September 16, 2020|In Winery Spotlight

Aurum Wines: A Family Affair with French Flair

Everyone here at Dhall & Nash loves a great yarn over a great bottle of wine. Who doesn’t, right? Well, the Aurum tale has it all; a charming love story set across many countries, over several generations and all united by a vinous vision to make supremely elegant wines. Also add into the mix the perfect backdrop of Central Otago – an area renowned for its dramatic mountain and lake scenery, but more importantly it is best known as a premium cool climate wine growing region.

 

The Aurum story started back in 1997 when Joan and Tony Lawrence, an archaeologist and orthodontist respectively, decided to follow their wine passion and make a lifestyle change by starting a winery in Central Otago. They found the site and referencing the history of the gold prospectors that were there a century before them, they named the vineyard AURUM which is Latin for gold. The Lawrences’ “gold” would soon be of the liquid variety!

The Terroir

Aurum planted their first vines in the 45th Parallel Vineyard on the Pisa Flats close to Cromwell. The Cromwell basin is surrounded by the Pisa Range, the Dunstan mountains and the Cairnmuir Range along with the huge Southern Alps to the west, all blocking rain to the valley. The glacial gravels, sands and silts of the Cromwell Valley are particularly suited to growing grape vines because of their low fertility and high mineral content.

They then added a second vineyard in Lowburn in 2001, which became the Home Block. In 2010 they sold the 45th Parallel site (it’s now Domaine Rewa), and they have since developed another vineyard on the hillside overlooking the Home Block on Burn Cottage Road. In total they have 4 hectares plus 1.3 hectares not yet producing.

Along the way, the Lawrence’s son, Brook, also became enamoured of the “luscious liquid”, so he headed off to study Oenology and Viticulture working vintages in Australia, France and here in NZ.

Meanwhile, in the Pinot Noir heartland of Côte de Beaune in Burgundy, France, another wine family had a daughter unsure of her future. The vivacious young lady, Lucie, whose grandparents had vineyards and mother had restaurants, wanted to become a chef. Luckily for us, her mama steered her away from that chef idea. Instead, Lucie went on to study Oenology at Dijon University.

As fate would have it, Lucie and Brook’s paths crossed whilst both were working at the prestigious Burgundy estate, Domaine de l’Arlot! What kiwi lad could resist Lucie’s bubbly charm? Needless to say, the vinous stars were aligned and they married in 2004. The Aurum family happily gained a third generation Burgundian ready to share her Old World traditions and sensibilities with Brook’s New World innovation and terroir. The winery was completed in time for their first vintage in 2006.

A Family Affair in the Vineyard

All the groundwork was in place thanks to the earlier endeavours of Joan and Tony. Today, Lucie, husband Brook and Brook’s parents all work together to grow and harvest the grapes as well as maintain the property and develop the Aurum business. Each has their own area of expertise.

Then there is Brook and Lucie’s two young daughters, Mathilde and Madeleine, who help with chores in the organic gardens. The girls are also continuing a long family tradition in wine – on Lucie’s French side – by each lending their names to an Aurum Reserve wine.

The Aurum Philosophy

Organics is key to Aurum’s way of being. They believe growing vines under organic management and making wine as naturally as possible requires a high level of meticulous detail and this has to make for better wines.

“The vineyard and winery are managed using certified organic practices and we strive to produce wines that speak truthfully of their origins. Organics is the defining philosophy of the vineyard management and part of an overall goal to achieve continuous improvements in vineyard sustainability and to just make better wines.”

“We value the soil in which our vines flourish and strive to preserve the environment in and around our vineyard, minimising environmental impacts wherever possible.”

The Aurum Wines

In the wine world we often speak of balance. Aurum wines are definitely fine examples. Being poised and purposeful with an appealing sense of honesty and understated elegance. These wines also seem defined by freshness, approachability and downright drinkability.

Even with Brook as the Viticulturalist and Winemaker and Lucie as the principal Winemaker, there could be times when they have diverging ideas on important decisions at vintage time. Luckily, Lucie says that they both share the same vision, the same wine philosophy, the same tastes. However, on a rare occasion that there has been a conflict of opinion – Lucie says she always wins!

Overall, what interests them both is “the texture of the wine, how it feels to drink and making a clean, transparent, restrained wine that truly reflects its origin without being over the top”. A joyful mix of purity with precision, character with complexity, French flare with Kiwi terroir.

Recent Acclaim

2016 Aurum ‘Madeleine’ Pinot Noir: “The flagship pinot noir made from organic grapes that were fermented as 100% whole-bunches. Elegant pinot noir with bright cherry, spice, cassis and spicy oak flavours. An impressive wine that’s built to last.”
Bob Campbell, 95/100
25 March 2020

 

2017 Aurum ‘Mathilde’ Pinot Noir: “Seductively soft pinot noir with cherry, strawberry, cassis and spicy oak flavours supported by a thread of tangy acidity. A deliciously accessible wine that should develop well in bottle.”
Bob Campbell, 95/100
29 March 2020

 

2018 Aurum Organic Pinot Noir: Delicious pinot noir with cassis, dark berry, plum, spice and anise flavours that are flattered by spick oak. The wine has an ethereal texture and power that’s delivered with subtlety. Dangerously accessible now but no rush.”
Bob Campbell, 94/100
25 March 2020

 

2018 Aurum Organic Pinot Gris: “Attractive pinot gris with tree-ripened peach, nectarine and apple flavours. A delicately succulent wine with a soft and seductive texture. Medium-dry and deliciously accessible.”
Bob Campbell, 93/100
25 March 2020

 

2016 Aurum ‘Madeleine’ Pinot Noir: “Floral and pretty with elegant red fruits and some black cherry on the nose. There’s some savoury seriousness on the palate, but no greenness. There’s black cherry, plum and spice with a bit of grip. Very sophisticated and grown up with flesh but also structure and acidity. So many dimensions and layers here. It takes you through a real journey while you are drinking it: every time you pick up your glass you get a slightly different version of it. Grippy finish, but there’s also elegance here. It’s not muscular.”
Dr. Jamie Goode, The Wine Anorak, 96/100

 

As Dr. Jamie Goode astutely described in The Wine Anorak of the Aurum wines in 2019:

“…these wines are worth seeking out…

Naturally and sensitively made, they are serious expressions of place.”

 

What better recommendation does one need?

Get tasting today!

To further illuminate some aspects of Aurum’s wine styles, we had a brief chat with Lucie…

What’s your philosophy on using differing whole-bunch percentages in your wines?

“We adapt our winemaking techniques to the need of the grapes but I love what whole bunch can do to the texture of a wine and there is a big difference between adding a little of WB to create air space in a ferment, a 20 to 40% WB to bring tannins from a different place or 100% WB (like our Madeleine PN) which changes the way the grapes ferment completely so it brings a whole new texture to the wine.”

 

Do the Mathilde and Madeleine Pinot Noirs reflect the respective personalities of your daughters?

“Now the girls are teenagers and starting to develop their own personality we see similarities with the wines. Mathilde is mature, chic and classic and Madeleine is out there, powerful and thoughtful.”

 

Your Amber Orange wine is quite, dare I say, “hipster” and a deliciously cutting edge wine style. What was the reasoning behind doing this and is the Kiwi palate up to the challenge?

We have been making the Amber since 2013 so this type of wine was not talked about very much. The reason why we started making it was more from the angle of fully exploring the potential of Pinot Gris as a grape with plenty of tannins and flavours in the skin that were untapped. My aim is not to make hipster wines or “out there” wines but to make wines that are a true reflection of where they are grown and that are classic wines and the natural route allows us to do this.

 

Pinot Gris has had a bit of a bad rap in NZ. However, the Aurum Pinot Gris seems to have an “Old World” complexity about it with deliciously classy results in your hands. What do you love about working with this grape?

“It’s a very complex grape with a lot of personality. It is often overlooked and not taken seriously. When I think about PG I think about texture so this is what we wanted to let shine through. We are also able to make wonderfully fruity wines in Central Otago and this complements the textural aspect very well.”

 

Why do you like doing a Pinot Gris Rosé instead of the frequently used Pinot Noir grape for Rosé?

“It’s closer to the sort of Rosé I have grown up with. My grandmother was obsessed with the Cuvee Marine from Domaine Ott and we had this sort of rosé on the table if we were not drinking wines from Burgundy. So to me PG allows to go toward this style more than PN does. I like dry and savoury Rosé that accompanies food.”

 

Are there any new future projects happening for Aurum? Any crazy experimental grape varietals being planted?

“If I could, I would grow Savagnin which is the star of the Jura region were my father comes from.”

 

We will definitely look forward to the future Aurum releases – not to mention the current stock of 2016 and 2017 Pinots having the advantage of some good bottle age!