in Hastings.

BE: We’ve got the area here, we could easily kit this out with a few barrels and tables and whatever. Abbey Cellars is just there, so people could walk between here and there. For Zaria wines, I’m pretty small at the moment and the plan was always for a slow, linear climb. My thought is that the longer you’re able to stick around in the market for, and the longer people get an opportunity to hear from you, then eventually your business is at a stage where it can sustain itself, and you. I might be around 500 cases this year, then 1200, then 2000. Once you’re at 5000 cases you’re turning over almost a million dollars and you can extract a living from it.

I’m trying to keep things simple – I want to stick with my three wines – my Malbec Rosé, my barrel-fermented Chardonnay and my Red. I might do the odd special edition.

WF: This is really good. I would say it’s perhaps not hit the heights of the 2019. Love the colour – really green!

BE: No, and I agree. That was my first effort. The main reason that’s not as good, in my opinion, is… I was always under the impression this was being hand-picked, and on the morning they had already ordered a machine to bring it in. I don’t know what the reason was, but I was pretty pissed off. At least it was done at 5 in the morning so it came to the winery cold, really quickly. Pressed it off at 6am and it was in barrel by 6.30. Made the best of a bad situation. It’s retained freshness and probably why you’re picking up on the colour.

WF: What is it about Hawke’s Bay that you think makes it the best place to make wine?

BE: it’s the opportunity to do whatever you like. You can get one of 20 different varieties and know you can make a great wine out of it. And Chardonnay. Chardonnay is my favourite variety now. My eldest brother is a winemaker too, and it was him who decided on the varietals for this place. Why they planed Semillon is another question. My cousin Grant who owns Red Metal and used to work at Sileni, had big dreams for Semillon. Of course you never know what’s going to happen, and this was twenty years ago. I’m thinking of taking those trees out and planting the last three rows. At the moment I’m thinking the 1066 clone of Chardonnay which is super light crops and super interesting wines apparently.

I’ve thought about Chenin, maybe Gamay, but I dunno. This is a very Merlot-heavy vineyard so I think over time I’ll probably convert a few more blocks over to something else. What do you think would work?

WF: Chardonnay.

BE: Yeah, well there’s the Chardonnay block there, the Merlot block in the middle, and the Malbec block at the back. I’m thinking of pulling up that middle block and putting in another clone of Chardonnay.

WF: I don’t know, of course. I’m blessed with a complete lack of knowledge of making wine. I’m just a well-educated consumer of wine. I don’t understand half of what a winemaker talks about, but I understand the important half, that matters to me, to be able to do what I do. And I understand a lot more about the tourism side than most. And the consumer side of things, plus I’ve done quite a lot with branding and what makes consumers tick in relation to buying habits – stuff like that.

BE: I made wine since 2006 – a barrel or two off this place, and it wasn’t until 2013 that I made my first Zaria wines. But before that I made what we called Alchemy and Element. My father was a pharmacist, so he was the Alchemist. And Alchemy was supposed to be the blend – it was Merlot/Franc/Malbec blend. And then Element was the single varietal of that blend, so we were going to single varietals of each as well. Then one day I was reading in the Hawke’s Bay or NZ Wine magazine and I saw ‘Alchemy Chardonnay’. I still don’t know if they thought it up themselves or saw one of my bottles in circulation. Same thing with Element. I was talking to Dom who has Element wines and I said ‘what’s the name of your new brand then?’ He said “Element” and I was like – ‘are you taking the piss?’ Judging from Dom’s response I’m sure he had no idea I had made any wine under the Element name – it was just a coincidence. I hadn’t trademarked either of these names, and it wasn’t a business at that point, but I was planning on that. So, that was a lesson. I’d already made some of the Zaria rosé and I just thought let’s run with that. It probably has more of a story to it than Alchemy.

WF: I like it when you get a product that just does what it says on the tin. This is an elegant label, and when you open it and try the product, it’s the same – it’s just a fit.

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