The winemaker experimenting with wild yeast

Brian Elliott meets a New Zealand winemaker using wild yeast to create spectacularly tasty and diverse wines

Published 28th Jun 2015
Updated 21 st Sep 2023

KEVIN Judd considered the whole idea preposterous. In those days, he was chief winemaker at New Zealand’s hugely successful Cloudy Bay operation and here was his colleague, James Healy, suggesting experimentation with wild yeast.

Since about half of wine’s flavour compounds come from the yeast, using cultivated versions helps control consistency and the wine’s eventual taste. Relying on the yeasts that are naturally present in the winery or the vineyard introduces scope for myriad variations – but it can create spectacularly tasty and diverse wines.

Healy’s persistence paid off. From an initial ugly duckling came some impressive and flavoursome swans. So successful were they, that when Judd left Cloudy Bay to create his own Greywacke label in 2009, he took an enthusiasm for wild yeast with him.

He was in Edinburgh recently to share with the world how the subsequent five Greywacke wild sauvignon vintages had worked out. Pretty well (and with fabulous variety) as it happens. The wines range from the rich, orange and sweet pea influences of the 2010 vintage to the lighter and sharper lemon elements of the Bordeaux-like 2011.

To experience the latest available version try 2013 Greywacke Wild Sauvignon (£24.99 at Luvians Bottle Shop, Cupar and St Andrews, and £25.99 at Abbey Fine Wines, Melrose), with its slightly sweet aromas, smooth texture and vibrant but crisp grapefruit depth coupled with a more complex array of flavours.

Despite having a reputation inextricably linked with sauvignon, Judd also works brilliantly with other grape varieties. Enjoy, for instance, his delightfully balanced riesling, or the spicy white plum touches of his pinot gris. But for sheer luxury, seek out the 2013 Greywacke Marlborough Pinot Noir (£30 at Villeneuve Wines in Peebles and Edinburgh), which also uses indigenous yeast and delivers soft and mellow pinot with cherry and raspberry fruit and spicy depth.

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