Above: Brook and Lucie Lawrence, part-owners of Aurum Wines, Cromwell
Aurum Wines head winemaker Lucie Lawrence brings a bit of French flare to Central Otago’s wine scene. She recently shared some of her knowledge to an audience of international experts as part of a panel discussing the evolution of structure in Central’s pinots.
The event, hosted at Aurum near Cromwell township, was part of an international Pinot 2017 celebration based in Wellington.
“As part of the programme wine regions were given the opportunity of hosting international guests on tour pre or post Pinot 2017. They are leading wine writers, critics, buyers and sommeliers and had the opportunity to spend time in Central doing tastings, masterclasses and dinners.”
Lucie says the visits were co-ordinated by Central Otago Pinot Noir Ltd(part of COWA) and funded by the participating wineries.
“It’s a great opportunity to promote wines from throughout the region and our individual sub-regions like Bannockburn, Cromwell, Wanaka, Bendigo.”
Winemaking has an artistic, fun element to it, Lucie says, but it’s mostly science and hard graft and getting together with others in the industry always helped maintain the motivation.
Aurum are a small organic vineyard, family owned and operated, producing a unique style of wine for a niche market.
The reality of winemaking, particularly for this small operation, is quite different, Lucie says, to the glamourous picture people sometimes imagined. At harvest time the oenologist(winemaker) is flat out processing grapes as they are delivered to the winery from the vineyard.
“We go out in the morning and look and look again at the grapes then tell the crew what to pick that day. In the winery, we are receiving the new grapes and we are processing them, pressing, placing them in tank or de-steming. We are dealing with them, putting them where they need to go, then maybe starting the wine from the grapes bought in the previous day.”
Some years if the harvest is short, everything may come in at once. Four days straight could be spent just processing new grapes before actual winemaking could start.
“Then we are tasting, looking, smelling, and measuring everything. It is very involved, intuitive and scientific… there are good yeasts and bad yeasts and good bacteria and bad bacteria so we are promoting the good stuff, eliminating the bad stuff.”
A Family Operation
Lucie, husband Brook and Brook’s parents Tony and Joan, work together to grow and harvest the grapes as well as maintain the property and develop the business. Each has their own areas of responsibility within that, Lucie says.
Joan looks after the property’s olive plantation, the beautiful cottage gardens and the cellar door in the weekends. Tony manages vineyard staff, especially during harvest and maintains the property while Lucie runs the tasting room, is head winemaker and paperwork controller and Brook, also a qualified winemaker, ultimately takes charge of the viticulture. The couple work together during vintage in the winery.
Tony is also an orthodontist with a practice in Frankton he attends one day a week. 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 side - by each lending their names to an Aurum vintage.
Lucie grew up in Burgundy, France, where her grandparents owned a vineyard and other family members, including her mother, had restaurants.
The couple met when both were apprenticed to a wine estate in Burgundy near the end of their studies. Lucie loves her adopted home in Cromwell, as do her family from France who often visit and have become familiar with our local golf courses.
The tasting room at Aurum is open everyday, all year round, providing significant sales and the important opportunity to showcase the wines to customers and distributors.
Backpackers are bought in to provide labour at busy times but the Lawrences’ mainly do all the work themselves from picking the grapes to marketing. It’s busy, constant, even relentless at times but there is a huge bonus to owning it and doing it yourself, Lucie says.
“We can do our own thing. Here we only need a small audience for our wines so we can make it how we like.”
Being organic is key to Aurum’s way of being and they wouldn’t have it any other way, she says.
What interests her 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.
“That is my style and we are so lucky we can make the wines we love, we don’t have any pressure from shareholders to make a certain wine. We are tiny, we don’t need to find so many people because we are not making millions of bottles to sell. We are making for a niche market so we just need to find our own audience.”
Every Pinot Noir from Central Otago is different, she said, as all wines are different. They express where they come from and the people that make them and Cromwell was producing great variety in a small geographic area.
Central Otago wines represent less than 5% of New Zealand’s annual production but punch way above their weight in terms of recognition nationally and internationally.
Lucie says this is a huge help in marketing the wines and is testament to a lot of hard work being put in over time by organisations like the Central Otago Winegrowers Association.
“It is a big credit to these organisations, what they have done over the past twenty years and the pioneers of the wine industry here, they have done such a great job.”
Lucie says seeing what others are doing in the industry overseas and also getting together with winemakers here is hugely inspirational.
The prospect of creating new and exciting wines every year exactly how she pleases certainly helps fuel the motivation too.
Aurum Wines Fact File
Size of Vineyard: 4ha
Varieties: Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay
First vintage: 2006
Style and characteristics of wines: organic, transparent, textured wines
Favourite accolade: Winestate top 5 Pinot Noir Wine of the year for the 2014 Estate Pinot Noir