“I think sometimes, as winemakers, we’re aware of certain wines that grip you and others that don’t, and sometimes you get to a point where you’re just absolutely bored, and you want to try and achieve something more…”
Andrew Greenhough is a man with a Masters in Art History, who gave up his ambitions of working in art galleries, which would see him showcasing other people’s artistic creations, and instead, moved to Nelson with his wife Jenny, where they purchased a vineyard in a place called Hope, and set out to grow and create their very own works of art.
“I was thinking I might become an art gallery curator, or something like that,” says Andrew, “but, I felt like I wanted to do something a little more hands on and creative, rather than just look and talk about someone else’s creations… Wine was something that I’d developed an interest in while at uni.
“We also wanted a new way of life…” continues Andrew, “and we didn’t have much of a feel for Marlborough. Places like Central Otago were off the radar, at the time. We wanted to be by the sea, because we’d come from Auckland… Nelson seemed to tick a lot of boxes, in terms of scenery, feel, and affordability, and there were a few pioneering wine producers already showing that the area had some merit.”
Nelson is typically soaked in sunshine for most of the year, and its winegrowing is divided into two distinct sub-regions; the clay rich Moutere Hills to the west and the ‘river garden’ Waimea plains to the south. The 9ha Greenhough Hope Vineyard is planted beneath the foothills of the Barnicoat Range, in a south-eastern corner of the Waimea Plains, on stony alluvial soils and river gravels. It consists of Riesling, Pinot Blanc and Pinot Noir vines, which were first planted in 1976, along with a small audition of Cabernet Sauvignon.
“In the early days, I think everyone in Nelson had a go at planting Cabernet,” explains Andrew, “simply because they liked to drink it. And, because we didn’t really know whether it would work or be successful. Over time, of course, we learnt that it wasn’t.”
And, it wasn’t just Cabernet Sauvignon that Andrew didn’t think really worked well in Nelson. When the Hope Vineyard was first established, it was done so with a chemical/conventional regime, which Andrew continued for a time, up until 2008, when he stopped buying in synthetic chemicals and converted his vineyard over to organics, becoming certified through BioGro in 2011.
“I feel like I’ve put a lot of energy, in the last seven years, into converting my vineyards over to organics,” says Andrew. “I have struggled with aspects of it, in terms of vine balance and a slight decrease in yields, but I feel like things are really turning a corner now… the vineyard is yielding much better than what it was before.”
A potential decrease in yield on the vine can lead to a decrease in the amount of wine that can be made, which means potentially fewer sales, and therefore less money in the bank. Less money in the bank for a small winegrower can be seriously detrimental to the running of their small business, and so, this apparent (albeit short term) risk to converting over to an organic regime can be a powerful deterrent for many… (whereas, for a larger wine business, with board members, shareholders and profit margins to worry about, a decrease in yield may mean they’ll have to find cheaper labour next vintage, and possibly lay off a few full time staff members or, rehire them as casuals, in order to sustain profitable dividend repayments to their shareholders.*)
This new organic regime includes making around 15 tonnes of compost each year, with materials gathered from around the property, including the left over skins, seeds and stems, otherwise known as grape marc. Andrew also utilises the biodynamic preps (502-507) in his compost, although he doesn’t consider himself a biodynamic winegrower, just yet.
“It’s refreshing not having to suit up, or worry if I’ve bud rubbed before spraying out herbicide,” says Andrew, “or, think that ‘gee this herbicide didn’t work very well this year, because the weeds are still there, so maybe I should increase my rate’. There’s nothing at all intimidating about organics, you just can’t be greedy.”
“I believe that organic practices are the way forward,” continues Andrew, “but I also felt like it was a new challenge for me, in the vineyard, and an opportunity to improve the quality in my wines… I think that those aspects need to be reflected in some slightly more adventurous wine styles so that the whole thing becomes more of a complete picture.”
Lately, Andrew has been experimenting with extended skin contact macerations for his white wines in order to achieve a little more structure, grip, and possibly, some artistic intrigue. The ferments are inoculated with wild yeast that have been initiated in the vineyard, usually a week before harvest. This pied de cuve method is becoming more and more popular with winemakers who wish to reduce their reliance on store bought yeasts so they can achieve a totally wild ferment, using the vineyards own ambient yeast strains.
“We’ve been experimenting with a little bit of skin contact for our Sauvignon Blancs,” explains Andrew. “We’re not trying to make a totally skin contact wine… a portion of the wine usually has only 48 hours on skins, but we do want to use this as a small component to push the wine into a more textual, structural direction, without being too extreme.”
For the 2015’s, Andrew is also experimenting with around 25% new (French) oak to add another component to the Hope Sauvignon Blanc, in the hope (pardon the pun) that it will also increase some phenolic structure, and bring about a more savoury element. He’s not making minimal interventionist wines, but he doesn’t add anything synthetic, either. Instead, Andrew is composing his wines like an artist.
“For me, it’s about trying to create a wine that’s interesting,” says Andrew, “and I feel like the wild ferment has a part to play, I feel like the skin contact has a part to play, as well as the new oak, it all has a part to play, so I guess, in a way, I’m trying to construct and compose the wine, using a number of different elements that allows me to try and make the best wine I can.”
When I visited Andrew Greenhough, at his Hope vineyard on the Waimea Plains back in April, it seemed like Nelson had maxed out it’s quotient of sunshine hours for the annum (2405, according to the NZ Met). We tasted through a number of different barrels, each at their various stages of ferment, from the 2015 vintage. The metaphorical painter’s palate he was assembling in his winery was clearly exciting, not only for him, but for me as well, once I tasted each component and could begin to understand exactly what he was trying to do.
One particular ferment stood out. It was a barrel of Gewürz that had barely finished fermenting, and yet it already possessed that illusive, joyful, feeling that you get when you know you’ve tasted something special. It smelt like a Turkish bazaar, had grip like racing slicks, and tasted like a negroni, after the ice has melted. This wine has a soul, and I truly hope it remains…
D// – The Wine Idealist
Links and Further Reading:
*The views expressed in week’s edition of The Wine Idealist do not necessarily reflect the views expressed in every week’s edition of The Wine Idealist.