David was born in New Zealand in the very year that the first Sauvignon Blanc vines were planted in Marlborough. He grew up near wine country, vacationed there, and was responsible for the household chore of storing shipped boxes of wine. Wine therefore came naturally to David as a profession. After graduating from college, he worked at Hawke’s Bay, then in California for a few years, before returning to New Zealand to join Nobilo in 2002.
Nobilo Wines has been a pioneer in New Zealand winemaking since it was founded in 1943 by Nikola and Zuva Nobilo, who had fled the war in their native Croatia.
Check out the interview below the fold!
Where were you born and raised?
New Zealand’s capital city, Wellington. I was born the same year that the first commercial Sauvignon Blanc vines were planted in Marlborough, just across the Cook Straight.
When and how did you get into wine?
As a child, I spent a lot of time camping in and around the wine district just north of Wellington. We watched with interest as the vineyards were planted and as the wine, especially Pinot Noir, emerged onto the wine scene. With the Wairarapa just over the hill from Wellington, we were most parochial about Wairarapa wines. My interest in grape-growing and winemaking took root as I grew older and started to taste some of the wines my parents were drinking. Pioneering wine names of New Zealand were common sights at our house. I was charged with putting all the mail order wines into the cellar under the house, so wine names such as Nobilo and Selak were very familiar to me.
What has been your career path to where you are?
I headed to Hawke’s Bay in the North Island for my first vintage after receiving a degree in horticulture science at Christchurch’s Lincoln University. I wasn’t sure whether to pursue viticulture or winemaking, but it didn’t take me long to make up my mind – I was hooked on winemaking by lunchtime on the first day. I spent a few vintages in California as well, but returned to Hawke’s Bay with my sights set on Marlborough and the fresh, bright fruit flavors that have made the region’s Sauvignon Blanc so well-known. I joined the Nobilo team in 2002.
In your view, what makes your vineyards special?
Nobilo vineyards, spread throughout the subregions of Marlborough, are located at outstanding sites, predominantly coastal, which benefit from clear, long sunlight hours, sea breezes, and cool nights. These areas enjoy long, dry autumns, which allow slow ripening so grapes develop intensity and retain good acid structure. Marlborough, situated at 41 degrees latitude south on the north end of the South Island, is one of New Zealand’s sunniest and driest regions that sees a large diurnal temperature shift. The region’s valley floor was mainly formed by glacial activity and most of the soils drain freely.
What is your general winemaking philosophy?
My goal is to seek to create the purest expression of what New Zealand’s clean, green land has to offer, and to craft pure classic wines of distinct regional character.
What’s your biggest challenge as a winemaker?
Right now, it’s the earthquakes. However, there is a lot of exciting research going on in Marlborough around Sauvignon Blanc. We are really gaining quantum leaps in our understanding of Sauvignon Blanc and the aromas that can be unlocked. It is very exciting. I am enjoying getting to grips with some of the science behind the transformation and creation of aromas. But the challenge is about translating that to the consumer. Sometimes I have to curb my enthusiasm and chemistry-speak and bring it back down to the tasting experience.
Who are your favorite winemakers in history, through personal account, or their wines?
The pioneers of the New Zealand wine industry who had the foresight to move away from high cropping hybrids. Darryl Woolley, who gave me the license to go ahead and learn about the different subregions of Marlborough through making wine. Denis Dubourdieu, for pioneering some of the aromatic understanding around Sauvignon Blanc.
What new winemakers are you most excited about, and why?
I’m always interested in winemakers who are pushing the boat out. Whether it be with new varieties, or whether they are using less traditional or ground-breaking techniques on their wines.
What’s your favorite wine region in the world – other than your own?
I am probably most curious about wine regions in Europe. I was lucky enough to spend a few weeks in Tuscany, I love delving into wines from there.
What’s the best wine you’ve ever tasted? The most interesting?
Probably the wine that sticks in my memory the most is the 1995 Esk Valley Terraces from Hawkes Bay on the east coast of the North Island of New Zealand. It was at the start of my wine career, and that wine really got me excited about the wines we could produce in New Zealand.
What’s the oldest bottle in your cellar? The most expensive?
I don’t have a lot of old wine in my cellar. Probably the oldest is the 1998 Sileni Estates EV Merlot. A big wine in its youth, as most reds from Hawkes Bay were in that year. I last tried it 5 years ago and it was still pretty youthful.
What’s open in your kitchen right now?
Last night, my wife opened a bottle of Bastide Miraflors Vieille Vignes Syrah/Grenache 2014. My wife has a great way of selecting a wine from the cellar. As long as it is not the last bottle of anything, she thinks it is fair game.
If you had to pick one red and one white to drink for the next month with every dinner, what would you choose?
This is a very hard question for me to answer. For me wine is not about finding a favorite. Wine is the journey, not the destination.
Is beer ever better than wine?
Isn’t beer its own food group?
How do you spend your days off?
With two young boys, rugby and football are definitely part of the mix. Over summer, we love to go to the pool after work. I love to partake in a spot of camping over the summer break and exploring the waterways of the Marlborough Sounds. At any spare moment, you might find me running the Wither Hills in Marlborough training for the next half marathon.
What would people be surprised to know about you?
In 2015, I lost 50 pounds by cycling to work, running, and changing my diet.
If you weren’t making wine for a living, what would you be doing?
Either cooking or milking goats and making cheese.
How do you define success?
In my line of work, my definition of success is that people enjoy wine that I have had a hand in.