Greywacke: 12 Wild Years

It was in 2016 that I was invited to taste every vintage of the iconic Greywacke Wild Sauvignon Blanc ever made; at the time that meant five vintages, 2009 to 2013. ‘Wild’ was in many ways totemic, representing a breakaway from what had become something of a stereotype style for Marlborough Sauvignon. The world may have fallen in love with that style, but there was a danger of it becoming a one-trick pony. Surprisingly perhaps, the man who created Greywacke Wild Sauvignon was Kevin Judd, who for 25 years had made the Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc, the icon of the classic Marlborough style. Greywacke’s Wild Sauvignon marched to such a different beat

Late in 2022 I was invited to a tasting in Edinburgh hosted by Kevin, who was visiting from New Zealand. We would taste every vintage of the Wild Sauvignon to date, from that first 2009 right through to the 2020 release, so now a total of 12 vintages. Pictured are Kevin and his wife Kimberley at the tasting.

The first vintages were made at time when Kevin had no vineyard and no winery, but worked with Dog Point winery to source fruit and borrow cellar space. Today, he still buys around 70% of his grapes from Dog Point’s organic vineyards. As always, the wine is fermented with wild yeast, and though that is a theme across most wines in the Greywacke range, it’s a point of difference to his regular Sauvingon Blanc. Grapes are also picked a little less ripe, and the wine is fermented in low toast barrels, including 10% new barrels from tonnelier de Mercurey in Burgundy.

Kevin says his regular Sauvignon Blanc is more typical of Marlborough, “but with the volume turned down.” The juice is run to 90% steel, and 10% barrel, then innoculated with a selected yeast. But for the Wild variant, everything goes to barrel and, as Kevin says, “We then get on with vintage and forget about it.” Ferment normally takes two weeks to start, and up to a year to tail off.

Two thirds of the final blend goes through malolactic fermentaion, but Kevin strenuously avoids diacytal, a by-product of malolactic that gives a buttery character (he won’t reveal specifically how he does this). The juice has also low turbidity, so some ‘flinty’ characters are definitely there, but not obvious.

This is truly ‘hands-off’ winemaking and the final word goes to Kevin: “A lot of winemaking is about learning what you don’t need to worry about.”

The Wines

Note that much to my disappointment (and Kevin’s) a warehouse mix-up meant the regular Sauvignon from the 2015 vintage was sent for the tasting instead of the intended Wild version. We tasted it over lunch and it was excellent, and more savoury and subtle than many Marlborough examples, but the 2015 is not included in this vertical.

(2023) The first ever vintage, and 13 years on still such a beautiful nose. OK, there's a little more of the pea pod character of aged Sauvignon, but not aggressively so, and a shimmer of oak is still apparent. The fruit stays dense and sweet through the mid-palate, with lovely acid balance to that inherent ripeness and fruit density. Holding on well, though perhaps the one that should be drunk fairly soon. Bottled in August 2010. pH 3.25 and acidity of 7.2 g/l. No UK retail stockists listed at time of review.
(2023) Quite a different take this, I suspect some new oak in there and 75% went through malolactic rather than the 66% which is the more recent recipe. It certainly displays more creamy, nutty character, but the barrel is a lot less obvious than when last tasted in 2016. Instead it has a natural, lightly yeasty and earthy nose, more 'natural' feeling. The fruit is dense and peachy ripe, but great weight and texture here, length too, with relatively high total acidity to act as a counterpoint. Bottled in October 2011. pH 3.20 and acidity of 7.1 g/l. No UK retail stockists listed at time of review.
(2023) Creaminess here, almost verging on minty, leafy herbs and such lovely fruit beneath, succulent pear and nectarine. There's a suggestion of a more lean, precise character on the palate, a delightful touch of flint, and energetic, sharpening acidity giving very good length. Arguably my favourite wine of this line-up at 11 years old. Bottled October 2012. pH 3.15 and acidity of 6.8 g/l. No UK retail stockists listed at time of review.
(2023) From a cool year, much more into the asparagus and green bean character that might be familiar from Marlborough Sauvignon, with citrus and peach beneath. A racy style, tiny sherbetty note, tangy with loads of pithy grapefruit and relatively broad texture into a crisp and still quite well balanced finish. Bottled October 2013. pH 3.25 and acidity 6.7g/l. No UK retail stockists listed at time of review.
(2023) I last tasted this in 2016, scoring it 92 points and noting "Will easily age for five years." So, six years on, it is still very composed, nicely wild and herbal around the edges to clear, lightly honeyed fruit. Still hints of herbaceous character with fig and quince, then a fine, sharply-honed acidity into a long, savoury finish. Still with time ahead of it. Bottled November 2014. pH 3.30 and acidity 6.4g/l.
(2023) Restrained aromatically, with cool mint and soft hints of vanilla, but so much greengage and citrus, orange and lime peel in a complex nose. The palate is very harmonious, has a smoother character, and a hint of lusciousness. Holding up really well, the edges rubbed off by time - but not too much. Bottled November 2015. pH 3.18 and acidity 6.2g/l.
(2023) Has quite a leesy and flinty initial character. That is nicely underpinned by that figgy ripeness and nectarine juiciness, creamy and yet sharp. There's roundness and texture in the mouth, hints of exotic fruit, but the clarity of the acid wins through. Relatively low acid and slightly higher pH here, but a generous and effortlessly enjoyable wine at eight years of age. Bottled November 2017. pH 3.20 and acidity 6.0g/l. At time of writing only magnums showing for sale, but 75cl bottle price equivalent is given.
(2023) The nose here is relatively muted, with a creamy, biscuit and almost minty herbal character. There is good fruit, but orange and grapefruit in this vintage rather than the more exotic nectarine.This is a touch more austere than some here, really quite intense, with well-judged acidity giving juiciness. The wine was not bottled until January 2019, perhaps harvested slightly later too in a cool vintage? pH 3.15 and acidity 6.4 g/l.
(2023) Somehow seems more smoky, flinty than the 2019 and 2020, a touch of fig and herbs and peach skins. Limpid and luscious on the palate, that light figgy smokiness continues. There's a creaminess of texture here, the barrel-derived character and a weight of fruit cut by fine acidity. Bottled in December 2019. pH 3.30 and acidity 6.4 g/l.
(2023) An extra half a percentage point of alcohol here compared to the 2020, and there's a really luscious, almost tutti-frutti brightness to the fruit, a real juiciness here and certainly more primary feeling that the 2018. Lots of pithy lemon and grapefruit slicing through the lychee and peach of the palate, a little flinty edge adding to the acid impression. Bottled in December 2020, so almost a year on oak and eight months in bottle. pH 3.11 and acidity 6.2 g/l.
(2023) Quite quiet and reserved in this vintage but obvious intensity. The fruity aromas are gently ripe and hinting at creaminess of peach and mango, fennel-like, herbal nuances. Lovely palate, the lemon and peach combination gives lusciousness and decisive punch. Good length, very harmonious and promising. Bottled in September 2021 after a year in barrel and five months in bottle. pH 3.16, acidity 6.3 g/l.

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