I got off the plane in Nelson (a modestly sized town at the northern tip of New Zealand’s South Island) after a two-hour flight from Auckland. Alex Craighead, the winemaker and proprietor of Kindeli, picked me up. I was to spend the next two weeks working with him, learning his philosophy and techniques. As is the norm, we headed straight out to the vineyards.
After a quick dip into Marlborough to see some Sauvignon Blanc being grown for a client of his, we headed to the Upper Moutere where their winery and home vineyard is. The site is planted on Moutere Series Clay and features Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Pinot Gris, Gewurztraminer, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Syrah. They farm organically and opt for using sulphur, seaweed, compost, bat guano, and copper (only when absolutely necessary) to maintain the health of their vines. Between the rows you’ll find a stand of local trees, a small creek, and plenty of wild cover-crops. Plants like clover help restore nitrogen to the soil.
In the spring before veraison, the neighbour lets his flock of sheep into the vineyard; they mow the grass and eat all the leaves and shoots around the young, green grape clusters. As the grapes are extremely high in acid and low and sugar at this point, the fruit is unappetizing to the sheep. This opens up the canopy, allowing for better airflow and reduced chance of rot. It also manages vigour and brings composters directly into the vineyard. Alex and his parents also raise a small herd of cows, further adding to the biodiversity.
In addition to their own vineyard, they also purchase fruit from a couple small organic farmers around the region. Amongst these is a 45-year-old block of Pinot Noir overlooking the ocean, and a 35-year-old block of Chardonnay planted in Moutere Series Gravel.
In the winery Alex is a stickler for cleanliness. He won’t even allow you to bring wine glasses from their house into the winery for fear that a rogue malicious microorganism like brettanomyces will infest the place.
He tends to be ultra-sensitive to all forms of wine flaw: brettanomyces, mouse taint, ethyl-acetate, volatile-acidity, volatile sulphur compounds, and so forth. Because of this dislike, he has come up with dozens of preventative measures that seem to be extremely effective. To avoid reduction, he gives his wines plenty of oxygen during fermentation; he even performs delestage on white wines to keep the fermentation happy. Once the must is saturated with oxygen, he usually pumps the head space of the fermentation vessel with CO2 to prevent any unwanted bacteria from forming on the cap or surface of the wine. This usually hinders acetobacter and thus prevents unwanted volatile acidity.
He creates a starter culture by crushing several buckets worth of grapes and letting them naturally ferment. By adding small amounts of this to the must he can ensure healthy and vigorous fermentations. When fermentations do struggle, or ethyl-acetate can be detected, he gives the wine a little help by submerging spent skins and stems in the wine. This provides ample nutrients for the yeast and as the must warms up, ethyl-acetate volatilizes and blows off.
At the winery you’ll find a combination of stainless steel tanks, neutral oak barrels, polyethylene vats, and amphora. Most of the grapes undergo a combination of skin fermentation, direct pressing, carbonic maceration, and so forth. Whole clusters are used when deemed appropriate although he has pulled back from previous vintages. Extended skin contact has also been scaled back in pursuit of elegance and clarity.
The finished wines are bottled exclusively by gravity (using a wickedly archaic contraption) and are corked by hand. In 2017 he converted to Noma Corks which are made from recycled bits of sugarcane. They are carbon neutral and can’t be infected with TCA or other spoilage aromas. He doesn’t add any SO2 to the wines and they are not fined nor filtered.
2017 VINTAGE: In New Zealand, 2017 was an incredibly challenging season. It basically rained nonstop from bud-break until harvest. The frequency of botrytis and sour rot meant insane amounts of sorting. Alex even left an entire vineyard of Chardonnay out for the birds to eat because the fruit was all but desiccated. The fruit they did manage to harvest was lower in sugar and created elegant wines with fresh acid and bright perfumes. Despite the challenges, many people I spoke to in NZ are calling this Alex’s best vintage yet.
2017 LA LECHUZA (RIESLING PET-NAT)
Riesling grown on Mourtere Gravels and Clay is used for this cuvée. The skins soak with the juice for 12 hours before being pressed and settled. Once there is 8 g/l of sugar left in the must the wine is chilled near freezing. In the spring the wine is bottled and naturally warms up. The continuation of fermentation renders the wine sparkling (It took a few extra months to get to dryness this vintage). It is not fined, filtered, nor disgorged, and has no added SO2. 11.5% ABV
(200 Cases Produced) 788489
This wine is made from equal parts Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay. Half the grapes were fermented on the skins, a quarter were fermented as whole-clusters under a blanket of CO2, and the remaining portion was whole-cluster pressed. Fermentation and ageing vessels include stainless steel, amphora, and neutral oak barrel. The wine was bottled unfined and unfiltered without additional Sulphur. 11% ABV
(400 Cases Produced) 788495
This vin de soif is a combination of Pinot Noir (75%), Syrah (15%), and Pinot Gris (10%) planted on a combination of Moutere Clay and Gravel. 40% was fermented as whole bunches, 20% was fully carbonic maceration, and the remainder was destemmed. Fermentation and élevage were done in stainless steel. It is bottled unfined and unfiltered with less than 10ppm of SO2. 12.5% ABV
(400 Cases Produced) 788493
This wine is made from a blend of Pinot Noir, Syrah, Chardonnay, and Riesling. The grapes were destemmed, crushed, and left on the skins over-night. In the morning, the juice was pressed off and started fermenting in stainless steel. At 10g/l of sugar, the still-fermenting wine was bottled resulting in a wine with a couple atmospheres of pressure. The wine was not disgorged, and no Sulphur was added. 10.5% ABV
(175 Cases Produced) 800939
2016 EL JABALI (SYRAH)
William Murdoch Vineyard is located in the Gimblett Gravels, Hawkes Bay. They harvest their Syrah quite early to retain freshness. 80% of the grapes were fermented as whole clusters, while the remaining 20% was destemmed and left on the skins for two weeks. Élevage was entirely in stainless steel. It is bottled unfined and unfiltered with less than 10ppm of SO2. 10.9% ABV (0.3 g/l VA)
(150 Cases Produced) 788490
Alex went a little bit crazy with this cuvée; he wanted to blend every single grape he grows together to get a full picture of the terroir he works with. Every fermentation technique was used on this wine: carbonic, destemmed, whole-cluster, direct press, and so on. Fermentation vessels range from stainless steel to amphora. The wine was bottled without fining, filtration, or Sulphur. 11% ABV
(175 Cases Produced) 800938
2016 Pinot Gris (Martinborough)
The Pinot Gris vines for this cuvee are planted on Martinborough Gravels. Alex makes a starter in the vineyard which he uses to inoculate the juice for fermentation. The wine spends 40 days on the skins in a combination of 200L Australian amphora and stainless steel. Gentle pumpovers are done for a minute or two each day to wet the cap. It is bottled unfined and unfiltered with less than 10ppm of SO2. 11.8% ABV (0.55 g/l VA)
(110 Cases Produced) 788479
Gewürztraminer was fermented on skin for 21 days in amphora after being destemmed. Riesling juice is then poured over the spent skins for a day before the wines are blended and finish fermenting and ageing in Amphora. The wine is then racking into stainless steel before bottling. The final wine is bottled without fining, filtration, or SO2. 12% ABV
(175 Cases Produced) 800937
2016 Pinot Gris (Nelson)
This Pinot Gris vineyard is planted on Moutere Clay in Nelson, the northern tip of New Zealand’s South Island. The wine was fermented and aged on the skins for 36 days in Tinajas (Spanish clay amphorae). During primary fermentation the wine was pumped over once a day for a couple minutes to wet the cap. It is bottled unfined and unfiltered with less than 10ppm of SO2. 12.3 ABV (0.61 g/l VA)
(110 Cases Produced) 788488