© Jay McLaughlin
Fleur McCree – co-owner of the renowned Little Beauty wine and boutique vineyard in the elemental Waihopai Valley, Marlborough, New Zealand.
New Zealand is an extraordinary place jaw-droppingly beautiful, and with a totally clear atmosphere. The first thing you want to do when you arrive is reach for your sunglasses because you can?t believe how clear the environment is!
I grew up in Marlborough, at the top of the south island a very sparsely populated area with a very similar longitude and latitude to some of the premier wine growing regions of France, making it the ideal climate for growing Sauvignon Blanc. The area was only discovered for wine production in 1973 so it?s a very young industry, but it really is an awesome place for growing wines. We are surrounded by the ocean, and the maritime climate influences the development of the grapes immensely ? the sea breeze somehow cleanses the land. The whole of New Zealand is a narrow country with a vast backbone of mountains, which in turn produce river valleys and beautiful alluvial river soil. The valleys are sheltered during the day and cooled by the mountain air at night, which combined with hot daytime temperatures and fresh mountain water create the most fantastic growing conditions and our Little Beauty vines just love it!
Growing season lasts for about 150 days. The vines begin to wake after the winter (October), and the moment the buds burst marks the start of the growing season. Bud burst is critical ? you want a good healthy bud, but not too many of them as you will get too much fruit and not so much concentration in the resulting wine. Having a balanced crop is very important. The next stage is shoot growth, and then flowering which form into berries from about March/April, which is when we harvest.
I fell in love with the wine industry whilst at university, which is when I met my partner, Hemi. We decided there could be few more rewarding careers ? we loved the social element of the wine industry, the food matching experience, and above all the thought of growing and producing something. We resolved to buy a property in New Zealand after backpacking around the world?s wine regions during our twenties. We realised that New Zealand was a spectacular place for wine production, and we wanted to make the commitment to develop a wine from scratch ? so we started with a completely blank canvas, putting into practice all we had learned from our travels.
Mendoza and Argentina are two of the regions that stand out from my travels ? and Alsace, and of course Bordeaux is incredible. And then there?s Burgundy, I think I was drinking Pinot by 11.00am during most of my days in Burgundy!
At Little Beauty we use modern wine-making techniques. The industry is still young in New Zealand, and we were keen to find a site that was a break away from the traditional square, rectangular and flat vineyards. We were determined that the chosen site would have unique attributes and be well suited to our personalities. We found an old sheep farm – it was quite breath-taking. The prospective site was surrounded by a natural amphitheatre and when we first climbed the hill to survey I truly felt as if I could fly! I still just love looking out over the valley, the mountains and the sky. It?s perfect. And it?s graced with diverse soil structure and wide diurnal temperatures – ideal conditions for grape growing.
Our approach is to retain the natural features of the land, and we want to ensure it remains as an ecologically harmonious place. We take a lot of pride in looking after and preserving the natural wetland areas and the native flora and fauna.
Producing the first crop took 3-4 years from planting and was a very intense period. We used this time to start the Brand development process and create a personality for the wine, all the time working hard to ensure it had a sense of style and integrity. Actually, I initially avoided telling the creative agency which industry I was in ? I wanted them to understand what our ideologies and values were first and build an identity from there. I didn?t want them to have any preconceived idea about what a Brand should be like?I wanted lateral thinking!
” It?s a really good feeling to sit down and chill out with a glass of wine that matches your food.”
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Little Beauty is a perfect name as it is both Antipodean and engaging. Wine can be an intimidating topic for people, and the label was deliberately kept simple to reflect how we see things ? the silver represents the ocean, and the map of the island tells you where it?s from ? it didn?t need to say anything else. Our catch phrase came about equally simply ? we are proud, confident and Kiwi ? and so it was born, ?I?m proudly Kiwi and I?m a Little Beauty?.
Aviator was one of the first hotels we supplied when we launched at the height of recession in 2008. I?m a bit of a design freak so I loved its style and attention to detail. We started in the UK because we live here, it?s a mature wine market ? we figured if we could crack it here, it was a good case study to move further afield.
Little Beauty has four brothers and sisters. Coming from Marlborough, Sauvignon Blanc is our main line, but we also produce Pinot Noir, Dry Riesling, Gewurztraminer and Pinot Gris ? all are great food wines. We are just a tiny company though ? the UK drinks about a billion bottles of wine a year, and we produce about 50,000 bottles, tops.
There have been setbacks, but the rewards are immense. We had an extreme frost one year, and a devastating flood that ripped through the vineyard another year. So it?s not all plain sailing, and let?s not mention the GFC, but at the end of the day it truly is a really good feeling to sit down and chill out with a glass of wine that matches your food, and realise how much personality there is in that glass!
My heart and soul and spirit are in New Zealand and I miss it every day. If I need to recharge my batteries Marlborough is my first destination and I just head for the mountains, or to some friends in Marlborough, or to my family in Nelson.
I remember my first trip to the Scottish highlands, and discovering a beautiful and characterful hotel, Monachyle Mhor on the edge of Loch Voil. We went in Autumn and I loved driving into the mountains and seeing the reflective colour on the loch ? and we had some fantastic food and wine. I love going to places that are off the beaten track, that?s the Kiwi adventurer in me!
I?m getting good at packing this year alone I?ve been to New Zealand, Russia, Germany twice, Sweden twice, Netherlands and Norway, Japan, Hong Kong, back to Sweden and back to Moscow! You see, Little Beauty isn?t quite old enough to go out on her own just yet ? I see myself as her chaperone!