When you taste the wines, the closest analogy I can think of is Gregorian chant. His wines are like tones ringing out in perfect pitch without instrumental accompaniment; whereas in other wines, the nuances of soils and techniques add layers of harmony upon the grape tone. The approach he takes could be considered risky, his ideas are very different to what most winemakers speak about when they talk soil... but when the wines are in a glass in front of you, you have no choice but to recognize them for the special songs that they are.
Hans and Therese met in 1984, and they planted some new vineyards near Zurich; still, he felt restricted by climate. In his travels he kept his eye out for perfect sites. Hans had passed through Marlborough back when there were only about 2 or 3 producers and had a dream of planting vineyards here. By 1994, their Swiss venture was successful, and there was no real need to keep looking. But Hans kept a deep interest in Marlborough. Therese was hesitant to leave her home and move, so Hans started vineyards in Marlborough as a 2nd project.
"He knew exactly where he wanted to be: near the river," Therese narrates. When they purchased this land, it was the oldest apple orchard in Marlborough, along the banks of the Wairau River.
They commuted around the globe for several years, and after a while it became clear that Marlborough "is better than he ever dreamed it to be. And we decided to leave our successes in Switzerland to focus here." When they established themselves in Marlborough, the region was in the throes of the global sauvignon blanc boom that put New Zealand on the global wine map, but "Hans wanted to do something different." And he certainly has. With 28 grape varieties ranging from pinot noir to St. Laurent, Hans is showing the world another side of Marlborough.
During the tasting, Hans stood in mid-discussion of a particular wine when a renegade cork rolled away from the pile of corks that had amassed in the center of the table. He noticed it, furrowed his brows at the cork, plucked it up, and placed it back in the neat pile. I imagine this is the way they have sculpted their environment into a beautiful hamlet-- piece by piece, they've created a tidy place for everything. In this pristine and cozy environment, there is a lasting calmness to their business, and you can taste this calmness in the wine.
Even their dog fits neatly onto this step.
merlot cabernet (Marlborough)
This wine was a real tear-jerker for me. One of those wines that makes you sort of wake up to what is happening at this winery. Therese mentions that "this is what Hans was motivated to do: make a great Bordeaux-style wine."
The aromas are so savory, and when you taste the wine it is rich yet open, an aftertaste of what reminds me of roasted peppers lingers for the longest time.
Hans Herzog Montepulciano
Hans & Therese lovingly call this "Monti."
This is an inky, full-bodied wine with persistent tannins that remind me of sagrantino.
This is not your average Marlborough sauvignon blanc. It is such a far cry from any other Marlborough sauvignon blancs-- or any other sauvignon blanc, period-- that it makes you wonder if you ever really thought you understood this variety to begin with.
It smells like sun-dried habaneros and dried heirloom tomatoes, it tastes rich and savory, is perfectly balanced, has the most incredible texture and mouth-feel, and finishes with a dancing acidity.
Hans Herzog viognier 2011
After Therese first tasted Chateau Grillet, she begged Hans to make a viognier, and this is the result! These vines were planted in the mid-90s.
The viognier is so purely viognier-- there is a cool, rich mid-palate with an almost oily texture balanced by an electrically vibrant acidity; and the aroma of viognier jumps out of the glass.
But above all, the varietal character that shines through in each bottle is astounding. If you want to understand a grape, pick a Hans Herzog wine and get to know it a little better.