Kevin Judd of Cloudy Bay fame garners continued success with his own brand, Greywacke.
“The first New Zealand wine I tasted was a muller-thurgau. I still ended up going to New Zealand, despite that first experience.”
EMMA JENKINS MW
KEVIN Judd may be a man of few words, but he’s certainly one of many talents. Having established his winemaking bona fides as Cloudy Bay’s founding winemaker, a position he held for 25 years, Kevin and his wife Kimberley founded their own label Greywacke, in 2009. Named after Kevin and Kimberley’s original vineyard in Rapaura, Marlborough, Greywacke (pronounced grey-wacky) takes its name from New Zealand’s most abundant bedrock, which produces the rounded, understated grey river stones found throughout Marlborough’s vineyards. It’s a fitting name with Kevin also being an acclaimed photographer, his detailed and beautiful images of vineyards, landscapes, people and animals appearing in publications around the world as well as his own books, The Colour of Wine and The Landscape of New Zealand Wine. His remarkable eye for light and detail can be seen in the images on the Greywacke labels.
Not a mincer of words, Kevin’s insight and dry sense of humour make him a highly illuminating, amusing conversationalist, if also one who is occasionally unprintable. He has an unerring ability to spot bullshit, so if you’re going to offer him an opinion, you’d better make sure you’ve thought it through first as he’ll quickly skewer any weaknesses in your argument. Never one to seek the limelight, Kevin remains someone whose reliably frank opinion is highly valued within the industry. James Healy, (co-owner of Dog Point with Ivan Sutherland – both long-time friends and former Cloudy Bay colleagues) says that Kevin “is an incredibly clear thinker with quite a unique view of how he sees things and doesn’t let too much flak get in the way. I think his eye for photography is reflected in a very refined way with how he views whatever he is involved with. Very accurately with a Kevin lens”.
Born in England and raised in Australia, Kevin studied winemaking at Roseworthy College and first made wine at South Australia’s Reynella, alongside Geoff Merrill. When Reynella was bought out, Kevin took the chance to move to New Zealand, in 1983 joining Selaks in Auckland. He recalls, “The first New Zealand wine I tasted was a muller-thurgau. I still ended up going to New Zealand, despite that first experience.” A couple of years later, he was approached by David Hohnen to join Cloudy Bay, though at that stage there was no winery, no grapes, nor even a name. This leap of faith was the start of a 25-year odyssey that would put Kevin’s name on the map and via the pioneering style of Te Koko sauvignon blanc, ignite his passion for the wilder side of winemaking life.
Cloudy Bay of course went on to become a Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc powerhouse and the company was purchased by LVMH in 2003. Kevin says, “To be honest, I never thought I’d leave Cloudy Bay. But then they offered me an ambassadorial role, not a chief winemaking role…” Change beckoned, and when the bumper 2008 harvest came along, the stars aligned. “There was an instant over-supply, the price of grapes dropped, the price of land dropped. Ivan and Margaret Sutherland looked for people to sell grapes to and said if you are going to do your own thing we have room in the winery.”
The lure of hands-on winemaking again (and no HR department) became too great. Keeping it small and with first-hand control has been the enduring ethos at Greywacke – more than ten years down the track there is still a close-knit team of eight covering vineyards, winery, sales and marketing, and admin. Greywacke’s wines have been made at Dog Point winery with a more recent move to a standalone facility in the Omaka Valley where Greywacke now has cellar door tastings by appointment. Fruit is sourced from mature vineyards, mostly owned by the Sutherland family plus a few other growers with whom Greywacke has long-term relationships and overall control over the fruit. Kevin and Kimberley’s Southern Valleys vineyard contributes a small amount of pinot noir. Seeking lower yields than the norm, Kevin says, “We get ripeness, concentration and texture, aiming for subtle, ripe, non-aggressive, delicious-drinking fruit style…I like grapes that are golden not translucent green, I’m looking for something more subtle.”
Greywacke’s core wines are sauvignon blanc and pinot noir, alongside tiny volumes of chardonnay, pinot gris and riesling. Richard Ellis, Greywacke observes that Marlborough’s “unique, raw, natural environment between the Southern Alps and Pacific Ocean delivers good natural acidity and elegance with ripeness, in a very different style from Australia’s sauvignon and chardonnay.” (Around 95% of Greywacke wines are exported to over 40 countries, with Australia being one of the top three markets.) Greywacke’s two sauvignon blancs are themselves distinctly different – one a classic expression of Marlborough’s vividly pure fruit with a rich palate, whereas the Wild Sauvignon is a refinement of the experiment Kevin began with Te Koko. A subtly funky wine with integrated oak and malolactic influence, it walks the variety’s wild side as a textural, complex expression of Kevin’s low-fi, minimal intervention winemaking style. He prefers the Wild Sauvignon. “There’s not much fruitiness, as it has the influence of the wild yeasts, the malolactic influence, the barrel influence – there’s a lot more going on. It ages far more gracefully than the classic style. Wild Sauvignon actually seems to improve with age, from my perspective.” Kevin is passionate about chardonnay, and he and Richard are both bemused by the difficulty in getting the Marlborough Chardonnay message out there. “We make much more sauvignon blanc than anything else – we try and produce what the market wants – but it’s a continual frustration that in the US we sell just 1% of chardonnay compared to sauvignon blanc and in the UK about 7% even though it’s been said it is the best wine we make. But selling Marlborough Chardonnay is not like selling Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc.” Greywacke’s chardonnay style has remained remarkably consistent, focused on older Mendoza fruit, wild ferment, around 20% new French oak and Marlborough’s hallmark cool climate fruit expression and natural acidity.
It’s a mark of Kevin’s natural self-effacement that at the outset of Greywacke, he was worried no one would be interested in his own wines. Unsurprisingly to the rest of us, the response exceeded expectations. For a man who prefers to let his wines speak for him, Greywacke’s wines are saying plenty of good things.
Greywacke is distributed by Saint Wine in Australia, and by Negociants New Zealand.