When I was in Martinborough for Pinot Day in February, I heard about a new Tasting Room that had just been opened by a young couple on Kitchener Street, that was getting plenty of positive feedback. As I had an hour to spare, a group of us were hosted there by Christine Burki – and treated to a fantastic set of wines made locally by the other half of the duo – Raphael Burki. I contacted Christine afterwards and asked a bunch of questions about their new label…
What’s the background to B.wines ? Raphael Burki started winemaking in the Wairarapa in 2009. 2013 we planted Lime Hill Vineyard. The decision to move to this area permanently was the result out of this. March 2015, before the first crop out of Lime Hill Vineyard, we moved to the Wairarapa. It’s always been our goal to find a place where we can produce our own wines and make up our own business and do what we love.
How do you approach selling your brand (and wine) as a new label – how will you get people to try a wine that’s new and they’ve not heard of – or explain that it is the Lime Hill brand that some people may have tried before? Direct marketing through sales at our cellar door; doing events (NZ meets Switzerland at Nobel Rot in August 2022); Instagram; we invite people when they signed up to our friends list and they will spread the word. Selling through wine shops the wines are getting recommended and not via supermarkets or bottle stores. Supplying a few restaurants in the region is good marketing as well. Sending our wines to wine writers like you, Bob Campbell, Cameron Douglas and Vinous.
Can you tell me the story behind the vineyard? Coming from Europe we still have the main idea of producing single vineyard wines. Showing the difference between soils, sites, variety, exposition (Terroir). This was the reason we were looking for some limestone in this area to show more potential out of the Wairarapa. This is still the goal for future productions. With Lime Hill Vineyard we clearly have Burgundy and Chablis in mind. The great Pinots and Chardonnays from this world are grown on limestone. It’s about finesse, minerality and elegance in our wines.
Tell me a bit more about your winemaking style? It’s a classic wine making style, hands off in the winery so every wine and season can express itself in the bottle. Elegant, clean, honest wines with elegance and finesse. Only using small percentage of new oak but from the best Tonnelleries from Burgundy.
Do you think of winemaking as Scientific or Artistic? What role do you both play in the brand? As an Oenologist Raphael’s territory is definitely more the winery part where I am more in the vineyard, doing sales and marketing as well.
All decisions we do together, and we are both working in the winery during vintage. Tasting the wines during and after fermentation, out of the barrels or tanks and make the final decisions before bottling.
What’s the best thing about making wine? What gives you joy from that? It’s the challenge working with nature (farming). Every season is different and will show a different personality in the wines. Producing something beautiful people enjoy and share with friends and having a happy time. Every season is different.
Is there a moment in the winemaking year where you just ‘get a feeling’ for what’s going on / going to happen? First impression when looking at the fruit prior harvest. You get an idea of the season. In the winery during every step of the winemaking process you get a clearer picture about the vintage.
I’ve been to your new Cellar door in Martinborough – where do you make your wines? We are setting up the small winery just behind the cellar door. It’s been a winery before for contract winemaking.
What trends have you noticed? What do think is next for New Zealand wines? Do you have specific plans? In our opinion you can’t go with trends in winemaking if you grow your grapes yourself. Planting a vineyard is a long-term project where the next generation will get the benefit out of it. In New Zealand we still need to carry on with grape growing for another 50 years. This will be the time we will be able to produce even more amazing and complex wines out of this beautiful country. Therefore, the varieties in the region belong to here and are the perfect ones to grow in this climate and the type of soil. We strongly believe in the great potential of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir in New Zealand.
Is there someone you would love to try your wines, and why? Always interesting is tasting our wines with other winemakers. You always get a good picture and interesting discussions about the wines.
I hear that Raphael is ‘stuck’ overseas – How is that affecting you? Not stuck overseas, just on a winemaking trip for a swiss winery.
Do you miss the freedom of travel? Making wine in two hemispheres has been challenging in the last couple of years for sure. He managed to carry on with booking MIQ rooms ways before he travelled. This way he could make sure he will get back to New Zealand in time. But MIQ he will not miss!
What other New Zealand wines do you rate, or benchmark yourselves against? Chardonnay we always keep an eye on wines from Kumeu River. They are super elegant and expressive Chardonnays and in our view the Benchmark for New Zealand Chardonnay. For Pinot Noir the top producers from the Wairarapa region.
And, what under-rated wines do you know of from your overseas experience that New Zealanders should know more about? Native grapes from South-western Switzerland (Petite Arvine, Heida, Cornalin, Humagne rouge and blanc). Hard to get but full of characteristic and great aging potential.
German Riesling – Sauvignon blanc from the Steiermark region in Austria. Nebbiolo from the Piedmont region (Barolo, Barbaresco and alto Piedmont).