The Second Coming of Cloudy Bay?
In the mid-1980s, the New Zealand wine industry was teetering. Most of the wine coming out of Marlborough was insipid and uncompetitive on the world marketplace. The internal economy was weak, and Kiwis seemed to prefer beer to Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Noir.
"Things were so bad," said Kevin Judd, "that the government was paying winegrowers $5,000 an acre to rip OUT their vines." It seemed to be the only way to stabilize a market rapidly sinking into the gutter.
In 1984, Australian winemaker David Hohnen arrived in Marlborough. Hohnen's trip had been sparked by a bottle of Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc he'd tasted in Australia the year before. In the teeth of the storm, Hohnen decided the time was right. He drew up a business plan and took it to a Kiwi accounting firm. As the story goes, Hohnen was laughed out of the office. A year later, he hocked everything he had and borrowed $1 million dollars to plant vineyards and build a winery. The interest rate was 23.5%.
Then, David Hohnen made the call that would pave the future for what would become New Zealand's greatest brand. He rang up 25-year-old Kevin Judd, who had already made quite a name for himself at Selaks. Hohnen couldn't afford to offer Judd a full-time position, but asked if Kevin would take a flier on his new project and moonlight for a year. Two years later, Judd left Selaks and joined Hohnen at Cloudy Bay.
For the next twenty-five years, Kevin Judd presided over the viticulture and winemaking at Cloudy Bay, fashioning full-throttle, lushly concentrated, bracingly acidic Sauvignon Blancs and Pinot Noirs that would single-handedly spearhead a winemaking revolution in New Zealand. Global demand soared for Judd's reds and whites, drawing the attention of Veuve Clicquot, part of the international consortium, Louis Vuitton-Moet Hennessy.
In 1990, just six years after Hohnen had been laughed out of the accountants' offices, Clicquot acquired 70% of Cloudy Bay, signing Kevin Judd to a long-term contract.
Judd played the good soldier, sticking it out as Cloudy Bay grew. But, after twenty-five years, Kevin Judd was antsy. In many ways, his timing couldn't have been worse. While the government wasn't paying anyone to rip out vines, the Kiwi export economy was in shambles. Highly dependent on the American market, the fall of the dollar dealt a crushing blow to the boutique Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir market.
As most wineries carried ugly balance sheets into meetings with bankers and accountants -- and many pulled the plug, no longer wanting to throw good money after bad -- Kevin Judd recalled his early days with David Hohnen. In 2010, Judd walked away from a cushy corporate job, and launched a new venture. Just three years later, many are now calling Greywacke the second coming of Cloudy Bay.
While Greywacke's first release of Sauvignon Blanc took the critical market by storm, recently it's been Judd's luscious, wild berry Pinot Noir that's turned Marlborough on its ear. In 2011, the Yarrum Vineyard, situated between the Brancott and Ben Morven ridges, enjoyed a long, dry growing season, bathed by regular, cleansing breezes. The soils here are poor -- a mix of clay, loam and fine gravel. The hillside vineyards are planted to nearly 4,000 plants per acre, that density, coupled with Judd's rigorous crop thinning, provided for a small harvest of intensely concentrated, small-berry Pinot Noir.
Deep ruby in color, the nose is of crushed red berry preserves, laced with sweet spices. Rich, vibrant and marvelously concentrated on the attack, featuring a plush mix of dark plum, boysenberry and red currant, all braced by superb Marlborough acidity. Nearly 14% in alcohol -- though it doesn't show it -- the pH is an electrifying 3.55, keeping all the sweet fruit opulence in perfect balance.