17 January 2011
KEVIN JUDD'S EMULSIONAL LIFE CHILLS OUT
KEVIN JUDD, WINEMAKER AND PHOTOGRAPHER, FOUNDING WINEMAKER AT CLOUDY BAY, NOW AT HIS OWN GREYWACKE, WAITS FOR THE LIGHT IN HIS BELOVED MARLBOROUGH, NEW ZEALAND - photo BOB CAMPBELL - THE VINEYARD PHOTOGRAPHS ARE ALL FROM KEVIN'S BEAUTIFUL BOOK, THE LANDSCAPE OF NEW ZEALAND WINE
From Australiana To Greywacke
Via Ch. Reynella And Cloudy Bay
Juddy Drags Kiwis Back On Track
Sittin' at home last Sunday mornin' with me mate Boomerang. Said he was havin' a few people around for a Barbie. Said he might Kookaburra or two. I said, "Sounds great, will Wallaby there?" “He said "Yeah and Vegemite’ll come too". So I said to the wife "Do you wanna Goanna?" She said "I'll go if Dingos". So I said "Wattle we do about Nulla?" He said "Nullabors me to tears, leave him at home." We got to the party about two and walked straight out the kitchen to put some booze in the fridge. And you wouldn't believe it, there's Boomer's wife Warra sittin there tryin to Platypus! Now, I don't like to speak Illawarra, but I was shocked, I mean how much can a Koala bare. So I grabbed a beer, flashed me Wangarratta and went out and joined the party.
PHILIP WHITE WRITES:
So began Australiana, a piece of Ocker rapperel written by Billy Birmingham and performed by Sandy Gutman’s alter ego, Austen Tayshus. It contained a racist slur against an "Indian" girl. We didn't seem to notice.
Warner Brothers released this performance as a single in June 1983. It promptly sold over two hundred thousand copies, and remains Australia’s biggest-selling single. It even sold like mint sauce to our eternal rival, New Zealand.
Australians reckon New Zealanders wear mint sauce for after-shave.
All of which is a fitting start to a circuitous tale of these wild and wooly antipodes, and the wondrous things we offer the world.
GREYWACKE - PINOT TANK - photo KEVIN JUDD
In 1984, when Gutman was very hot property, I asked him if his Tayshus character would pose for a cover shot for Wine And Spirit Buying Guide. I’d just become managing editor of this glossy monthly journal, and wanted to make a serious splash. It would be the November issue, the Champagne and Aussie sparks special in the lead-up to Christmas. In return for me offering Tayshus this great free publicity, I would shout Gutman and his girlfriend lunch at Berowra Waters Inn.
I wanted to give the infant premium Australian sparkling business a shove by making a most Australian cover, rather than the usual simpering rollover to the Champenoise. We needed a friggin’ huge Australian flag. Susie Curtis, my off-sider at Wine And Spirit, happened to be the daughter of General Jack Kelly, head of the Australian Army, who lived in the beautiful Victoria Barracks in Paddington.
So. Through the big gates and all the machineguns and marching men we drove, us young punks, into that incredible 1840s historic mansion, where adjutants in full dress uniform, with all the braid and baubles, marched in their mighty boots about the polished floorboards, delivering hearty wallops of malt whisky and chips. The grand Jack laid back in his trackies and socks, with the casual air afforded only those with obscene power, chinking ice against his glass.
“Yep,” he assured us, “I can get you a flag. Shouldn’t be a problem. You want a really big one, do you?”
My secretary, Shazza, rounded up a forklift from somewhere. So we wrapped Austen (left) in the biggest Australian flag in the country, stood him on a pallet, and hoist him there beneath the Sydney Harbour Bridge, Opera House in the background, in a gentle Ocker piss-take of France’s gift to the USA: the Statue Of Liberty. In his trade-mark cowboy hat and wrap-arounds, Austen held aloft an open bottle of Aussie sparks bearing the Advance Australia logo; we published, and sold out.
Whitey had hit Sydney. The next job was to sack Len Evans, but that’s another story.
My heart fell when our car arrived at Gutman’s apartment in Bellevue Hill. The comedian emerged from the lift in character: rather than the surly, super-bright Gutman, I would be taking the outrageous Tayshus to Australia’s greatest, most dramatic, delicious restaurant.
The other guests included David Hohnen (right), the surfing hero of Margaret River winemaking, whose ’82 Cape Mentelle Cabernet had just won the Jimmy Watson trophy. He didn’t then know that the ’83 he had sitting in wood was set to win the next year’s award, too, but let it be said there was a fair frisson of young masculine confidence about that table.
Hohnen’s Sydney PR flak, Jane Adams, was there, and the Anakie winemaker Stephen Hickinbotham, with his new partner, Jenny Regan. Apart from Ray Beckwith, who's about to hit a hundred, Stephen was the only Australian winemaker I’ve known who pushes the word “genius’ to the tip of the tongue.
We were dropped at the Berowra boatshed, and caught the restaurant’s humble de Havilland river truck which slid us up the Hawkesbury to the Inn, which has no road access. The restaurant was fully booked, and the service, as always, impeccable, although for some reason sommelier Michael McMahon was shirty about the wines we ordered.
I mean we wouldn’t know what we wanted to drink, would we.
Austen, who never drank alcohol, came out of the toilet with the sniffles, and complained about the menu. Apart from his perfect steak not being sufficiently overcooked for his liking, its presentation annoyed him.
“See! See!” he hollered. “I toldja everything’d be covered in bone marrow!”
It was akin to asking Sir Anthony Hopkins to lunch, and finding Hannibal Lecter at the table, wearing wrap-arounds and a tattered cowboy hat. Not many people wore cowboy hats to Berowra in those days. Proprietor Gay Bilson was not amused. We winced at the attention we attracted, but noshed on.
“So what are you up to Hickie?” Hohnen asked Hickinbotham ... “You’re always ahead of everybody? What’s happening next?”
I knew Stephen (left) had been talking to the Indian government about assisting with the establishment of vineyards there, but he didn’t mention that. Instead, he said he’d found a place in New Zealand which would make great Sauvignon blanc. While he had Indian ambitions, simultæneously dreaming of building a new wine region on Mornington Peninsula, he also envisioned a wild new combination of variety and terroir: the top of the South Island of New Zealand, he said, contained a great valley at Marlborough, whose loose young alluvium and cool climate seemed perfectly suited to Sauvignon blanc.
Hohnen’s ears went up. He said Kevin Judd was working there somewhere, and that he’d give him a call. Which he later did. Judd found some Sauvignon blanc, which he made into wine after hours at Selaks.
Later that year, Juddy, probably the quietest man in the wine business other than Smoky Dawson, walked into my office grinning like a giant clam and said he was into this new thing with David Hohnen of Cape Mentelle. But New Zealand? Yep. A place called Marlborough.
“We’re gonna plant Sauvignon blanc”, he gurgled through his smoke. “Best place for it.”
Kevin Judd does not waste words. Because of this, and the fact that his mates will talk about him all night because they admire him, you won't get much of Kevin Judd talking about himself in a story about him.
The author then (right) liked two Australian Sauvignons blanc: one yellow softy made at Angle Vale by Rocky O’Callaghan in the late seventies; the other was Hardy’s tawny fortified made from Bob Hardy’s ancient vines at upper Tintara.
Wolf Blass had also been buggering about with some, blended with Riesling and aged in mostly American oak(!).
Then came the radical Vales blitzkriegs Iain Riggs made in ’81 and ’82, at Hazelmere Estate (now Serafino Maglieri’s). Riggs used fruit from the Edge Dennis vineyard that d’Arenberg bought about a year ago. He picked it into milk crates so the grapes wouldn’t squash and oxidise, chilled it, then gave it the Oenotech treatment devised by Dr. Tony Jordan and Brian Croser, using their distinctive R2 yeast.
The wine was a blast: crisp, grassy and fresh as a lemon, with all those alarming estery R2 whiffs of banana and passionfruit. It caused a feverish stir upon release, but fell stale rather quickly in the bottle. Was it the yeast?
WAIHEKE ISLAND - HAURAKI GULF - AUCKLAND - photo KEVIN JUDD
R2 had been isolated in Sauvignon blanc territory, by Croser, at Chateau Rahoul near Sauternes in Bordeaux, where Len Evans was spending Peter Fox’s money. But the financially-challenged Fox solved his Adelaide Holdings problems by driving his Ferrari flat out into a concrete wall, and Peter Vinding-Diers bought Rahoul, to make exquisitely fine, almost brittle Sauvignon blanc. The new Savvy-B explosion ignited, and soon Rob and his cousin Michael Hill Smith had a great lunch at Yalumba, where they served Vinding-Diers’ inspiration: “Y”, the dry Savvy-B from the mighty home of sticky, Chateau d’Yquem, in Sauternes.
Sometimes d’Yquem picks its Sauvignon early in the vintage to make a dry wine, dare I suggest like Graves, rather than letting it botrytise with the Semillon and go into the mighty sticky for which that Chateau is revered. Sometimes, I suspect, the botrytis doesn’t look sufficiently promising to risk waiting for its unlikely development. There have been only 23 vintages of “Y” since the first in 1959.
So we guzzled our “Y” while the Hill Smiths quizzed us over the chance of dry Savvy-B becoming the next Chardonnay. Rob eventually went in the Viognier direction, and while I have a tape recording of Michael deriding Savvy-B that day, he went on to make it a stalwart at Shaw and Smith, which he set up with some of the money he got when cousin Robert bought him out of the old family company.
The Adelaide Hills makes too much watery stuff from Sauvignon, and yet gain lavish publicity from my wine writing colleagues. I have a few favourites, but I'm sure a lot of the the Hills could be planted to varieties more appropriate.
Since those brazen cocky days, after much tedious and ignorant speculation, Australia drowned itself in awful Chardonnay. But fueled by that excited Savvy-B buzz, Hohnen and Judd gave Kiwi Sauvignon blanc such a kick that it has since almost drowned the whole Earth.
There was much discussion in those days of the cat’s piss grassiness of the variety, which comes from its natural methoxypyrazines (3-isobutyl-2-methoxypyrazine and 3-isopropyl-2-methoxypyrazine). These compounds are common to Cabernet sauvignon, soursob, rhubarb, tomato leaves, and grass. Hemp, and jute, or burlap, or hessian, is full of it, and sometimes austere Sauvignons smell rather like superphosphate sacks, which combine the remnant methoxypyrazine with the smell of guano, from whence the superphosphate comes, but which I reckon, in wine, comes from combinations of sulphur, soil, rocks and yeast.
Humans detect methoxypyrazine at around one part per trillion, which is like smelling one grape in the entire Australian crush. The grape manufactures it to deter predators, and only when the pip is ripe enough for germination does the vine suddenly cease its production and instead pumps sugar to attract said predators, which become incubators for those seeds.
Vignerons panic if they can’t get their Sauvignon off quick enough in heatwaves, as the plants quite abruptly cease manufacturing this compound. On a hot day, the value of a crop can plummet in hours. The winery wants the methoxypyrazine for its distinction, but suddenly it disappears, leaving the grower with a grapeyard full of sugar but devoid of character and smothered in birds. Something along the lines of flat Semillon mixed with worse Chardonnay.
The constant maritime cool of Marlborough makes this little drama a lot less likely.
DAWN FROST - BRANCOTT VALLEY - MARLBOROUGH - photo KEVIN JUDD
“I knew Stephen Hickinbotham was sniffing around Marlborough - he knew Sauvignon had a future there”, Hohnen told me many years later. “He was first into everything. Kiwi Sauvignon had the eyebrow factor: nose in the glass and up goes the eyebrows. But it was all too sweet and too acidic.
“When I asked him whether there was Sauvignon blanc fruit available for purchase in Marlborough, Juddy said yes, and I said buy it and make it dry. People loved the wine.
“Juddy instinctively knew what to do. He’d worked four vintages with Merrill at Reynella, then went to Selacks in New Zealand. We found three or four growers with 120 tonnes. They didn’t know what to do with it. Juddy made it after work. I borrowed an enormous amount of money and we built Cloudy Bay in ’86, and off it went.”
Austen Tayshus was consumed by the endless stand-up rock comic circuit after that lunch, and still tours hard. Stephen Hickinbotham was killed in a plane crash not long after, with his beloved Jenny, and five other mates. Hohnen’s businesses in the West and Marlborough flourished, and Juddie went on to lead Marlborough into its phenomenal Sauvignon blanc tsunami.
To the end of April 2010, Australia bought 21.3 million litres of Sauvignon blanc, from anywhere, in take-aways. In the financial year to June, we imported 40 million litres of white from New Zealand. Most of that, nearly all, would be Sauvignon blanc. The nineteen million litres unaccounted for must have been sold in restaurants.
Now, of course, the inevitable has occurred. The quality and price of Marlborough Sauvignon has plummeted as international oversupply inexorably butchers the business. The winemakers are gradually realizing that they’ve done their brand great damage with too much crook wine, grown and made cheaply for the sickening bottom of the discount market, where no profit lies.
A year ago, Dr. John Forrest, of the winery bearing his name, said Marlborough's wine image could be forever tarnished if the export market was flooded with cheap Sauvignon blanc.
“Marlborough's vintage size increased by 61 percent from last year to a record 194,639 tonnes this year which has caused talk of excess wine and oversupply within the industry”, he told The Express.
He said most wineries had taken in more fruit than they needed, of which he estimated about 20 per cent was “of compromised quality ... this compromised wine should not be blended with good wine,” he said.
"If you believe that by flogging cheap 2008 when the 2009 is available and waiting will not compromise the long term viability and profitability of the New Zealand wine industry then I think you are kidding yourself.
"How do we save the Marlborough and New Zealand wine industry from slipping down to produce bulk white wine like you can buy for around £3 to £5 in the UK from Chile? I feel like we are standing on the edge of a cliff and once we go down I don't see how we can come out of it."
He suggested the winemakers should begin tipping their plonk down the drain. They refrained.
VINEYARDS ON THE SHORE OF LAKE WANAKA - CENTRAL OTAGO - photo KEVIN JUDD
After much typically silent rumination, whilst enduring life there under Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessy, who finished buying the Hohnen empire in 2003, Juddy “suddenly” quit Cloudy Bay last year, to make a little wine for himself, and get on with his mistress, photography. Hohnen’s back in Margaret River, watching his grandchildren surf while together they build a new premium family wine business.
Judd called the new business Greywacke, after the layered grey sand and mudstones that form most of the highest mountain ranges of New Zealand, and therefore contribute greatly to its soils. Securing the name had been a coup: the equivalent of somebody using Ayers Rock or Terra Rossa as a trade mark in Australia, where Brian Croser is likely to be the only winemaker who uses the name of a geological group for his brand, Tapanappa. While Croser’s major vineyard at Wrattonbully, Naracoorte, has geology as far removed as one could get from the distinctive Tapanappa group, at least Judd’s new business and fruit sources are in Greywacke up to their chins.
It turns out he’d had his own Greywacke Vineyard since the first Cloudy Bay vintages, and in a visionary flash, registered its name for a trial wine from those vines in the early nineties.
I was rude enough to visit Cloudy Bay in Judd’s absence a decade back, and enjoyed tasting various tanks and bottlings of the famous Cloudy Bay Sauvignon. But mischievously I suggested the wine would be much more interesting and complex if some better respect was paid the traditional wooded versions of the grape’s home in the Loire Valley.
I reckoned this would have been in Hickinbotham’s mind.
“You know,” I said. “Some wild yeast, older oak, lees stirring … build some texture into it.”
There was a muffled meeting of winemakers in the corner, after which I was asked to promise not to say anything about an experimental wine if they showed it. The boss was not to know. Tight along the line of the style that had danced in my imagination, that bold thing, or its offspring, eventually became Te Koko, the expensive top-shelf Cloudy Bay.
Tim Atkin’s new blog reminds that the first of these experiments, years earlier, was released as a Greywacke Vineyard wine, from the block of that name. It wore the 'standard Cloudy Bay Sauvignon 1992 label, without the word Blanc but with Greywacke Vineyard in small type on the front.
"Seeing the label - it was seeing it on the label that made me think I should register it," Juddy just now said. From Dublin. From Tim to Dublin. The Sins Of The Wicked.
HILLSIDE PINOT NOIR VINEYARDS - WAIPARA - CANTERBURY - photo KEVIN JUDD
Since the Judds called by for a schluck before Christmas, away back near the beginning of the current tour, I have tasted both the current Cloudy Bay Te Koko (2007), and the forthcoming Greywacke Wild Sauvignon Blanc 09, and I must suggest that whilst the former seems to have strayed a long way from its ancestor’s track, and seemed broad, blowsy, and too much like hard-worked Semillon/Chardonnay, Judd’s new wild child (due for release any minute), is a feisty, lively, gunpowder, ricotta and gooseberry delight, tighter and yes, wilder.
His standard 2010 Sauvignon, meanwhile, stands as a staunch reminder of what entry-level Marlborough Sauvignon blanc was supposed to be like: complex, yet retaining the freshness and zest expected of the best of this unique variety matched to unique geology. And it shows how quickly the copyists forget what they’re copying. There are few this beautiful. Bitter melon, honeydew, strawberry pith and gooseberry zing round with the methoxypyrazines, snowpeas and lime juice in the fruit division; the stony alluvium of the valley floor gives an acrid reek somewhere between chalk and guano. While it’s neatly, naturally acidulous, it has gentle, comforting unction.
Judd has also released a Riesling, after the style the Barossa called spatlese until Germany had our law changed. It meant just slightly sweet, rather than late-picked. While Australia seems unlikely to regard this forgotten style with the same delirium it showed the early Cloudy Bay Sauvignons, the wine is better than the gradually-swelling pool of “off-dry” Rieslings various Australians have recently attempted.
I really enjoyed the Greywacke 09 Pinot Gris. Although it’s a touch on the alcoholic side, it’s also more accomplished and confident than many Australian versions of this grape, the Mornington Peninsula wines of Sandro Mosel and Kath Quealy aside. Judd has played a little here with wild yeast and old oak, but not to the extent shown in the Wild Sauvignon Blanc. Maybe he’ll go further.
FIRST LIGHT ON Mt TAPUAE-O-UENUKU - MARLBOROUGH - photo KEVIN JUDD
The 09 Greywacke Chardonnay is another big mutha, miraculously balanced with natural acidity - a much better Chardonnay than the 07 Cloudy Bay Te Koko Sauvignon blanc, as one would expect. Its oak, its cream-and-honey have much more immediacy and life, which makes me suspect the Te Koko would have been much better sold and drunk a year or two earlier, before it lost its Savvy.
Maybe Juddy learned his lesson there.
Despite his teetotalling, Austen Tayshus didn’t ever seem to learn his. In his search for that unique Sauvignon blanc grassiness, sans alcohol, he’d already played his prophetic hand before we had that lunch at Berowra, finishing Australiana thus:
Barry pulls a joint out of his pocket. Bill says "Great, Barry, a reefer. What is it mate?" "Noosa Heads of course. Me mate Adda laid 'em on me." And it was a great joint too, blew Mountains away and his three sisters. Well I thought I'd roll one meself, I said "Chuck us the Tally Ho Bart". He said "They're out on the Lawn, Ceston, can you get em for us?" Burnie says "It's okay mate, she's apples, I'll get em for ya" Just then Alice springs into action, starts to pack Bill a bong. And you wouldn't believe it, the bong’s broken. I said "Lord, How?" "Hay-man" somebody said "Will a Didgeridoo?" I said "Hummmmm mummmm mummmmm mummmmm maybe it'll have ta." I look in the corner and there's Bass sittin there, not getting into it, not getting out of it, I said "What, is Bass straight or somethin?" Boomer said "As a matter a fact mate, he's a cop" I said "Ya jokin mate, a cop, I'm getting outta here, let's go Anna." She said "No way, I'm hangin round till Gum leaves. Besides, I don't wanna leave Jack around a party on his own. Have you seen him? I think he's trying to crack on to Woomba, he's already tried to mount Isa. And he'll definitely try to lead you astray Liana!"
Apples, fresh sea air, hemp, lawn, the leading of a nation, astray … the gastronomic inferences here seem to have been the source of the back labels of too many Kiwi Savvys-B. Maybe it had something to do with that masterly PR propagandist sitting, listening, at that lunch. Jane now looks after Greywacke.
Juddy, meanwhile, is leading nobody astray. After months on the marketing promo trail, he’s peeved that he hasn’t had much chance to work at his photography. But it looks like he’ll sell out of his first release of Greywacke wine before vintage 2011 starts, so there might be a slender chance there for him get a little emulsional with his old Bronica roll film camera.
KEVIN JUDD'S BEAUTIFUL 30x30 CM BOOK, PUBLISHED LAST YEAR - CLICK IMAGE FOR CONNECTION TO KEVIN JUDD PHOTOGRAPHY