..."A similarly boutique-style outlook informs production at Providence Wines, comprising just two hectares, resulting in some 800 cases a year – around 9,000 bottles – but none at all if the harvest is poor (as was the case in 2011, when absolutely no wine was bottled). Providence has a breathtaking location an hour’s drive from Kumeu, an area called Makatana, all meandering river valleys and visually stunning coastlines. Most visitors explore the main town of Warkworth, canoe on the Puhoi River, or head-bang to rock gigs at Ascension (arguably the area’s most famous wine estate – Village People play there in December). But hardly anyone ever goes to Providence.
Why? Because owner James Vuletic, also descended from Slavic stock, actually likes it that way. His estate is neither open to the public nor mentioned in the tourist brochures (or located on any of the local wine maps) and most of his wine isn’t even drunk in New Zealand – it’s mainly consumed in Europe (Germany, Switzerland and Belgium) and Asia (Hong Kong, Japan, Korea, Macau and Singapore), usually by direct sale to private customers. He has never sold in the UK, “because the English have decided I’m too expensive.”
The latest vintage of his flagship wine, priced at NZ$150 a bottle, is the 2006 Providence Private Reserve – a sinewy blend of 45 percent Cabernet Franc, 45 percent Merlot and 10 percent Malbec – which I taste with him and find rapturously good. In November 2011, he received his only review thus far in Robert Parker’s The Wine Advocate, scoring a respectable 94 points for this wine, this same vintage. The only other wine he makes is a Syrah, so don’t start him on the trendy view of Sauvignon Blanc as New Zealand’s best wine, blah, blah, blah.
“I don’t make white wine, and I don’t know why,” he shrugs, “I’ve just never really tried growing any white grapes. If I was younger, I might have – if I was 37 now and not 67 – but, really, I can’t be bothered.” Call him eccentric, but wine is an expression of what he loves and that, for him, is the style of the Bordeaux right bank; hence his focus on the king grape of that region, Cabernet Franc. “You have to have the right bit of land,” he asserts. “I planted this vineyard in 1990 and my first vintage was 1993. Before that, I had another vineyard in the area, where we grew Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec. That vineyard showed me that Merlot and Malbec were excellent for the area while Cabernet Sauvignon was not. Then I left that vineyard, that partnership, and decided to grow Cabernet Franc, not really knowing what it would be like.”
“It was a risk for me, and I think it’s paid off,” he says. “I do what I consider is best for the property here, to make a wine with elegance and finesse, with a length on the palate.” Simultaneous with Providence, he was also a lawyer and finally retired from his practice in 2010, buoyed by how often people mistook his wine for Bordeaux. “Everybody says that – no one says it’s a New World wine. There’s still a lot of prejudice but it will be broken down, and it unfortunately takes time. For me, there is no schism because it’s like a bridge – I like Old World wines and I like making wine in the New World.”