CellarVie Wines meets…Vidal winemaker Hugh Crichton

In line with our focus on New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, CellarVie Wines caught up with Vidal winemaker Hugh Crichton to discuss his winemaking philosophy, his influences and love of food, as well his desire to produce wines that are truly a reflection of the region and vineyards where the grapes are grown…

Describe yourself and your attitude to Winemaking in three words…

Natural, understated integrity.

Briefly describe your wines…

Elegant and textured, reflecting site and season.

Describe the Vidal philosophy and your approach to winemaking…

Our focus is to produce wines that reflect site and season, that is, they speak of the vineyards and the growing season or vintage that they were produced in or from.

If we can achieve cornerstones of purity, underlying complexity, texture and above all restraint and elegance, then we are at where we want to be.

Overriding these desires is to produce wines that complement rather than dominate food.

What wines are Vidal responsible for making?

Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Pinot Gris, Botrytis Semillon, Pinot Noir, Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec and Cabernet Franc blends.

How did you get involved in the winemaking world?

My winemaking path started with the love of consuming wine, which quickly turned into infatuation and an endless thirst to understand wines of the world, their production and taste.

Fostering the consumption of wine was helped by proximity to one of the greatest wine markets in the world, London, where I was based for over a decade and where the selection of wine by country of origin, producer and vintage is second to none.

This passion lead to tertiary qualifications and practical winemaking in France, Italy and New Zealand and a prioritisation of the conversion of cash (the small amount I had) to wine and wine related activities!

Whilst wine is still central it has to be said that a number of other priorities have since come to the fore!

Who or what were your early influences?

Prior to joining Vidal there were a number of influencers but the key ones from a winemaking and grape growing point of view were the following: -

James Milton from Millton Vineyards, Gisborne, New Zealand.

François de Ligneris from Château Soutard, Saint-Émilion, Bordeaux, France.

The Rallo Family from Donnafugata, Sicily, Italy.

What are your main passions outside of wine?

Eating and cooking. Like wine, food stripped back to its parts will reflect where it is from, the season it was grown and in most (but not all) cases the human touch to assist in its production.

Like wine, great food is the result of the right soils, the right climate and the right produce in the right place. Fresh, local, seasonal and simple without pretence is what interests me.

Hawkes Bay climate, soils and local knowledge repeatedly produces “flavour” at the highest level. Think deep sea fish, shell fish and crustaceans, game – venison, duck, pheasant, lamb and beef - as well as a multitude of vegetables and the freshest, most succulent, flavoursome fruit obtainable.

If you didn't make wine what would you do?

I would be a chef or somehow connected to the food industry – perhaps to source food in some capacity.

What is your favourite meal?

Freshly shucked oysters.
Smoked Fish cakes, water cress and soft egg salad, cornichon and caper aioli.
Grilled Scotch Fillet Steak served with potato dauphinoise and seasonal salad.
Apple, pear or whatever is seasonal Tarte Tatin.

Where is your favourite place in the vineyard to sit down quietly and enjoy a glass of wine?

Sitting close to the heat radiating stones in one of our Gimblett Gravels vineyards enjoying a glass of flinty, complex but refreshing Hawkes Bay Chardonnay from our Reserve or Legacy Range, accompanied with open fire, pan seared fresh scallops.
Gimblett Gravels vineyard

Describe a day in the life of Hugh Crichton...

I’m up at 6.00-6.30am depending if it is one of the usual three mornings a week that I attempt to have a run! Poach eggs and fresh fruit juice for the family, before heading out the door to the winery.

When at work, usually at 7.30am, my first priority is to grind coffee and prepare latte! At 8am the winery team gets together for a catch up on the wine work that lies ahead for the day as well as any news of note – more often than not of a sporting nature!

From this point on, what lies ahead is dependent on the time of year. Needless to say it is a rare day that we don’t assess wine quality at the various stages of a wine’s evolution. Assessments can be anything from a quick bench trial, to barrel sampling, through to full day blind assessment and blending.

If I’m fortunate to be looking after someone, then Vidal Restaurant for lunch is high on the agenda, otherwise it’s something on the run.

With the role comes varying degrees of marketing and sales in varying capacities. Working for a company that is focused on growing quality grapes, makes our job as viticulturists and winemakers relatively simple.

The real challenge is selling the wine at a price that justifies the effort that has gone into it, a price that will extract value and create the opportunity to reinvest in the pursuit of further improvements to quality.

Tomorrow’s heroes will be those marketers and sellers who can tell the story with honesty and integrity, and connect the right wine to the right people, at a price that they will freely pay. Fast-moving consumer goods thinking is not the way ahead for a quality focused country increasingly producing wines of international standard. It is rare that a day goes by without thought, suggestion or action down this line.

At the end of the day it’s usually dinner (and wine!) at home with my wife and three children around the kitchen table (or outside as the daylight extends and the heat of summer builds) before catching up on world news, watching a film or other visual screen entertainment, or reading or listening to music - to which I can thank the internet for my recent rejuvenation into this area.

Vidal winery is situated on the original site in Hastings, Hawkes Bay which was purchased by its founder Anthony Joseph Vidal back in 1905. The winery itself is a combination of old and new. Modern state-of-the-art technology is used in conjunction with traditional winemaking techniques and some original elements of the building are used for Chardonnay fermentation and maturation.

To View CellarVie Wines’ selection of Vidal wines click here.
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Awesome interview. New Zealand wines are the best.
by BM