A visit from Kevin Judd, Marlborough pioneer

Clos & Cru were thrilled to host wine making legend Kevin Judd this week and receive a tutored tasting through the full range from his solo venture Greywacke. Judd came to prominence as the wine maker at Cloudy Bay, which he set up with David Honen and where he spent 25 vintages defining what the world has come to know as Kiwi sauvignon blanc. The name ‘Greywacke’ was adopted by Kevin for his first Marlborough vineyard located in Rapaura in recognition of the high prevalence of rounded greywacke river stones in the soils.

Kevin Judd Greywacke

Kevin Judd and Charlie in our office.  A selection of the Greywacke wines we tasted

Appropriately enough we started with the Greywacke Sauvignon Blancs. The just released 2014 Marlborough was a classic example: very zesty, some stone fruit and jasmine on the nose, and a pure, zingy citrus palate. It was interesting to contrast with the 2013 Marlborough Wild Sauvignon – the signature wine which Judd would like Greywacke to become known for – so called because the fermentation uses 100% wild yeasts. It’s a real chameleon of a wine, the 2013 had a flinty, slightly smoky nose which opened up to dried rose petals. On the palate there were white peach and soft earthy notes with a long finish. The grapes for both wines are harvested from the same blocks, so the differences are about wine making rather than terroir although Kevin does tend towards riper grapes for the Wild Sauvignon.

We were interested to learn more about his use of indigenous or wild yeasts which he uses for 100% of the cuvee of some wines and between 10 – 75% for others. He explained that this micro-flora plays a key role during the two weeks between the pressing and the start of fermentation. It develops and is responsible for the “wild” savoury herbal flavours, before alcohol kills the menagerie of organisms. They don’t monitor or analyse these natural yeasts, and the results vary from year to year . However the wild yeast are unpredictable and sometimes don’t give a strong result at all, which is why multiple ferments are useful to even out the differences.

Kevin wasn’t going into uncharted territory when he started using wild yeasts at Greywacke. He made his first wild wine in 1992 at Cloudy Bay, Te Koko was an experiment sold via the cellar door. Kevin wasn’t convinced at the time that he had hit the right note, although he did register the name Greywacke at that point, after the sandstone bedrock in the region and a small vineyard plot he owned, and the seed of an idea was sown. Kevin describes his Greywacke Wild Sauvignon as less leftfield, it doesn’t undergo 100% malo and he uses less new oak. He is looking for more freshness.

He isn’t the only one experimenting in this area, Dog Point’s Section 94 doesn’t undergo any malo and is a very different wine despite using grapes from the same areas as Judd.

A lively discussion about natural wine ensued, was this use of indigenous yeasts a stepping stone to producing natural wine? Let’s just say Kevin is a sceptic! All of the Greywacke grapes are grown either organically or sustainably, with the intention of looking after and preserving the land.

Next in line to try was the 2013 Pinot Gris – a bold quirky wine in a ripe Alsatian style, with pears on the nose and spicy ginger notes and a rich rounded finish. The fruit is hand-picked very ripe, with some berry shrivel, and occasionally some botrytis. It is then fermented in old oak barrels, 75% with wild yeast, the 2014 vintage will be 100% wild.

Kevin laments that riesling is a victim of its own diversity, the trade love it but the public are cautious as they don’t always know what they’re going to get. His 2013 Riesling had a gasoline nose. Zingy on the palate, peachy with sherbet, lemons and a blossom finish. It comes from vines with low yields. 50% is fermented wild to leave 20g residual sugar which makes it off-dry, that said it has high acidity so is balanced.

2012 Chardonnay is produced from the Mendoza clone, nothing to do with Argentina, it has high acidity and therefore needs to be picked very ripe giving wines with relatively high alcohol levels. The wines are fermented with 100% wild, yeast. The nose is autolytic with brioche, nuts and butter, in the mouth it is ripe with savoury undertones and a crisp finish.

According to Kevin Marlborough pinot is starting to come of age in New Zealand, in the beginning they didn’t have the right clones and planted in the wrong sites. Now high quality expressive pinot is being grown on hills site. His 2013 Pinot Noir had a sweet berry nose, perfumed with intense fruit. Pencil shaving and cedar on the palate opening up to dried fruits. This vintage was fermented in 40% new oak with 100% wild yeast, and the wine is unfiltered.

2011 Late Harvest Riesling. Kevin doesn’t always make a late harvest riesling sometimes he uses pinot gris and occasionally gewürztraminer. Fermented with cultured yeast to 120g residual sugar and botrytis. The 2011 had a marmalade and honeysuckle nose, soft citrus peel finish.

In June Kevin will be returning to London to do a vertical tasting of all the Wild Sauvignon vintages since he began in 2009. How do they age? Judd explains that the Wild Sauvignon has gone through a lot of maturation in the barrels before it’s bottled which means it is relatively stable. The regular sauvignon is bottled to capture the fruit and esters which evolve more during their time in the bottle.

Thank you to Dennis and Fran at Liberty for making time in Kevin’s busy schedule. As for the 2015 harvest that has started already, some of the pinot will be picked before Kevin heads back. We can’t wait to try it.

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