Written in the Stars: David Barrett’s Passion for Wine

Our director, David Barrett, loves nothing better than getting together with family and friends to celebrate great food and wine. When you consider his family background, you could almost say his love of wine was written in the stars.

David’s fascination with everything to do with wine began early — long before he and partner Sue settled in the Nelson region going on 20 years ago. The love of wine is an intrinsic part of David’s Danish heritage. 

Growing up in Auckland with Danish parents, the appreciation of good food and wine was a ‘whole family’ experience. Thursday night at the Barretts’ was family dinner night. Without fail, the entire family would sit down — around a dozen of them. David’s mother, a wonderful cook, would take command of the menu. His father, a cheesemaker, would contribute delicious cheeses, Danish sausages and cured meats. As for David’s brothers, as soon as they were old enough, they would each bring a bottle of wine to share. 

The conversations at the dinner table always included lively discussions about the wines that had been brought to the table that week. David’s eldest brothers would keep little notebooks, recording each wine, giving them ratings and making notes about what everyone thought. Tasting the wine with different morsels of food was all part of the fun. With an education like that, it’s no surprise that David still gets excited about wine and food pairings! 

Becoming one of Kahurangi’s four directors in 2019 saw David become an advocate for Nelson wine and our fabulous winemaking region. As our Managing Director, David is kept busy with all the planning decisions for the winery, but his favourite job by far is wine evaluation. Barrel-aged wines are a particular passion for David, thanks to their incredible complexity: “The barrel aging is such a fascinating process. I never get tired of it.”

In a typical year, Kahurangi makes 70-100 barrels each of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. And each year every barrel must be graded carefully to decide which range it will become part of Mt Arthur, our Regional Series, Estate Reserve or Kahurangi Estate. Wine evaluation might sound like your dream job, but the process is actually quite exhausting, taking a few weeks. 

Photo by Martin de Ruyter, Stuff – Blend of innovation and marketing helps wine business flourish

As David points out, the joy of barrel-aged wines is that you’re never sure what is going to happen in the barrel. The ‘toasted oak’ barrels contribute their own qualities, as does the vineyard, along with a myriad of subtle seasonal variations. It’s astonishing how different one barrel of Nelson wine can be from the next. The perfect blending of the barrels into the best possible wine is all part of the winemakers’ magic. And the mystery doesn’t stop there. Our beautiful Nelson wine keeps evolving long after it has been bottled. 

David also loves the tricky challenge of writing our wine labels. Trying to predict what the wine might be like in a few years time, and giving people accurate information to make the right choice is quite an art form. It’s like trying to read into the future. That’s when those long years of wine tasting experience come in handy. 

For David, wine should be accessible, not weighed down by fancy jargon. He’s never been a fan of wine snobbery. Wines just have different personalities to suit different occasions. The perfect wine for a midweek family catch-up doesn’t need to be expensive by any means. The whole point is to share the experience and enjoy the moment. Although quality is important, a bottle has to match the occasion. As David says, ‘I always want customers to be pleasantly surprised when they taste any of our wines, no matter which range.’

Some years are particularly exciting in our winery when the vintage is considered exceptional enough to make a special premium range. In those years we set aside the very best four barrels which become our Four Barrel range. These barrels undergo a full period of aging, then 12-24 months in the bottle. We only release them when they are perfectly ready. Don’t tell everyone, because there are only four barrels, but David has a bit of an insider secret for you. This year we will be launching our Pinot Noir and Chardonnay Four Barrel wines. It won’t quite be ready for the Matariki holiday, but keep an eye out for them later this year.

David and his family love carrying on the tradition of sharing a weekly family meal, accompanied by some lovely Nelson wine of course. In case you’re wondering, that usually means something bubbly for Sue and something ‘barrel-aged and interesting’ for David.  

Like all Kiwi families, the Barretts are looking forward to Matariki, New Zealand’s brand new holiday on June 24. Winter solstice is the perfect occasion to get together with friends and family. It’s a great chance to recognise our continuity with the past, celebrate the present, and make dreams for the future.

Whether you’re planning to crack open a bubbly under the stars, get together for drinks with mates, or enjoy a quiet meal with your family, we wish you all a wonderful Matariki.

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