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.
2018 LA LECHUZA (RIESLING PET-NAT)
About: 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 is not fined, filtered, nor disgorged, and has no added SO2.
About: This vintage was made from Chardonnay (60%) and Sauvignon Blanc (40%) from three different vineyards. Last year they lost nearly all their Chardonnay to botrytis, so this vintage is more in-line with what Alex always envisioned. 5% was fermented carbonically, 15% was destemmed and fermented on skins, the rest was pressed into neutral oak and stainless steel. The wine is bottled unfined, unfiltered, and without sulphur. 12% ABV
About: This vin de soif is a combination of Pinot Noir (90%) and Syrah (10%) planted on a combination of Moutere Clay and Gravel. 10% went through carbonic maceration. The remainder spent between five and twelve days on skins with roughly 10% stem inclusion. Fermentation and élevage were done in stainless steel. The wine is bottled unfined, unfiltered, and without sulphur. 12% ABV
About: This wine is made from a blend of Pinot Noir, Syrah, Chardonnay, and Riesling. The reds were whole-cluster pressed, and the whites were soaked on skins overnight. Fermentation was carried out in stainless steel tank. At 10g/l of sugar, the wine is chilled, settled, and racked. Alex bottles the wine in early spring with as little sediment as possible. It ferments dry in bottle resulting in a lightly sparkling wine.
About: This is a complete picture of Alex’s vineyard. He uses every variety grown on his vineyard, co-fermenting in three lots and then blending. It is made from Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir, and Syrah. There was some stem inclusion, some direct press, some skin contact. Ageing and fermentation were almost entirely in stainless steel. As usual, the wine is bottled unfined, unfiltered, and without sulphur.
About: For this cuvée, Gewurztraminer was fermented on skins for five days in amphora. After pressing, Riesling and Pinot Gris juice is added to the spent skins for a day. The wines are all blended together and age in amphora for several months before being bottled, unfined, unfiltered, and without sulphur.
About: Alex decided to add a second red wine to his roster this year. It is roughly 90% Pinot Noir and 10% Pinot Gris. They are whole-bunch co-fermented for three days before being pressed off into neutral barrel. The barrels are topped with Gewurztraminer. After several months ageing, the wine is racked and bottled without sulphur. 11% ABV