In this episode of “EOD Drinks,” the VinePair team is joined by Kim Crawford, creator of the eponymous Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc, and his wife, Erica Crawford. Hailing from New Zealand, the Kiwi duo is credited by many for popularizing the jubilant and zesty New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc in the United States. While the humble couple cites the popularity of “Lord of the Rings” (which drew international attention to New Zealand in the early 2000s) as a catalyst for their success, their story is much more complex. They traveled to the U.S. on a “shoestring” budget and took a chance in a foreign market that was completely unaccustomed to their product — one that has exploded ever since, much like the “explosive” flavor Kim claims is unique to his first wine.
While the Crawfords have since sold the Kim Crawford brand, the couple has begun producing wine under a new name: Loveblock. According to the Crawfords, this wine is far subtler and more “mature,” while still being distinctive and refined. The Crawfords are also pioneers in biodiversity and organic winemaking; their commitment to ecological production ensures both the quality of their wine and the protection of Marlborough, New Zealand, where their love affair with winemaking first began.
Or check out the conversation here
Adam: From VinePair’s New York City headquarters, this is “End Of Day Drinks,” where we sit down with the movers and shakers in the beverage industry. So pour yourself a glass and listen along with us. Let’s start the show.
On this week’s episode of “End of Day Drinks,” we’re talking with Kim and Erica Crawford, the winemaking couple behind that super-well-known famous Sauvignon Blanc: Kim Crawford. The couple sold Kim Crawford years ago. So we’ll also talk with them about their new project, Loveblock. During the conversation, we’ll hit on what has caused New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc to become such a phenomenon, how Kim Crawford, the wine, became the ambassador for all New Zealand Savvy B, and the difference between that project and their new one, Loveblock. So sit down, pour yourself a glass of wine and listen on in. It’s a great conversation.
Katie: Hello and welcome to VinePair’s “End of Day Drinks” podcast. I’m Katie Brown, VinePair’s associate editor, and I’m very excited to welcome Kim and Erica Crawford, the husband and wife duo behind Loveblock Winery in New Zealand. Welcome.
Erica: Hi. Good morning.
K: I’m also joined today by my colleagues on VinePair’s editorial team, Cat Wolinski, senior editor.
Cat: Hi, everyone!
K: Joanna Sciarrino, executive editor.
Joanna: Hi, Kim and Erica!
K: And Keith Beavers, our tastings director.
Keith: Hey, everybody.
K: We’re so excited for you guys to be here. We have a lot of questions for you guys. But, first of all, it is VinePair’s Partnerships Month, and we’re recording this in February. So we’re really excited to ask you guys as a husband-and-wife duo, what it’s like to work together at Loveblock.
E: We’ve been working together since — gosh — 1996. So, yeah, of course it’s challenging because we’ve each got very strong opinions, and they don’t always align. So there’s definitely vigorous debate.
K: And who usually wins those?
K: That’s so funny.
KC: It’s good, in a way, for marriage because we tend to argue more about work than we do about personal relationships. So it’s been good from that perspective as well.
E: Yeah, you get your frustrations out discussing wine styles or how to put a vine instead of being irritated by someone leaving the toothpaste open.
K: So you don’t sweat the small stuff. That’s good to know.
E: We try not to.
C: “You twisted that vine the wrong way! You did it again!”
K: So, when you started the Kim Crawford brand, did you guys have any idea that it would blow up in the United States market the way it did?
E: No idea. It was really made for the U.K. Wasn’t it, Kim?
KC: It was made for the U.K. entrée, I admit. David Gleave, who used to own Liberty Wines in the U.K., was looking for some entry-level products from New Zealand. So that’s how it started.
E: We made 4,000 cases. And it was all meant to go to the U.K., and then he lost his job with the importing company. So we ended up going to a local distributor here, cap in hand, asking them to please, please take this brand. But we really went to the U.S. in 1997. So really at the beginning of the New Zealand wave — it was so amazing — during that time we sold as much Merlot as we sold Sauvignon. We sold more unoaked Chardonnay than we sold Sauvignon, we sold things like Riesling— all sorts of things. It was a completely different market; people didn’t know where New Zealand was. They thought we were part of Australia. So it was very pioneering — every restaurant was just an amazing triumph. It was really exciting.
KB: If you don’t mind me asking a question about that, were you in the United States selling it? You said you were going to the U.K.
E: Initially to the U.K., then that guy lost his job. Then two or three years later, we knocked on the door of Hogue Cellars, and they took us on in importation.
KB: I’m just curious, was there a moment that you were like, “OK, this is working”? As you were saying, there was a completely different drinking preference back at that point. Was Sauvignon Blanc part of that? I mean, at some point, Sauvignon Blanc became that. Did you kind of see that transition?
KC: I think it all happened when we got 90 points in Spectator. The first time we got 90 points in Spectator, we just flew.
E: Three reasons, I think. That was only 2002. I think we were the third company into the US. And, you know, we didn’t have money. We just did it on a shoestring. There’s also that sweet thing that you don’t know what you don’t know. We just forged ahead. I think two things: that incredibly zesty, jubilant Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand really appealed to the U.S. palate, but I think the real thing is that took New Zealand as a category over was “Lord of the Rings.” Suddenly, everybody was aware of New Zealand. I think the brand definitely had its own charm before “Lord of the Rings,” so “Lord of the Rings” happened. We had good distribution. We had good penetration and distribution, and then the brand just flew. Did we ever think it was going to get as big as this? Not really.
K: Right. Do you guys feel kind of responsible in a way, for creating that concept of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, in popularizing it?
E: I feel very proud that we did. Kim?
KC: Now it’s a category, and not many people have done it in their lifetimes. Maybe two or three people have created a category in the U.S., and it’s quite nice to be one of those.
KB: Yeah, definitely a big category.
E: We don’t really lurk on that because life is so busy. With the kids, and the vineyards, and getting ready for the next thing, we moved on pretty swiftly. Didn’t we, mate?
C: So I have a question for you both about the not Sauvignon Blanc style, but the way that you’ve made it in the past versus now at Loveblock. I’ve had Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc recently, and I like it. I know you don’t own that winery anymore. I’ve also had the Loveblock Sauvignon Blanc recently, and it was one of VinePair’s top 50 wines of the year in 2020. I’m having it again right now, and certainly they are distinct. For those who are fans of Kim Crawford and the brand and don’t realize that you’ve sold it and started something new and totally different, how would you describe the difference between the Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc and the Loveblock Sauvignon Blanc?
K: I always compare them to stages in life. So to me, the Kim Crawford’s a teenage boy, he’s there, he’s throwing out his hormones to the world, and he’s saying: “Here I am, come and get me.” Loveblock’s a more mature woman saying, “I know what I’ve got, and I know how to use it.”
C: I like that.
KC: For descriptors of the two wines: I mean, Kim Crawford was designed to be in your face and explosive in the glass, whereas hopefully there will be a little bit more maturity and a little bit more age in Loveblock Sauvignon Blanc.
E: Obviously, the bulk of the category is in that jubilant, big, aromatic style. When we started Loveblock, I sort of came over that. A few things obviously influence what we do at Loveblock, apart from our own preference and what we want to drink. But it’s also the organic and sustainable vineyard management that gives you a different expression. It’s because all the wine is made as if it’s organic, even if it’s not, so you can’t do all the tricks that you usually do to get those big flavors. I think the wine is probably a bit more honest because it’s not tinkered in the vineyards and in the winery, because in the winery there’s a lot of manipulation.
KC: Not anymore.
E: No, but generally to make the classic style.
C: Interesting. What are some of those tricks you’re referring to?
KC: The big problem people have got now is they’ve got so much to put through their plants in a two-week period. Marlborough comes off in two weeks in terms of ripeness. So the big companies have already put out the harvest dates, even though they’re two months away from harvest.
The growers have already got their harvest dates, which is not what we like to do. We pick on flavor rather than recipe time.
E: I think that in the winery you’re restricted and constrained by what you do. For instance: sulfur. The sulfur in the wine is always at about 60 percent of what it would normally be. Because organic winemaking directs that you’ve got to be below 100 parts per million, and usually — and this comes back to style — when the grapes are picked, we put some sulfur and acid right on top of the grapes to protect from the phenolic. So we can’t do that. We don’t do that. We only do a post-fermentation addition of sulfur. That initial protection obviously protects the big foul flavors and things, so the flavor of the wine, and the precursors. And we don’t do that. So that’s why on the nose, you automatically see that it’s a little bit more quiet.
KB: Yeah, absolutely. I think that’s why it’s so unique. It’s that quiet nature.
E: We’ve done our screaming and shouting, anyway. I also think that it’s due to drinking trends, and people maturing in their palates as well. What we’ve seen in 20 years— how long have we been in the U.S.? 23 or so? You know, you go back to the same people. I remember going to Seattle to a restaurant, one of those beautiful old restaurants, and the guy said, “Ah, not another bloody Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc!” So, palates also mature and then new ones come in. So I think it’s the maturation of: A) our vineyard management, B) our skills as winemakers, and C) how the palates are maturing or changing. Just my view.
J: Erica, you mentioned sustainability before. Why is sustainability important to you and to Loveblock?
E: I think that New Zealand across the board has a reasonably strong, sustainable program that has various planks and pillars. But we do loads more. I think it’s very much a personal value and principles that I live by For me, it started really in my mid-30s, when life just happens around you and dramas happen and the world collapses, and you lose concentration, you smack into the back of the garage wall, don’t you? So I’m one of those moments. And they told me that I presented like a 55-year-old corporate businessman. And of course, I wasn’t either. So I started cleaning up my life, you know? Yeah. The first thing that went was Diet Coke. Then I started learning food labels and cutting things out. We live pretty simply; we try to make everything from scratch. Kimmy here likes the two-minute noodles, so he indulges in that.
J: I can’t blame him.
KB: They’re delicious.
E: Yeah. Then I looked at skin care, what I put on my skin, and then we looked at how we clean the house. It was just a logical step. The next step was quite logical to take that into that realm of organics and deep sustainability.
KB: So this is key — along with that, was the idea of Loveblock initially like, “We are going to do this and it’s going to be organic, and this is what it’s going to be.” Did you do this organic thing in Marlborough at a time when there wasn’t a lot of organics? How friendly to organic was the region when you started the idea?
E: When it came to me, not really. There were a few producers. I think Seresin was very active in Marlborough at the time. But for me, I guess it’s a personal journey that just started with my immediate environment. We always knew we were going to do wine again, and it is really just a one-in-a-million-year opportunity to truly live your values.
KB: Absolutely. It’s huge. Making that big change in your life and then eventually using that kind of discipline and putting it into winemaking is huge.
E: We both had to learn a lot. Vineyard management is quite different and it’s a lot more risky in some respects. Kim’s winemaking had to change completely, didn’t it?
K: In what way?
KC: Well, if we were to change and take some acid out of the wine or use metallurgic fermentation rather than just adding some chemicals to do the job for me, so I suppose, it’s more natural, the way we’re making the wines. We’ve got a lot of barrels and alternative vessels now in Sauvignon Blanc, which is quite good for the blend. It’s all done with natural fermentations, so we’re slowly moving into a more natural playground with it. We don’t add sulfur, as Erica said, in the vineyard anymore. But we do add green tea, which is an antioxidant, which seems to do the same job, but doesn’t have the lingering effects of sulfur. We actually have one wine now which has no sulfur added at all— it’s going quite nicely as well.
K: Would you say that that style of winemaking is more time consuming? More time consuming and more labor intensive in general?
KC: Yeah, and you can’t make a mistake, I suppose, with conventional winemaking. You’re usually fine. With the organics, we haven’t got the same toolbox available. So quite often, especially in New Zealand, organic winemaking is such a small part of the business, and no one’s bothered to register the product, so we can’t use anything. You’ve got to be very careful and not make a mistake. Otherwise, you’ve got nothing to fix your mistake.
E: Similarly, our vineyard management changed quite a lot as well. You don’t only look at the vineyards. We practice topsoil regeneration — it’s that whole regenerative farming that we do. Soil is at the heart of everything. For the certified vineyards, we don’t use herbicides or chemicals. But even in the non-organic vineyards we practice that regenerative farming. So we use cover crops, and we try to look after the soil, and compost, particularly. We look at things like waste recycling, so we make a lot of compost. We use animals in the vineyards. Not only sheep, but also cattle, and chickens. Of course, we really focus on biodiversity. Kim mentioned the natural ferments and what we’ve noticed sitting around the organic vineyards, they tend to go off on their own ferments quite readily now.
KB: That’s really awesome.
E: Biodiversity is quite important because Marlborough, if you look at it, it was somewhere where people planted flowers, and onions, and sheep stations, and cattle. Now it’s pretty much wine. It’s like Napa — it’s pretty much one clone. Biodiversity is so important just as protection. If a virus tears loose in that one clone, it will be disastrous for Marlborough. So we really focus on biodiversity as well. I’m really into permaculture, so I believe that people who work on the farm should be freed from the farm.
E: The whole farm is a certified unit: the grazing paddocks and the cattle, the excess vegetables, the excess meat, and stuff like that. It’s wonderful to be part of that, actually.
C: Wow, I have so many questions after that. Erica, tell me about the animals. You said you have cattle, sheep, chickens. In what way are you using these on the farm, and how are they contributing to that biodiversity?
E: The property is quite hilly, and we can’t plant on most of the property, so we used the cattle initially just to keep the grass low and to prevent fires from happening. Then I looked at them one day and I said to Kim, “I think we can actually sell organic grass-fed beef.” So they are now all certified, so that’s what we could start doing now. But they also act as lawnmowers, just after vintage, before we prune to just get rid of the first lot of weeds and then the sheep come in and do the same thing. And of course, they poop here. It’s not the same thing going on in the same vineyard all the time.
C: They’re contributing their own love to the Loveblock.
E: Yeah, they do, and the chickens scratch and run around and are generally a little bit irritating.
C: But nobody messes with the soil or the vines in a way that is unwanted.
E: Of course, the biggest challenge is the under-vine management. When you grow vine and you irrigate, the weeds are also going to grow. As far as organic wine goes, that’s the biggest issue to deal with. We invest quite heavily in getting the right equipment to get rid of that stuff so that the vine has the opportunity to grow in a relatively less competitive environment.
KB: So it sounds like you guys either adhere to or follow the biodynamic practices, not Demeter certification — there’s a certification if you want to be biodynamic, you can get certified organic. Do you guys practice these agricultural practices? Or are you adhering to a specific kind of regime that is kind of taught by the biodynamic community? Or you’re just reading it, going, “Hey, this is awesome, we want to use it to make great wine. That’s pretty much it?”
E: I think with biodynamics, that’s sort of a higher form of organics, and that’s a holistic system, and we do things by the sun and the moon. For instance, we look at when we pick the grapes on a fruit day, a fruit or a flower day. You can do all sorts of things by the cycle to the moon, of course. We haven’t got that sort of capability in the winery yet. But some people look at the ascending moon and the descending moon and do things. So we try to do things by the biodynamic calendar, but we’re not fully there yet. It’s a long journey.
KC: I think you have to be certified to be certified.
KB: Right, right, right.
KC: So we don’t believe in a lot of the practices although we care. And we add a lot of the practices but some things are just step too far. But we’re not really ready for it.
E: Because it’s a philosophy and it’s such a big learning path. And that’s why, yeah, we’re learning. We do the cow poop packed things so it’s pretty agricultural.
KB: That’s great. I just love that you guys, you’re basically saying this is what the Earth wants. This is what we’re going to do. We’re not adhering to this or that. We’re not certified. We would be certified to get certified. So we’re just making good practices for the land to make great wine. That’s awesome.
E: Yeah, some of the vineyards are certified organic and we are expanding that handprint more and more, but it’s not always possible, especially with the under-vining of our vineyards.
KC: And also, so one of the vineyards is planted on a hill and it’s surrounded by a pasture. So we’ve got one bug that comes out at the end of November, and it just destroys the vine until we can nape the vineyard completely, which would be hellishly expensive. We have to spray, unfortunately.
E: That’s on some of the vineyards. Only some.
K: Makes total sense.
E: We have 110 hectares planted. What’s that in acres? 250ish? So some kind of vineyard land you know?
K: Yeah. So to switch gears a little bit here, I’ve been curious. So obviously, Americans, we know and love New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc — partially because of you guys. But I was wondering what other varieties should we be looking out for from New Zealand? What else is exciting you guys that’s coming out from New Zealand vineyards like your own and others?
E: OK, so, I mean, we put our stake in the ground with Pinot Gris, and I’m very pleased to announce that we’re finally seeing a lift in sales in Pinot Gris, and it’s in the little independent restaurants and now wine shops that are doing that. Because it’s not the Pinot Grigio style, it’s made quite differently, we picked at a different time.
KC: It’s made more in an Oregon style than a Pinot Grigio style.
KB: That’s what I was asking, because I think Oregon is really killing it with Pinot Gris. It seems like Pinot Gris is kind of in the air right now. It’s perfect timing. I think we’re riding on the back of them.
KC: Yeah, they’ve done a good job with price points, they’re sitting at around $18 to $20, which is where everybody needs to be to make a dollar. Because we don’t go anywhere near as high, so Pinot Gris will crop at maybe three or four times an acre, whereas in Italy it’ll crop at 15 to 20. We can’t get down to Pinot Grigio price.
E: And then, of course, the other thing that I think New Zealand is getting known for is Pinot Noir, of course.
KB: Yes. How is Central Otago doing on the world market? I mean, I am in love with the wines. I think they’re really great. And you guys make a great Otago. Just wondering, how are you guys faring with that? I mean, it’s a specifically beautiful style of Pinot Noir and it’s so different and unique than all the other styles available on the planet. So I’m just curious how that’s going.
E: I think people don’t expect it from New Zealand, but it has been growing and there’s a lot more planted down there, isn’t it?
KC: Yeah, it’s one of the regions where we’ve got problems in New Zealand. There are apples, cherries, and kiwi fruit competing against grapes in terms of land use. So essentially that is the big cherry-producing area. The land is actually becoming reasonably scarce down there and your returns on cherries — as long as you don’t get rain — say $100,000 an acre gross return. Whereas grapes, you might be down to 10 to 15. But the cherries are far more expensive to set up than the grapes are. But there is, stylistically, quite a bit of difference. Depending on the subregions in Central Otago, it tends to get mountainous. But harvest will be six weeks earlier than some people because of wherever it is.
KB: Oh, that’s interesting. That’s exciting, that’s an exciting thing right there. Subregions in New Zealand. And I think that’s something that we should talk more about in the American market because of how unique and diverse the land in New Zealand is. It’s crazy.
E: Yeah. I mean, it’s basically if you look at California, the top is quite different to the bottom, isn’t it? And New Zealand is like that because it sits straight down the latitudes.
KC: We’re nearly the length of California and we’re only again, 80 miles wide at the widest. So we’re very long and skinny.
E: And full of mountains.
KC: So we don’t get hugely like, say, in the East Coast, there’s plenty of snow and stuff but we very seldom get snow. We get a little bit on the vineyard in Central but never in Marlborough. And we live in Aukland now. I mean, if we get a frost, it’s a hell of a surprise.
KB: Wow. Yeah, definitely. In the Northeast, it’s snowing here a lot this year.
E: Oh, I’ll tell you what. I would give my hind leg to be there.
KB: Oh yeah, we would do the same for Aukland, I promise you that.
E: Yes. Beautiful, beautiful day here. Not a cloud in the sky.
KB: Well, we have all clouds. We have all the clouds!
C: Well, speaking of coasts and clouds, I thought it was kind of funny when we started this conversation, Erica and Kim, you both said good morning, but we are at the end of the day here on the East Coast in New York. So a final question that I have for you is, we’re wrapping up the day, I’m drinking the Sauvignon Blanc right now. What should I pair this with for a late-afternoon before dinner snack?
KB: Nice, Cat.
E: Oh, anything, really. Oysters are always the favorite for me with Sauvignon. And I think goat cheese, of course, is a well known pair for it. Strong flavors, really. It carries strong flavors very well.
KC: Or maybe sashimi,.
E: Sashimi, sushi.
C: OK, I could do sushi. How about like Triscuit crackers with dill on it? That’s what I have in my cabinet right now.
E: You know how women always eat, or people always eat salad, and it misses the wine, doesn’t it? Because it leaves you with a really bitter effect.
C: Yeah, forget salad!
E: Yeah salad is wicked. But I think Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand really stands up to that. So for me, it’s the only wine you can really have with a salad.
C: Salad with goat cheese, that I can see.
KB: Yeah, a goat cheese salad with Loveblock Sauvignon Blanc? I’m going to log off and do that right now.
C: Yeah, that sounds great. Thank you for the suggestion.
KB: Well, Kim and Erica, thank you so much for joining us and making me super hungry. So nice talking to you guys about New Zealand Wine and Loveblock and everything that’s next for New Zealand. So we’ve loved having you on, and hopefully we can get a drink in person some time.
E: Thank you so much. Yeah, we do hope to get there sometime in the future. God knows when.
KC: It won’t be this year.
K: That’s for sure.
Thanks for listening to this week’s episode of “EOD Drinks.” If you’ve enjoyed this program, please leave us a rating or a review wherever you get your podcasts. It really helps other people discover the show. And tell your friends. We want as many people as possible listening to this amazing program.
And now for the credits. “End of Day Drinks” is recorded live in New York City at VinePair’s headquarters. And it is produced, edited, and engineered by VinePair tastings director, yes, he wears a lot of hats, Keith Beavers. I also want to give a special thanks to VinePair’s co-founder, Josh Malin, to the executive editor Joanna Sciarrino, to our senior editor, Cat Wolinski, senior staff writer Tim McKirdy, and our associate editor Katie Brown. And a special shout-out to Danielle Grinberg, VinePair’s art director who designed the sick logo for this program. The music for “End of Day Drinks” was produced, written, and recorded by Darby Cici. I’m VinePair co-founder Adam Teeter, and we’ll see you next week. Thanks a lot.
Ed. note: This episode has been edited for length and clarity.