Meeting Kevin Judd for the second time, I felt as nervous as I did the first time. Perhaps even more so as this was going to be on his ‘home turf’ in Marlborough, New Zealand, rather than mine. I have long been a fan of this man – not only because of the wonderful wines that he makes but also due to the extraordinary photographs he produces. Economical with his words, Judd expresses so much with his outstanding photography.
Born in England but raised and educated in Australia, Judd moved to New Zealand in 1983 and, within a couple of years, became Cloudy Bay’s founding winemaker. Undeniably, Judd’s work at Cloudy Bay contributed significantly to the rise in New Zealand’s wine profile on the world wine stage, particularly where Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc is concerned. The greater region of Marlborough, made up of the broad, flat Wairau Valley and the more southerly Awatere Valley has experienced unrivalled vineyard plantings in the past 15 years, in particular. The area is now covered with such an expanse of vines that it really does look like a vast ocean of beautifully manicured hedges. Nonetheless it hasn’t been all plain sailing for the region as the boom and frantic pace of plantings led to an inevitable bust for some vineyard owners.
With 25 vintages at Cloudy Bay under his belt, Judd knew the region and its vineyards like the back of his hand. Such a grasp of the area has enabled Judd to secure excellent fruit from mature vineyards. Strong bonds within this tightly knit winemaking community mean that he is able to share the winery facilities of longtime colleagues and friends at Dog Point (also ex-Cloudy Bay).
The name ‘Greywacke’, registered as far back as 1993, comes from the rounded river stones of the same name that dominate Kevin, and wife Kimberley’s, first vineyard in Rapaura, in the northern Wairau Valley. With an initial focus on Sauvignon Blanc (made in two styles) and Pinot Noir, the Greywacke portfolio now consists of Chardonnay, Pinot Gris and two Rieslings. With such a strong pedigree the wines have inevitably already received widespread critical acclaim. I suspect were Greywacke to double its output they would not struggle to find buyers. However, Judd doesn’t come across as someone driven by the bottom line. His wines speak of place and purity of the healthy, fully ripened fruit used to make them. On the day I visited batches of freshly harvested Sauvignon Blanc bunches were being delivered to the winery. Tasting the intact grapes prior to crushing I could relate to the excitement surrounding the 2015 vintage in the region – everyone is very happy because the fruit quality promises some outstanding wines from this year. Judd commented that the Sauvignon Blanc flavours ‘look superb with ripeness at lower sugar levels and because night time temperatures have suddenly dropped the acids also look great’.
The Greywacke Sauvignon Blanc 2014 displayed everything expected of a really good example from Marlborough with an extra level of intensity and length. A personal favourite since its first release, the Greywacke Wild Sauvignon Blanc always offers an additional layer of interest on both the nose and the palate. The 2013 has a lovely flinty edge with hints of savory herbs on the nose, whilst the palate exhibited a succulent texture. This combination is the result of spontaneous natural yeast fermentation in French barrels, a portion of lees stirring and also malolactic fermentation for almost two thirds of the barrels. This wine is now also available in half bottles.
Greywacke Chardonnay just keeps getting better and better. Judd gave me the 2012 and 2010 to try alongside each other. Both had a savory, nutty nose whilst the 2010 displayed more biscuity characters denoting that extra evolution. The palate of both wines was just gorgeous – concentrated and ripe with a fine acid structure and long, lingering flavour length.
The other white wines in the Greywacke range are no less impressive. The Pinot Gris 2013 was luscious and exotic whilst the Riesling 2013, produced from a certified 18 year-old organic vineyard and made in a ‘spatlese’ style with 20 g/l of residual sugar was tight and crisp with a lemon sherbet zing. The Late Harvest Riesling 2011 exuded citrus marmalade.
Within the Cloudy Bay portfolio Pinot Noir has always been my firm favourite so I was thrilled when I first tasted Judd’s Pinot Noir under his own label at Greywacke. Quality Marlborough Pinot Noir has always had an attractive fragrance of red berries and a lovely suppleness on the palate.
With vine age the wines are now really starting to build some complexity and the wonderful earthy character, which I’ve always associated with top-notch Martinborough Pinots across the Cook Strait is now coming into play in high quality offerings from Marlborough. Greywacke Pinot Noir exemplifies this beautifully. The 2013 was sourced from Marlborough’s Southern Valleys, 100% organically farmed and mainly from the Yarrum (a Maori word? ‘No, just Murray backwards’) Vineyard. Fifteen year old, closely planted Dijon clones make up a large portion of the fruit with individual parcels of clones aged in barrel separately for 16 months before blending takes place. The resulting wine has a fresh aroma of red currants, cherries, spices and attractive savory earthiness. Concentrated yet elegant the palate displays the same red fruit characters as the nose but with an added generosity that is balanced by fine tannins and fresh acidity. The wine is nothing short of seductive.