In New Releases, News, Winery Spotlight, WinesNovember 9, 2023

144 Islands

Unique In Name Unique in Style

144 Islands Wines

Finding this distinctive winery feels like a true discovery, or more aptly, a small miracle. The northern region of NZ is better known for sun-soaked white sand beaches and an epic marine playground than for its unheralded wineries. Time for Dhall & Nash to change that and for you all to taste these delectable gems!

We welcome to our D&N portfolio whanau 144 Islands from the Bay of Islands – the spectacular region of 144 islands. We wholeheartedly believe Northland is one of the rising stars of NZ’s wine growing regions. Moreover, Northland winegrowers like proprietor Jake Dromgool of 144 Islands, is much like the vintner pioneers of the past, daring to search for the perfect combination of soil, grape variety, and climate.

“144 Islands is dedicated to the production of quality single-vineyard wines from our home estate in the Bay of Islands, as well as specially selected sites throughout the Far North of New Zealand. We place emphasis on producing wines that convey a point of time and place, honouring the rich history of our region, the birthplace of a nation.”

144 Islands Website

144 Islands... literally
The Region

Anyone whose been to the Bay of Islands knows what stunning natural beauty abounds with over 144 islands making for an easily accessible aquatic wonderland. Not to mention, the area is rich in history and culture – as many of the pivotal moments in Aotearoa New Zealand’s story happened here, including the signing of Te Tiriti o Waitangi (the Treaty of Waitangi).

This tiny winegrowing region is still turning up gems two centuries after Reverend Samuel Marsden planted the first vines. Northland is not only the oldest, but it is also the warmest growing region in New Zealand, making it uniquely suited to ripening a wide range of grape varieties. Warm spring temperatures, hot summers, and calm, clear autumn days mean fruit ripens early, creating full-bodied, rich, and generous wines.

Jake Dromgool was the 2018 Northland Viticulturist of the Year

Jake and the family
The 144 Islands Story

We all love wines that tell a story – enjoying a compelling, intriguing yarn of the provenance of the wine in our glass. Such as that of 144 Islands and Jake Dromgool. So, this story starts…

Jake’s family has been farming in the hills outside of Kerikeri, overlooking the beautiful Bay of Islands, for generations. In 2014, when he was 22, he took a job in viticulture back in the Northland region, so it was perfect timing to return home.

“I was finally pursuing a chance to do what I was passionate about in a place I was passionate about”

Jake Dromgool, Proprietor of 144 Islands

In an unrelated coincidence, Jake’s family had also just purchased a block of land bordering their own farm, in the middle of which was a block of bush. Exploring this bush one afternoon, Jake & his father were surprised to find a long abandoned garden, with grapevines, not having been pruned in over 70 years, which had reverted to their wild state, growing to the tops of the canopy of Totara trees, and amazingly, they were loaded with delicious fruit.

Obviously, this unexpected discovery prompted Jake & his father to discuss the prospect of planting a vineyard on this site. Both being “men of action”, they put plans into motion fairly quickly, so within a few months they had planted approximately 1ha of vines, of multiple varieties, with the aim of discerning what varietals would be best suited to the site over the course of time.

As the years went by, Jake continued planting more, continuing to experiment, and as the vineyard grew, so too did his passion for wine, his skillset, and his breadth of understanding for what was required to make truly singular fine wines from this special site that has since become their revered Home Block.

Shortly into the hard work of establishing the vineyard, Jake met Melika. Being quite a practical bloke, on their very first date Jake put her to work in the vineyard – what a romantic! But it worked and within a year they had started a family. Since then, they’ve developed the Home Block together, with their 3 young children Remy, Marnie and Coco following close behind.

Over the intervening years, they have found what works well on their sites, and they’ve begun to understand how to craft unique and singular wines which are not only luscious, but also convey a sense of time and place, and reflect their stunning site.

“Our wines are unburdened by expectation or convention and instead seek to reflect the true potential of our often overlooked region, highlighting the unique volcanic soils of our ancient basaltic plateau in the beautiful Bay of Islands.”

144 Islands Website

The wines of 144 Islands
The 144 Islands Wines

The discerning D&N wine geek palates have been marvelling at the deliciousness and quality of the 144 Islands wines. Dare we say these vinous jewels are somewhat eccentric yet decidedly delightful and pair remarkably well with a broad range of foods. Which brings us to their white wine blends that are the signature of 144 Islands.

“Blends may now be on trend, but in Aotearoa we have largely been living in a single varietal world, as like many newer winemaking nations we figure out how individual grapes perform on our soils. Europe, with its far longer winegrowing history, is less fixated on showcasing or imbibing solo players… Rules are being broken [now in NZ], and surprisingly successful pairings are emerging”

Dr Jo Burzynska, Wine writer.

Why White Wine blends

European vineyards have produced white wine blends for millennia. It has been an age old practice to collect a variety of grapes from various vineyards, blending them to attain the qualities and consistency the winemaker is looking for. The different grape varietals contribute to make the whole greater than a sum of the parts.

On a practical level in the vineyard, as some varieties flower and ripen at different times, working with more than one grape spreads the risks posed by challenging weather over the growing season and vintage. Many of the new wave of blends we’re now seeing are “field blends”, where instead of varieties being kept separate and blended as finished wines, they are harvested and fermented together. Not only can fermenting varieties as one makes for more harmonious wines, field blends shift the focus from the character of the grape to that of the vineyard, offering fascinating profiles of the places they’re from. Exactly what 144 Islands has set their sights on achieving. There’s a broader palette of flavours, textures and structure which makes it fun for the drinker and the winemaker.

“A successful field blend with character.”

Bob Campbell MW on Melika’s Field

Let’s delve into the luminescent 144 Islands white wine blends:

144 Islands Melika's Field
144 Islands Melika’s Field 2020

Sauvignon Blanc (53%), Semillon (27 %), Albarino (15%), Petit Manseng (5%)

“Melika’s Field is made to be an ever-evolving expression of the greatest white fruit our Home Block has to offer in any given vintage. Made to elicit a long-lived memory of time and place, each vintage of Melika’s Field will inevitably be completely different to the last, in terms of both style and composition, as each vintage is immeasurably different, and our own tastes and preferences wax and wane with the ebb and flow of the years. By taking the emphasis away from the voice of any one single variety, we’re able to clearly communicate the volcanic origins and maritime influences of our unique Bay of Islands terroir. Named for the winemaker’s partner, who was given a pair of overalls and a spade on a first date, and helped plant what is now the Home Block”.

A glimmering golden colour. Expressive aromas of pink grapefruit and Provençal herbs. Opulent yet beautifully balanced with an array of tropical fruit and citrus on the palate. Think ginger root, magnolia, ripe figs, bush honey, tropical guava & pink grapefruit. Best drinking from 2021 – 2025

Winemaker’s Tasting Notes

Made from a series of co-harvested and co-fermented selections of fruit from around the Home Block vineyard, taken throughout the 2020 vintage. Whole-bunch pressing, indigenous barrel-fermentation in a mixture of 500L oak puncheons and 225L acacia barriques. Full solids contact without any racking, fortnightly battonnage. Unfined, coarsely filtered. 12.8% alc.

“… Enticing and attractive aromas and flavours of tropical fruits, sweet honey, citrus fruits, peach, and fresh herbs. A fine lees autolysis and minerality, complexity and satin texture. Acidity brings contrast and enhances the flavours of citrus and minerality and introduces a lite saline note. Balanced and well made, ready to drink upon purchase and through 2025.”

93 points – Cameron Douglas MS

“Crisp, refreshing and attractively fruity wine, with a range of tree fruit and citrus flavours. Bright wine with good purity and a refreshingly dry finish. A successful field blend with character.”

92 points – Bob Campbell MW

“Very fresh and lively… it is a highly aromatic, medium to full-bodied wine, with very good intensity of ripe, peachy, slightly spicy flavours, crisp, dry, and lingering.”

4.5 stars – Michael Cooper

144 Islands Melika's Field
144 Islands Melika’s Field 2021

Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Albariño, Semillon, Sauvignon Gris, Petit Manseng, Muscat ā petit grains

A lovely glistening white. An 18 month elevage ensures this wine, whilst retaining purity, is also imbued with an evocative floral aromatic profile. An elegant breadth of texture, incredible length on the palate and an exquisitely complex breath of salinity. Think, citron, magnolia flower, chamomile, lemongrass, yuzu, pomelo, saline. A great substitute for lovers of Pinot Gris or Dry Riesling.

Made from a series of co-harvested and co-fermented selections of fruit from around our Home Block vineyard, taken throughout the 2021 vintage. A gentle whole bunch press cycle, a brief settling period then fermented in a mixture of large format oak as well as acacia barrique. Malolactic fermentation has been withheld this year for a more crisp, restrained, and pure expression, with very little battonage. An 18 month elevage ensures this wine, whilst retaining purity, is also imbued with an evocative floral aromatic profile, an elegant breadth of texture, incredible length on the palate and an exquisitely complex breath of salinity. 12.5% Alc

144 Islands Marnie Manon White Blend
144 Islands Marnie Manon White Blend 2022

Marsanne, Roussanne, Chardonnay, Muscat ā petit grains

“Named for our daughter, Marnie Manon is a white wine made to convey a fine balance between opulent fruit and thirst-quenching freshness. Invariably, this wine is made with reference to the hedonistic white wines of the Northern Rhone and will remain each year a blend of predominantly Marsanne and Roussanne. Rarities in New Zealand, these two varietals have displayed an affinity for blending with one another as they have done for hundreds of years in Hermitage, and now they have also begun to display an affinity for our maritime volcanic terroir in the Bay of Islands. Warm, endearing and with plenty of character, this wine undoubtedly shares important traits with her namesake”.

A luscious golden yellow. A hauntingly beautiful aromatic profile reminiscent of wild multi-floral honey and jasmine tea. Incredible palate weight this wine is effortlessly enjoyable and defined ultimately by its incredible texture. Will reward careful cellaring for at least 5 years. Think St. Peray meets Mersault.

Chamomile, beeswax, toasted pineapple, green mango, jasmine, acacia, toasted almond.

Made from a co-fermentation of early-picked Marsanne and Roussanne, with a small component of Chardonnay and Muscat ā petit grains used for additional complexity, this is a wine which displays an impeccable balance of opulence and restraint. 100% whole-bunch pressing followed by fermentation in a single 500L puncheon, this wine is rare. 12.3% alc.

“My career ambition is to see the Bay of Islands recognised as being a destination for fine wines… and to help take wine from the North to the world. I believe… we have something to offer the market that no other region can quite match.”

Jake Dromgool, Owner & Viticulturalist

144 Islands Coco Maeve Rosé
144 Islands Coco Maeve Rosé 2022

“Named for their youngest daughter, Coco Maeve is a Tavel and Bandol inspired dry Rosé, made with fruit purposefully designated for a wine of this style. Our daughter Coco is undeniably independent and full of character and in light of this, we have sought to make a Rosé which stands out on its own merits as a beautiful fine wine.”

Blood Orange – Wild Strawberry Granita – Wet Gravel – Oyster Shell – Salted White Peach

The portion of our vineyard designated for Rosé is less exposed and more shaded by the canopies of surrounding forest than the portion designated for red wine, and therefore, ripens less evenly and more slowly. By allowing the vines to carry more fruit than we otherwise would were we aiming for red wine, we exacerbate this slow and gradual ripening process.

Picked at comparatively low sugar levels, with freshness the ultimate goal, Coco Maeve is simultaneously refreshing and easy drinking as well as complex and enthralling with the potential for long life.

Made from early-picked Syrah and Mourvèdre, this Rosé was pressed as whole bunches, briefly settled in stainless steel, before being fermented in 500L oak puncheons and retained on fine lees for 6 months before being racked and bottled without fining and only coarse filtration. Defined by an intriguing array of citrus fruit on both the nose and palate, this Rosé also conveys an almost satin-like texture, satiating phenolic pucker and salinity lend to phenomenal length on the palate. 11.5% Alc.

The 144 Islands Q&A Sessions

To better understand the philosophy and story behind 144 ISLANDS, we posed a brief Q & A to vineyard owners, Jake & Melika to provide us with a deeper insight into their exacting work & their stunningly luminescent wines. Read all about it here.