By contributing writer Joe Roberts
For many wine lovers, fine white wine made from Sauvignon Blanc has become nearly synonymous with the small nation of New Zealand, where the grape thrives. Few “kiwi” producers have become quite as synonymous with New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc as Kim Crawford, the brand started by Kim and Erica Crawford in the mid 1990s.
Kim Crawford’s wines have taken the U.S. by storm, and since 2005 have been crafted under the watchful eyes of Anthony Walkenhorst, who managed to gain critical acclaim with his very first wine for the brand, winning the Sauvignon Blanc Trophy at the Air New Zealand Wine Awards.
In the following interview, we ask Walkenhorst what it’s like to have made wine all over the world, what he sees as the next big things from the small-but-mighty New Zealand winemaking scene, and what he sees as the biggest changes in the wine world during his nearly ten year tenure with Kim Crawford.
You’re coming up on ten years making wines at Kim Crawford. Looking back, what do you think have been the biggest changes in the wine world since you started there?
For New Zealand, it has been the recognition of Marlborough as a world class wine region producing great wines.
When I first started, the majority of the general public had never tasted a Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc; now most have and have also tried our Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris. The overall awareness of New Zealand wines throughout the world has increased massively in the last ten years. For such a small wine producing country, we have a great reputation and large share of mind within the industry, something that every winemaker in NZ is aware of and keen to continue. It’s quite gratifying to see the accolades and popularity that our Sauvignon Blanc has gained in the United States, a great accomplishment for a pioneering New Zealand brand like Kim Crawford.
You’ve also worked harvests in Australia and California. Do you bring anything from those experiences to the wines that you make now in New Zealand?
Absolutely. Each winemaker that I have worked with has given me ideas and inspiration which I have incorporated into my own style of winemaking. Attention to detail is something that I have seen is a common trait for the great winemakers that I have worked with – the hundreds of small decisions over the course of making wine add up and can be the difference between a great wine and an average one, no matter what region or type of wine you are making.
What do you think is next for New Zealand wines? Any trends or new developments on which wine consumers might want to keep an eye?
Pinot Noir. Over the last couple decades in New Zealand, there has been a lot of knowledge gained by the viticulturists and winemakers regarding Pinot Noir: soils, [vine] clones, winemaking. Now that our Pinot Noir vines are getting older and more established, the quality and consistency is rising every year.
Pinot Gris. New Zealand does aromatic whites so well, something that the world is starting to realize, and we are seeing huge growth in demand for our Pinot Gris. Our Pinot Gris are approachable, full of flavor, and fresh.
I’m especially passionate about Kim Crawford’s collection of Small Parcels offerings, micro cuvées that represent the best of what New Zealand’s cool climate and terroir can produce. Our Kim Crawford Rise and Shine Pinot Noir and Favourite Homestead Pinot Gris in our Small Parcels range are both excellent expressions of New Zealand Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris.
What do you drink (or not drink!) to unwind after a difficult or particularly long day?
A nice craft beer is pretty hard to beat. It’s helpful that my brother owns a craft brewery.
Kim Crawford makes wines from grapes grown in several coastal vineyard areas in New Zealand. Are there any sites in particular that you find give a “signature” to your best known wines?
The lower Wairau valley is close to the coast in Marlborough and the Sauvignon Blanc fruit that we grow there has characteristics that we especially look for—big aromatics of passion fruits and tropical flavors with a lovely full body.
What wines and/or wine regions have you most excited as a wine lover right now?
I am always on the lookout for interesting well-made wines no matter what the region or variety. Being able to travel around the world really opens your eyes to the huge range of wines out there, and I think we are seeing some really interesting wines made by a new generation of winemakers that have been brought up to experiment and try new things.
If you could make wine anywhere but NZ, where would that be?
Anywhere with a cool climate. I love the freshness and pure varietal characters that come from cooler climate wines and the delicate way that we have to handle the wines. I do miss hot summer days by the beach though!
Any thoughts on the Wine4.Me app and how it might help wine consumers?
I’m a firm believer in the importance of continued innovation, and I think it can be quite useful for consumers to have a personalized, on-the-go, tool that helps introduce them to new and exciting wines, carefully selected to suit their palates, through a combination of industry expert recommendations and technology.
Kim Crawford Wines in the Wine4.Me App
If you want to know which wines YOU will like best, download the FREE iPhone app Wine4.Me. Tell it what wines you know you like and get your own personalized rankings of best-selling, widely available wines in the US.
Joe Roberts is a writer in the greater Philadelphia area. His work has appeared in Playboy.com, Answers.com, PalatePress.com, Publix Grape Magazine, The Guardian, and Parade. He holds the Level 2 and Level 3 Certificates in Wine & Spirits from the Wine & Spirit Education Trust in England, the Certified Specialist of Wine certification through the Society of Wine Educators. Roberts was included among the top fifteen entries in IntoWine.com’s list of 100 Most Influential People in the U.S. Wine Industry for 2013, and his website received the Wine Blog Awards honor for Best Wine Blog in 2010. Follow him on Twitter at @1winedude.