Organic’, ‘skin contact’ and ‘natural’ are buzzwords in wine circles today, so much so that a new wine festival called Bud Burst is devoted to wines made this way. The makers of the Supernatural Wine Co. were there to share their practices with hundreds of people in Wellington for the inaugural November 2018 festival.
The Supernatural wines come from an eight hectare hillside vineyard in Hawke’s Bay, which is farmed organically and certified with BioGro NZ.
“The aim is to make wines that taste like a next level drink. We want our grapes to express where they come from in every glass,” says Greg Collinge, a former investment banker, who now owns the Supernatural Wine Co.
He set the business up with his former partner, Gabrielle Simmers, in 2009. Right from the start they made wines with a difference. They began to move towards organic certification for their grapes and embraced unconventional packaging and winemaking.
They never used cork, traditionally coloured wine bottles or conventional labels. They were the first to use crown seals on still wines in New Zealand, they used clear glass bottles and their maverick name &Co soon morphed into the Supernatural Wine Co.
They were among the first to make orange wine in New Zealand, using a technique called skin contact. This is common in red winemaking but rare in white winemaking, until relatively recently. Orange wine is now a global trend, closely aligned to natural winemaking. It’s popular with many drinkers because its makers eschew chemicals in their vineyards and winemaking. They are not alone, however, in their heightened awareness and reduced use of sprays in vineyards. Nearly 100 per cent of New Zealand wineries and vineyards belong to independently audited sustainability schemes, which encourage the reduction of man-made sprays on vines, but natural winemaking can take things a step further, provided its producers own and manage their vineyards.
The vast majority of grapes grown on the Supernatural vineyard are sauvignon blanc, due to export demand. “We had a lot of positive feedback for our sauvignon blanc from the start and we wanted to make more to meet that demand and show another side to New Zealand sauvignon,” says Collinge. That side of the story is the softer, lower acidity of Hawke’s Bay grapes. And it is also the skin-contact, orange-wine style.
The Supernatural winemaker today is Hayden Penny, who has his hands full managing the vineyard too. It’s a busy role, destined to grow as he and Collinge scour the terrain for land to expand on with red grapes.
In the meantime, there is one hectare at the bottom of the Supernatural hillside destined for another aromatic white grape, possibly chenin blanc. Like all Supernatural wines, it will be treated to skin contact, wild yeasts, clover and wild flowers grown between the rows to reduce weed competition with the vines – a ‘supernatural’ expression of chenin blanc.