Last week, a mosque was attacked and too many people were killed while they were in prayer. Too many men, women, children died once again: one would be too many but in this case so far fifty people died in the shooting attacks at the Al Noor and Linwood mosques in Christchurch. It’s enough that the Prime Minister is leading the country in a direction to harness the killing power of guns by banning weapons like those used in the mosque attacks in Christchurch.
As I’ve listened to the news this week, I’ve also reflected on the stories of New Zealand that I know, and most of them reflect the beauty of the country, the haka of the Maori tribe, and of course, the wonderful wine, particularly the Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir. I’ve never visited NZ but I’d love to and I’ve even considered moving there, more so now than ever as the world watches how they are responding.
One story I heard on the radio talked about how important it is to focus not on those who did the killing (and in this case who is now in custody) so as not to glorify the shooter, provide the desired infamy, and spread the shooter’s message. Also don’t focus on the body count. “He is a terrorist. He is a criminal. He is an extremist. But he will, when I speak, be nameless,” says New Zealand’s prime minister, Jacinda Ardern
Instead, speak the names and tell the stories of those who died and are impacted.
Tell the stories of the good being done in the country.
And that takes me to the story of Erica Crawford of New Zealand’s Loveblock Wines, because Erica is doing a wonderful job making wine that takes care of the planet and people and she’s been tirelessly traveling and spreading the word. Sue and I had an incredible lunch at Wolf with Erica two years ago and wrote about that lunch here for an International Women’s Day feature.
Earlier this month, we had lunch with her again at Fig in Santa Monica as she was on her way to World Of Pinot Noir in Santa Barbara where she was featured on a panel led by Elaine Chukan Browne that also included wines by Briane Day who we will be featuring soon!
While the private room at Fig was quite warm and almost impossibly loud, I was able to take some notes while listening to Erica spin her story.
Erica meet Kim Crawford in her home country of South Africa. They fell in love, started making babies and soon they had two babies thirteen months apart so it wasn’t viable for her to go back to work– and they started making wine.
“We had this little brand so I thought I could do that and do the babies,” Erica said with a laugh.
Having a child myself, I know exactly what she meant!
In the mid-1990s, the Kim Crawford brand was one of the first three to come to the US with 20K cases. A trained winemaker, Kim made sauvignon blanc with “big zippy green flavors,” said Erica. They produced 2.9 million cases since 1996, then sold that brand in 2006 to Constellation.
“So much grapefruit, so much green peppers, so much cut grass that for me it was too much,” Erica said further describing the style of Sauvignon Blanc that New Zealand is known for.
Following the sale of Kim Crawford to Constellation, Erica and Kim moved to create a different style and kind of wine — a wine that was more subtle and better for the planet and people’s health.
“In my early 30s just a few years after we started,” Erica explained, “I smacked into a lamppost” and she started paying more attention to food, labels, even skin care and cleaning products. “We bought some more land and it was the natural thing to do – organic wine for this project.”
They continued to supply the Kim Crawford brand with pinot noir, but they wanted to make their own organic wine, so they took out a loan.
“I didn’t sleep for months – you know that first time you take out a big back loan? Now just a million here and a million there,” she said with a laugh.
They bought a second lot eventually selling it to Treasury after taking off the best part. This land, Erica describes as “Up in the hills… a challenging growing environment. We learned a lot and we made some mistakes” as they developed an integrated organic farm: “we don’t only grow grapes but we have 200 herd of cattle.”
While they were in love with what they were doing, “When we started this brand we were nervous on two fronts,” she said. “The style is so different, the brand is so different.” They asked themselves
“What are we doing here? It’s full of weeds!” But, she continued, “When you look down the road what you see is the dandelion plant which has a deep tap root with the little hairs.”
That dandelion plant is now featured on their labels and it testifies to their commitment to farming as a system; to understand it better, Erica went back to school to learn more and get a degree where she learned that the classic style gets those big green flavors because of the way to is grown. So for Loveblock to make the wine they wanted, the viticulture is quite different and the wine making is quite different.
When they bought the Loveblock farm in 2006, it was all just grazing land; 2013 saw the official launch of Loveblock the wine. After ten years of practicing organics, the wines are starting to develop a texture, she says.
The goal, she said, is to be able to taste the place, and a great example of that is the Pinot Gris, which also, she says, ages beautifully and gets a nice creaminess with time. Pinot gris is the fastest growing white wine in AUS and NZ.
“We struggled with the sugar /alcohol balance,” she said gesturing with both hands. “If you pick it when it’s ripe enough you get high alcohol levels.” Being committed to being organic and having a high altitude farm has meant a struggle.
While Kim Crawford was a co-creator of the so-called Marlborough style they are running away from that style, and she says, “people’s palates are evolving.”
“We are growing more to a fruit style, floral style.”
While traditional meant grapefruit, capsicum, cat pee, and gooseberry with big green flavors coming from the vineyard from the natural pyrozenes, it is possible to grow sauvignon blanc to have these characteristics in balance with others. Sauvignon blanc is the only white wine with that flavor, she pointed out. It raises during varasion – that’s when it peeks, she explained, but “If you shade these clusters, these grapes you get this green lift.” With a chuckle she said, “We weren’t fancy enough” to figure it out — “it’s as a result of farming organically.” Organic vines are always a lot more open, she said. Unlike commercial vines, organic ones have to work harder: “They have to fight with cover crops for nurtients and water. The canopy is more open so a lot more sun. So then we took on the philosophy of opening the canopy.” There’s a lot more happening underground too. Winemaking plays a role too: allowing some malalactice fermentation and some oak can round the flavors out.
This brings more peach in the glass: “of course there’s grapefruit but also passionfruit and thyme. It’s in the vineyard and in the winery” that brings this complexity to Loveblock’s wines. The 2017 vintage which we tasted at the lunch “is pure canned peach” and we agreed — with an acidic kick at the finish.
Some vintages are just more challenging as well. “The most difficult was in 1995 and I’d just had a baby in the middle of that vintage,” said Erica. It was a real “Dog’s breakfast” she said where everything was coming in on top of everything else. Challenging vintages are “when good wine makers come in to play.”
Climate change is contributing to the challenges of winemakers everywhere but in NZ that means cyclones: “Cyclones are coming further south before they turn sheets of rain coming down for days,” said Erica.
The bottle neck for Loveblock is processing. With a current total case production of 28k cases, there’s a potential of 65-67k for the estate from fruit so they sell the extra. Pinot gris is the most sought after and most expensive: “What we don’t need we sell and people are lined up.” They supplement the pinot noir they grown with fruit from a friend’s biodynamic vineyard. The most recent release is very light in color. It was a super hot vintage, and Erica advises giving it a little time in the bottle. I know in the World of Pinot Noir media room it was not showing that well; it thrives with food, for one, and for another, it retails between $20-25 at Whole Foods while most of the other wines in the room were super small production and sold between $50-$150. This one is bright and tart with some earthy violet.
Look for wines from Loveblock in select restaurants and stores including Whole Foods where the wines retail for under $25. With an easy open screwtop, they’re great for a grab and go dinner at home, a friends, or for a picnic at the park or the beach.
Squash Blossom pizza – Green Garlic Pesto, smoked mozzarella chiles
Foraged Mushroom Pizza – Black Truffle, taleggio cheese, wild arugula
Tandori Fried Chicken Sandwich – Mango Habanero chutney & Raita, Sunflower sprout slaw, butter lettuce, pears, and poppy seed dressing – so good with the wines
Main Lobster Cobb – Gem lettuce, smoked bacon, scarbourough farm’s tomatoes, avocado, boursin cheese, lemon tarragon dressing; this had great bacon, but overwhelmed the lobster.
Cookies and Cappuccion for dessert
As I wind down this post, the news continues to talk about event sin Christchurch. Hugs to everyone on this sad day.
We can do better. We can take care of planet and people. All of us and every species; we belong together.
I love Erica Crawford and her Loveblock wines. She’s an incredible winemaker and such an amiable person! How wonderful you all got to spend time with her again.