Erica Crawford started out her working life as an aspirational young medical researcher but soon realised that studying medical journals wasn’t up her alley. “I was the one the professor entrusted with the eccentric genius scientists and visitors, to welcome them and to give them social context,” she told Restaurant & Café magazine. “People were always going to be my thing.”
Crawford met husband Kim while working in the pharmaceutical industry in South Africa. The pair moved to New Zealand in 1989, had two children a few years later, and began making wine under the Kim Crawford label in 1996. The Kim Crawford label was sold in 2006, but their hearts remained in wine.
Crawford and her husband were drawn to an untamed parcel of land in Marlborough’s Awatere Valley which showed great potential for growing grapes and making wines that would exemplify what she calls the “true and naked terroir of the region”. The new label, Loveblock, is the result of a successful shift to organic and sustainable winemaking, which has led to further international recognition for Erica.
This time around, the business model has changed completely. Instead of using grape growers, all grapes used to make Loveblock wines are from family-owned vineyards. It means that they are able to control the whole process – from crop level to and quality to spray applications, something that is imperative to organics where no chemical herbicides or pesticides are used. “Organics has a definite influence on the flavour profile and texture of wine,” she explained. “Our focus is on soil balance and fertility. The wine has nothing to hide behind, and really is an honest and true reflection of its place and practice.” This aligns with their approach to winemaking in general – to let the flavours speak for themselves.
Experimentation is key at Loveblock, especially given the organic ethos. “It’s a bit like giving one chef four ingredients, and another a full pantry, and tell them to make the same dish,” said Crawford. “Your toolbox is much smaller.” A central element to the toolbox is the 14 ha block set aside for experiments with varietals such as Pinot Blanc, Chenin Blanc, Tempranillo, St Laurent and Moscato. The experimental block was the source of one of Loveblock’s greatest, albeit accidental, successes.
“The early spring months of 2013 were very warm and brought ideal growing conditions, what we thought was going to be a tip top flowering season,” Crawford explained. “However, unexpected heavy rain in April persisted for a few days and the conditions made it dangerous and impossible for our machinery to harvest the grapes on our experimentation hilltop block. But, when we returned after the rain, we found our Chenin Blanc grapes were in good condition and had botrytised 100 percent.” The result? An incredibly unique Noble Chenin Blanc, reminiscent of the Noble Chenins found in Loire.
Wine is not the be-all and end-all for Crawford. Loveblock Farm is a certified organic, integrated farm which not only grows grapes but also houses a 130 head herd of beef cattle grazing on certified or “in conversion” organic paddocks. Once the rigorous certification programme is achieved, which could take up to four years, Crawford plans to release Loveblock Organic Grassfed Beef. Next vintage she hopes to make ‘moskonfyt’, or grape must jam, a traditional South African recipe which dates back to the 1600s to complement the range of Loveblock wines.
Outside of wine, Crawford is a member of Global Women New Zealand, a collaboration of New Zealand’s most influential women leaders, promoting inclusion and diversity for improved societal and economic growth. Last year she was inducted into the Entrepreneurial Women Hall of Fame. Despite founding arguably New Zealand’s most successful export wine brand and having worked in the industry for over 20 years, Crawford is only now formalising her winemaking credentials with a post-grad degree in viticulture. “It’s wonderfully useful and satisfying but jolly hard,” she said. “While Kim makes the Loveblock wines, my love is for the vineyard.”