A land created by volcanoes and then calmed by glaciers, it is nowadays a flourishing wine country known worldwide for its fresh and vibrant Sauvignon Blanc. But it offers much more than one style and one grape variety.
Due to its isolated location in the Pacific Ocean (with Australia being the nearest land mass at 1900 km distance), the country experiences an overall maritime climate. Long sunshine hours, cool nights, sea breezes and a long ripening period allow grapes to reach high levels of sugar and flavour ripeness while keeping a good acidity.
When talking about low-intervention and natural wine, compared to its neighbour Australia, New Zealand was a bit late in the game. The low-interventionist wave came at the time but didn’t necessarily develop at the same pace.
This is because New Zealand is a quite conservative country with a fairly small wine scene that has been dominated for the longest time by a few big players, which only focused on the production of the most popular style of Sauvignon Blanc and were less open to experimentation.
But things have been changing over the past decade.
THEO COLES from THE HERMIT RAM
NORTH CANTERBURY (South Island)
‘It all began in 2002, when I stumbled across an etching of a large gnarly looking ram standing in a field during my travels. He was defiant, a little savage, had an old world charm and was very New Zealand. I bought him, had him framed and hung him up in my lounge.’ - Theo Coles.
With two decades of experience under his belt and working harvests in Europe, Theo Coles wines stand totally apart against a myriad of New Zealand wines that are often mass-produced and taste the same. They have a unique character and depth.
In 2012 an opportunity arose, and Theo started working with Gareth Renowden who owned a little Pinot Noir vineyard in Waipara Gorge - Canterbury, in the north of New Zealand’s South Island. What came from the parcel via natural winemaking was a distinct forest-like, salty tang and this was the beginning of the Hermit Ram - named after an etching of a defiant, solo ram that he had bought a decade earlier. Since then, Theo kept pushing the envelope to explore natural winemaking further, in his own vision. He expanded the range of his wines, and the fruits come from tiny vineyards throughout the Canterbury region, all naturally farmed without chemicals and Theo is keen to stress that every wine has its own story to tell.
ALEX & JOSEPHINA from KINDELI WINES
NELSON (South Island)
‘Most winemakers don’t ask enough questions like, ‘why are we doing it like this?’ Because usually the answer is, ‘well, that’s just the way I was taught’, but that’s not really good enough. Everyone should want to experiment with their technique, as much as possible.’ - Alex Craighead & Josefina Venturino.
Australian Alex Craighead had his first experience with the wine world during a wine tasting in the Swan Valley, Western Australia. After which he fell into the rabbit hole of winemaking, decided to quit his accounting studies to start learning about viticulture and oenology in New Zealand.
In 2008 he met Josefina, a landscape architect from Argentina and, after living around the World for a few years, they returned to New Zealand. Drawn to low intervention wines and winemaking, the couple began to experiment with zero sulphur wines in 2013. In 2014 they released their first wines in Martinborough. In 2016 they moved to Nelson, where they bought an existing organic winery and vineyard. Here, they take care of 4.5 hectares planted with 14 different varieties. In addition, they lease another three vineyards totalling an another 9.5 hectares.
Skin fermentation and whole bunch methods are at the core of Alex and Josefina’s progressive (and uncommon for New Zealand) winemaking.