From Otago with Love: Organic Loveblock’s Pinot Noir Paired with Duck Breasts #WorldWineTravel

Loveblock’s Pinot Noir

Some gatherings are large and some are small– especially when it comes to holiday gatherings! Sometimes you may be planning on two or three people and suddenly there’s five or six or more. That’s where an expandable cheeseboard, a salad, and something special like family style sliced duck breasts with mushroom rice pilaf served in a roasted squash come to play with wine with screw tops from New Zealand’s Loveblock winery: a Pinot Noir from Otago in the southern part of the South Island and a bottle of their Sauvignon Blanc Tee. 

The concept for the pairing was an intimate yet elegant meal for two because not everyone celebrates with a large group of family and friends. And then I learned my son was coming home from college that night AND Sue’s significant other would be joining us! So instead of two duck breasts, Sue picked up four from Watkins Ranch in Meiners Oaks, and with a generous amount of mushroom pilaf, elderberry sauce, a substantial salad of greens, heirloom tomato and mozzarella with dollops of pesto plus a generous cheeseboard we were in business. 

mushroom pilaf in a winter squash then served family style adorned with duck slices garnished with elderberry sauce

To close out 2022, the World Wine Travel writers visit South Island New Zealand with host Susannah Gold. Scroll down for their contributions to the conversation. 

As soon as I heard South Island’s Otago, I thought Pinot Noir, and when I think of South Island NZ’s Pinot Noir, I think of organic Loveblock, a wine you can often find at Whole Foods, and which was begun by Kim and Erica Crawford who we lunched with and interviewed in 2019.

Erica Crawford of New Zealand’s organic Loveblock Wines

Born in South African, it was there that Erica met Kim Crawford and where they fell in love, made two babies thirteen months apart, and they started making wine including sauvignon blanc with “big zippy green flavors,” said Erica. 

“We had this little brand so I thought I could do that and do the babies,” Erica said with a laugh.

They grew to produce 2.9 million cases, popularizing a particular style which Erica describes as “So much grapefruit, so much green peppers, so much cut grass that for me it was too much.” 

Following the sale of the Kim Crawford brand to Constellation in 2006, Erica and Kim wanted to create wine that was more subtle in style as well as better for the planet and people’s health.

“Just a few years after we started,” Erica explained, she started paying more attention to food, labels, skin care, and cleaning products. “We bought some more land and it was the natural thing to do organic wine for this project.” While they continued to grow grapes for the Kim Crawford brand for Constellation, they wanted to make their own organic wine as well which required taking out a loan leading to any sleepless nights..

They purchased more land which 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… we have 200 herd of cattle.”

When they bought the Loveblock farm in 2006, it was all just grazing land; 2013 saw the official launch of Loveblock the wine. While they loved what they were doing, “We were nervous on two fronts,” she said. “The style is so different, the brand is so different.” 

They questioned themselves asking: “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.”

Loveblock organic wines

That dandelion plant on their labels testifies to their commitment to farming as a system. Erica earned a degree where she learned that the classic NZ style gets those big green flavors because of the way they grew it. So for Loveblock, the viticulture and wine making is different resulting in a more subtle and elegant Sauvignon Blanc. (More on that below).

Being committed to being organic and having a high altitude farm has meant a struggle, but after over 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 their 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.

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. 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.” Read more here about Erica Crawford. And here Erica Crawford. 

 

South Island NZ map from Susannah Gold

With this month’s focus on South Islands, which include Central Otago, here’s a Quick Intro to the area:

  • Distinct mountain terrain provides each region with a unique climate, aspect and altitude.
  • Pinot Noir and Chardonnay flourishes in the Central Otago, with a variety of expressions depending on micro-climates.
  • Identified for winemaking potential by Bragato in 1895.
  • First Gold Medal was for ‘Burgundy’ in Sydney in 1881.
  • In the 1970s, vineyards replaced stone fruit orchards.
  • Central Otago captivates visitors with snow-capped mountains. 

Marlborough is famous for NZ SB which we wrote about last month featuring Villa Maria with pairings. While this month’s prompt focuses on non-Marlborough wines from South Island NZ, we had the opportunity to write about this Loveblock wine which really showcases their beautiful fruit and their unique style  so we went with it! 

Loveblock’s Pinot Noir

2021 Loveblock Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough, NZ

ABV:  13%
SRP: $34
Grapes:  Sauvignon Blanc
Importer: Terlato wines international

While Kim Crawford was a co-creator of the so-called Marlborough style, they are moving away from that style, and  “We are growing more to a fruit style, floral style.”

Instead of grapefruit, capsicum, cat pee, and gooseberry with big green flavors coming from the natural pyrozenes in the grapes which you also find in some reds like Cabernet Franc, they are growing and making their sauvignon blanc to have these characteristics in balance with others. These characteristics peek during verasion, but “If you shade these clusters, these grapes you get this green lift.” With a chuckle Erica 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.”  Winemaking plays a role by allowing some malolactic fermentation and some oak to round the flavors out.

These techniques 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.

Narrative: While $34 might be a bit much for some to pay for a Sauvignon Blanc, this is a wine well worth the money. This is not your standard New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. This is not a wine you would think of with the name Kim Crawford. The winemaker has evolved and grown in a very different way… just like many of us!  

Appearance: Pale yellow, a bit on the gold side, 

Aroma: Grapefruit, lemon custard, kiwi, nutmeg, lime

Palate: Slick mouthfeel, texture at the tip of the palate, orange rind, lemon curd, orange, orange blossom, grapefruit and tangerine, orange oil, fresh tangerine on the finish, mouthwatering tang, fresh pineapple, once food is on the palate there is a lovely gooseberry on the palate

Pairing: The wine responded nicely to the cheese plate, it loved the raw milk goat cheese, great with the Morbier, I had a wow moment because I did not think the pate would work, but it did bringing out such nice bright citrus in the wine. The Snowdonia Cheese company truffle cheddar was a bit intense for the wine, but was not terrible. The wine was great with our Caprese salad. The wine loved the basil elements of the salad and the wonderful umami richness of the tomato. The umami richness of both the salad and the wine marry so nicely together elevating the experience of both. The toasty nuttiness of the mushroom pilaf are perfect to the crisp fruit in the wine. The sweet creaminess of the baked squash was a perfect companion to the wine. 

Loveblock’s Pinot Noir with duck and mushroom pilaf served in a roasted winter squash

2021 Loveblock Pinot Noir Otago, NZ

ABV:  13.0%
SRP: $41
Grapes:  Pinot Noir
Importer: Turlato Wines International

Narrative: This is a wine rich in texture bringing forth a rich textural experience with any meal. 

Appearance: Rich in color, ruby, plum, mauvish rim, translucent, a beautiful deep color

Aroma: Cedar and raspberry, church incense, heady and rich, 

Palate: Cherry pipe tobacco, leather, cedar, the tannins and acidity are a bit surprising up front, the textural elements are important to the success of this wine, raspberry, pine. To lay this wine down and see how it evolves would be a worthwhile adventure. 

Pairing: Salami is nice with the wine, Snowdonia Cheese company makes an amazing truffle cheddar that was amazing with the wine. The cheese has a big long finish which marries nicely with the cedar wood finish of the wine. The cheese would be phenomenal made into a truffle Mac and cheese dish. Our mushroom brie was delicious with the wine. Sue and I usually love pate with Pinot Noir, and while this pairing was alright, it was not the Big Bang that we usually get when pairing the two together. The wine was enhanced by the spices in the pate, and the wine tamed the richness of the pate nicely. Sue’s cheddar walnut crackers were one of our favorites. Our meal of duck breast with elderberry reduction sauce, mushroom pilaf, baked squash and caprese salad was simply wonderful, festive and easy to expand to meat the number of people.

This duck was so much better than you get from the store. Watkins Ranch provided us with a duck breast that has so much flavor and richness. Artisinal.  The squash was so flavorful, sweet and dense. 

Check out these articles from my fellow World Wine Travel Writers: 

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