Drink: Island life

Anthony Rose meets Michael Seresin, cinematographer turned wine-grower
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Indy Lifestyle Online
When London-based cinematographer Michael Seresin left Wellington 26 years ago, he had little idea that he would later be putting down roots in his native New Zealand. Six years ago, he created a new vineyard, planting Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay. The first mouth-watering releases, in 1996, propelled Seresin Estate in Marlborough, South Island, and its trademark hand-print label, into the front rank of Kiwi wine producers. Now, Seresin has his sights set on making a great Pinot Noir.

He attributes his creative side to his father, a Russian Jew who started a theatre and New Zealand's first coffee shop, which became a refuge for artists, actors and musicians in Wellington's strait-laced society. "My father had a passion for life, love, politics, women - and wine," says Seresin.

In 1966, aged 23, Seresin packed his camera bag and left for Europe. Soon, he was working on commercials, before making his first film as director of photography on The Ragman's Daughter, with Harold Becker. He made seven films with Alan Parker, including Bugsy Malone and Midnight Express. More recently, working with Harold Becker again, he shot City Hall starring Al Pacino, and he is currently working with Bruce Willis on Mercury Rising.

Seresin's interest in wine was rekindled in Italy. With his friend Maurizio Castelli, consultant to, among other Chianti Classico estates, Volpaia and Badia al Coltibuono, he looked at some land in Tuscany, but eventually decided against. "It was quite difficult, partly because I don't speak the language, but, basically, I didn't have the courage."

He started to look at New Zealand in 1987 after tasting a Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc, from South Island. He acquired 170 acres of sheep-grazing land in the Wairau Valley and planted two-thirds of it, first with Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay, and then smaller amounts of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Malbec.

"A lot of New Zealand wine is a bit 'in-your-face'," says Seresin. "My aim is to build on the fruit-driven qualities of the good wines from Marlborough to achieves a bit more complexity." Standard vine rows in New Zealand are three metres apart to accommodate farm tractors. Seresin uses closer spacing to get more competition going between the vines. "Machinery doesn't dictate the width of the rows. It's determined by what's appropriate to get the best fruit."

Seresin hired architect Ian Athfield to build a winery that was both practical and in keeping with the landscape. To make the wine, he took on Brian Bicknell, a brilliant young Kiwi who had worked at Errazuriz in Chile. At 10,000 miles distance from his homeland, the two of them communicate daily by fax. "We talk pretty much every day at vintage to discuss what the weather's like and how the grapes are. The end of my day's the beginning of his."

Inspired by a passion for red Burgundy and the quality of New Zealand Pinot Noirs from Dry River, Giesen and Fromm, Seresin has decided to concentrate on trying to make world-class Pinot Noir.

Since he began his venture, Michael Seresin has seen a sea-change in the attitude of New Zealand wine producers. "For a lot of people who grew grapes, it was just another crop. It could have been potatoes or cherries or garlic."

He derives pleasure not just from his winery, but also a "shared sense of accomplishment". "I was in D'Urvilles restaurant in Blenheim with my mother. This bloke walks in and asks the bar staff if they have any of the wine with the hand-print on it. Mum said, 'That's my son's'. It was lovely"

The elegantly exotic 1997 Seresin Estate Sauvignon Blanc has just arrived in the UK and is available on special offer from John Armit Wines, London W11 (0171-727 6846) at pounds 96 a case (normal price pounds 110) till the end of the month.

White of the week

1997 Springfield Estate Special Cuvee, Robertson, Limited Release, pounds 6.75, Waitrose, Victoria Wine, Sainsbury. A brisk, grapefruit Cape style with pungently nettle aromas, a refreshing spritz and zesty afterbite that wouldn't be out of place in Sancerre.

Red of the Week

1995 Vila Santa Tinto, Vinho Regional, Alejonto, pounds 6.99, Unwins, Co-op. Although made in a modern style, the marriage of new oak and local grapes (plus a smidgen of Cabernet Sauvignon) stamps this fruity wine with a Portuguese character.

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