Getting to know... James Millton
Getting to know... A series that aims to shine a light on New Zealand’s outstanding makers, producers, winegrowers and artisans.
With the exciting release of Millton’s Clos de Ste. Anne 2019 Chardonnay and Syrah, we put our Q&A to James Millton to see what the father of biodynamic winegrowing in Aotearoa had to say.
Millton’s Clos de Ste. Anne is the epitome of what great wine is about; the expression of a unique, single vineyard that’s farmed biodynamically by passionate, thoughtful people. This dry-farmed, steep northeast-facing vineyard in the foothills of Poverty Bay is what you’d call Gisbourne Grand Cru.
Humbly describing themselves as custodians of this special place are James and Annie Millton. Not only are they pioneers of the modern New Zealand wine industry, they’re also our first certified organic winegrower, and the oldest biodynamic producer in the Southern Hemisphere. Their commitment to caring for their environment is matched by, and inextricably linked to the outstanding quality of the wines they produce.
Their Opou Chardonnay is one of the best value Chardonnays around, generous and satisfying. And Te Arai Chenin Blanc is a benchmark for that variety in this country, with a cult following internationally. But for us it’s the Clos de Ste. Anne wines that are the pinnacle of what Millton produce.
The delightful responses James gave to our Q&A are just a taste of the unique perspective, creativity and passion behind these wines.
My local is...
Gisborne is a lovely little seaside town with a small city of 43K. There’s nothing like a glass of wine at the cellar door after a days toil and the sun plods its weary way home. For something more urban right in the city is a new wine bar called Siduri where they pour very interesting wines from around the world, all organic or biodynamic. And the best coffee in town is at Far East Cafe. And Sunshine Brewery here in Gisborne have been making amazing beers since 1989.
My defining moment in wine was…
It always seems to be about Chenin Blanc; sitting around the press in 1984 pressing the last of the crop, Chenin Blanc, and drinking a bottle of 1959 Moulin Touchais from Anjou. Thats when I realised the scope of these wines. And then after the wines have been raised for the time , in our own winery, to then bottle them on the property and celebrate the years work and the investment into the future.
My go-to knock off drink is…
A wine high in luminosity, rich in texture, a phenolic pucker and a lack of clarity, somewhere from the north east of Italy. Otherwise Suze as an aperitif.
Favourite story about a vintage at Millton?
Every vintage is a favourite. Its a celebration, as well as hard work. To assemble a fantastic crew from all over the world, and local people in particular, is a blessing. As the vines get older so the wines become more complex and the young people become more opinionated. So it is generally about a knife and fork, glass in hand, and fire going and the smell of lamb, and rosemary…
In the mornings you’ll find me…
Feeding the chooks and running around in ever diminishing circles trying to bring Virgo order into the chaos of day, and mostly failing to do so.
My go-to spot for a glass of wine in the North Island…
Without being too pointed on my last visit to Wellington I liked very much Noble Rot and, just up the road is The Puffin. Otherwise the top of the hill above Naboth’s Vineyard here in Manutuke where the Clos de Ste. Anne wines originate, looking out at the rising sun.
Best kept secret in New Zealand..
That we are not standing on dirt but the rooftop of another kingdom.
There is no better value than…
A wine which leaves a small footprint on the land yet reveals all of the terroir in a single mouthful.
The best BYO in New Zealand is…
This is always difficult to define exactly so I would have to say my place. I like to drink there because there is always another bottle handy and there is a good selection of stemware. The vegetable garden is just out the kitchen window, the oranges are down in Opou Vineyard and figs over in the pet paddock. Our wines are produced to enhance the sweet, sour, salt/umami and astringent (phenolic) taste sensations and matching these are our Millton labelled wines of Riesling, Chenin Blanc, Viognier and Chardonnay.
What's in the pipeline for Millton?
I feel that a wine region excels in a 30 year cycle. Its not only got something to do with the changing generation but as well the time it takes for the planet Saturn, the creative body, to circle the sun. We are now approaching our 38th harvest and, not withstanding the chaotic times we are presently enduring, it is the next generation who have the largest contribution to the future. Our Libiamo brand (skin fermented white wines, and red) is getting pretty serious attention both here in NZ but in major cities around the world. The indications in the pipeline are that the Riesling should be drier, oak barrels will play a smaller role and the reds should be less extractive and more juicy. We will discover that the phenolics left in the wine (where no animal products have been used which would otherwise give the wine “polish!) are actually a biological anti-oxidant which, as they benefit the sap of the grapevine so too may benefit the flow of ones blood. We’ve just bottled the 2020 collection of the Clos de Ste. Anne wines which are all looking stunning and the 2021 Florist Rose will prove to be the most sensual Summer sipper. And then there is a sweet walnut liqueur called Nocino which will be a fabulous finale to a dinner and the 14 year old “balsamic style” vinegar which will sweeten any salad, and more.