New Zealand Sparkling Wine – How To Be No.1
10th March 2022
Welcome to the country next to the one down under, part of the biggest empire to span across the globe, home to the Kiwi bird and some amazing Sparkling Wine.
New Zealand is a fascinating country that is worth learning a bit about, especially its marvelous wine region.
The first vineyard in New Zealand was planted on the 25th of September 1819, it was recorded in Samuel Marsden’s journal, he was an Anglican missionary, born in Farsley in England. But the first vines planted in Marlborough were in the 1870s.
This is where No.1 Family Estate settled, it is the largest wine region in New Zealand, Marlborough accounts for three-quarters of New Zealand’s wine production, with 70% of its vineyard area and 85% of its wine exports.
In 2003 New Zealand had 4,516 hectares (11,160 acres) of vines, and today that number has grown to around 39,935 hectares (98,680 acres). A large percentage of that is dedicated to the Sauvignon grape, around two-thirds, 25,160 hectares.
329 million litres (87 million US gallons) of wine is made in New Zealand each year, with 90% of it going overseas, being exported to Great Britain, the United States and Australia. Despite producing hundreds of millions of litres of wine, New Zealand produces less than 1% of the wine in the wine industry.
Although we’re talking about New Zealand Sparkling Wine, first, we need to dip our toes into Champagne to discover the story of a New Zealand Winery which is responsible for moving the industry in New Zealand forward by accomplishing a lot of firsts.
1684 is the earliest record of Le Brun planting vines in Champagne and in 1791, Champagne Le Brun produced their first bottle, the Champagne name that would make history in New Zealand, the Le Brun family has had a successful time in Champagne, but at some point, some of the family traveled over to New Zealand. Adele & Daniel Le Brun are the two names that mean a lot for the No.1 Family Estate, during their time there, Daniel Le Brun earned himself a nickname, the Grandfather of Méthode Traditionelle in New Zealand, being recognised for the many ‘firsts’ in the New Zealand wine industry, being dedicated to every stage of production, from the soil to the bottle.
His wife, Adele Le Brun is the one responsible for building the brand, making it known not just in New Zealand but across the world.
Their children are also now involved in the business, their son Remy grew up in the vineyards, he’s completed his bachelor’s degree in Viticulture and Oenology and is the 13th generation of Le Brun family winemakers and the first generation of Kiwi members of the Franco/New Zealand Le Brun family.
And their daughter Virginie Le Brun is known for being an actress and TV presenter from New Zealand, shes appeared on a children’s show ‘What Now’ and a New Zealand soap ‘Shortland Street’, she joined No.1 Family Estate in 2013 as the Global Brand Ambassador in London until 2017 when she left to become the Domestic & International Sales Director based in Auckland.
They both have their own Sparkling Wine named after them, Cuvée Virginie and Cuvée Remy, Daniel Le Brun made these bottles as a 21st birthday gift, he also made one for his wife, the Cuvée Adele in celebration of a milestone birthday.
The Le Brun family has been operating in New Zealand for over 45 years, it started when Daniel wanted something different, to find somewhere different, to find a place where he could still plant vines and produce Méthode Traditionelle Sparkling Wine, he visited many places, and did lots of research on the land and conditions until he found what he saw as the perfect location in 1975, New Zealand.
I asked Daniel Le Brun – How did you feel about leaving France and moving to New Zealand? – His answer was “I knew nothing about New Zealand, but for the fact that it was the land of opportunities. There were few opportunities in France, back in the 70’s, so if there were challenges ahead I was looking forward to take them head on.”
While in New Zealand looking for the perfect bit of land, her met his future wife, Adele, he fell in love with her, but at the time she was caring for her dying mother in Rotorua, so he put his search on hold to be by her side.
A year later in January 1979, Daniel would marry Adele, and 18 months later their first child would be born, a beautiful girl which they named Virginie.
At this point, Daniel know he wanted to plant vines in Marlborough, it was the place he’d been searching for, he knew it, but to finance such an operation, he had to sell some of his vineyards in Champagne to his brother, a task which no doubt was painful to do, but one which would allow him to build his dream in New Zeland with his new family.
He also started collecting vine cuttings to plant, as a Champagne man, he kept mostly to the Champagne grapes of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, he also went for Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc.
The time was almost upon them, in 1980 Daniel, Adele and their then 4-month-old daughter moved to Marlborough, along with his 50,000 cuttings from the Rotorua nursery which he had collected, he would use these to plant, as soon as he purchased 30 acres along State Highway 6, at the site of Renwick in Marlborough.
Starting a new vineyard is hard, it requires a lot of patience, so while waiting for their vines to grow, Daniel helped manage other vineyards to earn a living, because even once the vines start producing grapes, the fermenting process for Méthode Traditionelle Sparkling Wines takes no less than 18 months.
For his new methods, he started becoming known as ‘The Crazy Frenchman’, but by 1983 Daniel and his vines were ready for their very first harvest in New Zealand.
In 1984, although in New Zealand, Daniel wanted the ‘Vaslin Champagne 4000’ which was used in the production of Méthode Traditionelle Sparkling Wine, but, this would have to come from France, it ended up taking 5 months and I would imagine a hefty sum of money to take it halfway across the world, but that same press is still on the Estate today.
After 5 hard working years, on November 5th, 1985 Daniel and Adele would release their very first Sparkling Wine, they called it the Daniel Le Brun NV, when they opened their first bottle, they had over 200 guests, including New Zealand’s House of Representatives and the French Ambassador Mr Jacques Bourgoin, the bottled was opened with a sabrage.
I asked Daniel Le Brun – How did it feel when you opened your first Méthode Traditionelle produced in New Zealand? – His reply was “Opening the first bottle was very rewarding, even if there was a way to go, but it showed a lot of potential: ” Keep cool and carry on boy”
Then in 1989, they had their second child, a boy, they called him Remy.
They continued pushing the brand and working hard and in 1996 they sold their first venture, Cellier Le Brun, The Daniel Le Brun brand is now owned by Lion Nathan.
This is where the No.1 Family Estate Comes into view, in 1997, as they could no longer use their name as a brand, they decided on the name No.1 Family Estate in recognition of the many ‘firsts’ in New Zealand wine they had achieved over the years.
On Bastille Day 1999, they released their first Cuvée No.1 under the No.1 Family Estate brand and in 2012 their No.1 Assemblé was the first wine in New Zealand to be labelled ‘Méthode Marlborough’ in place of Méthode Traditionelle.
No.1 Family Estate – Cuvée No.1
Aroma 👃 “Gooseberry, lightly toasted bread and delicate fruits on the aroma.”
Flavour 👅 “A strong level of fizzy bubbles, oaky flavours with ripe fruits and green citrus on the palate”
This Sparkling Wine from New Zealand Won a Silver Medal in the Oaky & Toasty Category at the Glass of Bubbly Awards 2021
In the year 2019, they celebrated 20 years since they released their first Cuvée No.1 and in 2020 they released their Cuvée Virginie 2016 to celebrate the 40th birthday of Virginie and the 40th year of pioneering in Marlborough Méthode Traditionelle Sparkling Wines.
No.1 Family Estate – No.1 Reserve
This is my favourtie Sparkling Wine the No.1 Family Estate produce, the aroma on this Sparkling Wine is truly amazing, I only hope I was able to portray that in my tasting notes.
Aroma 👃 “Straight away you see that Hint of Spice, its a mixture of sweet spices like cinnamon, in powder format, it also smells exotic like your walking through a spice market in India or the Middle East, there are also fainter floral and fruity notes in the background adding to the amazing aroma.”
Flavour 👅 “A tingly sensation from the spices, still some sweet spice, but heading towards some Indian curry spices, again in powder format, also notes of toast and green fruits on the palate.”
The Trophy Winner in the Hint of Spice Category at the Glass of Bubbly Awards 2021
No.1 Family Estate – No.1 Rosé
Aroma 👃 “Nicely toasted toast, salty sea air, lukewarm chips on the beach from and saline aromas.”
Flavour 👅 “Red berries, red apples, saline, wet stones and seashells on the palate.”
This Rosé Sparkling Wine from New Zealand Won a Silver Medal in the Sea Breeze Category at the Glass of Bubbly Awards 2021
No.1 Family Estate – No.1 Assemble
Aroma 👃 “Creamy fruits, cheesecake, lemon zest, a true example of the Classic & Elegant Category, with floral, faint hints of marzipan and more on the aroma.”
Flavour 👅 “A creamy zesty mixture, lemon zest, yellow floral and yellow fruits on the palate.”
This Sparkling Wine from New Zealand Won a Gold Medal in the Classic & Elegant Category at the Glass of Bubbly Awards 2021
Special thanks to Daniel Le Brun for answering my questions for this article and to Ellie Vincent who works for No.1 Family Estate for her amazing help.
Champagne and Sparkling Wine Writer, Focused on Bringing the Exciting and Fascinating World of Bubbly to You.