Kim Craw­ford

Weekend Herald - Canvas - - CONTENTS -

It was 1995 and it was the worst vin­tage ever. You can tell if it’s go­ing to be a bad year be­cause when the cy­clones came down the west coast — as they have also done this year — they go through Cook Strait and dev­as­tate Marl­bor­ough. That was a hor­ri­ble year.

I was con­sult­ing for three or four com­pa­nies and I re­mem­ber the ma­chine har­vesters go­ing down the rows and a crowd of botry­tis spores com­ing up, like smoke from a fire — that wasn’t good. It was the first year that Marl­bor­ough had had a rea­son­able vol­ume of grapes, but the con­trac­tors couldn’t cope. You’d walk into winer­ies and tem­per­a­ture warn­ings would be flash­ing red be­cause they couldn’t keep stuff cold and you’d have prob­lems like three-day fer­ments.

And in 1995 I also had a 1-year-old son and a 2-month-old daugh­ter with colic. I would come home after 18 or 19 hours a day of work and be met with my wife, Erica, say­ing “Take this baby off me now.”

So 1995 be­came the year we de­cided to make the Kim Craw­ford brand. We did it all from our house in Eden Ter­race, at home with two small chil­dren. Kids can cer­tainly add to your stress when you’re try­ing to run a busi­ness from home. And we were pretty strict that one of us was al­ways at home. We had a rule that we didn’t travel to­gether.

We spent that year liv­ing hand to mouth and we did all our plan­ning for Kim Craw­ford Wines. We bor­rowed against the house to pay for grapes. I think we had paid $139,000 for the house and thought we’d been robbed.

Erica, who had run a di­vi­sion of a di­ag­nos­tics com­pany, said: “Well I can sell wine. It’s just another prod­uct.”

And I said, “Okay, I’ll make it and you can sell it.” And so we did. We re­cently found our orig­i­nal busi­ness plan, writ­ten on the back of an en­ve­lope. It was to sell the brand in eight years. And then we would buy some land, grow grapes and make wine our­selves. As it turned out, we sold it in seven years, which is even less be­liev­able, and we got more for it than we ex­pected.

I had some re­ally good re­la­tion­ships in the in­dus­try, so it wasn’t dif­fi­cult to get grapes. We never had con­tracts — the shake of a hand was al­ways good enough as far as I was con­cerned. And it was never a prob­lem — un­til we sold the busi­ness and the buy­ers wanted so see our grape con­tracts and I had to say we didn’t have any. So we had to get a few con­tracts in order for the buy­ers to be sure they’d have grapes to make wine.

Nor­mally you pick grapes at 22 brix [which mea­sures the sugar con­tent] or so. This year, with Love­block Wines, we picked a lot at 18, but it wasn’t as bad as in 1995 when we were pick­ing them at 13. I was on a plane this year fly­ing over Marl­bor­ough and the kids I was with looked out and said: “Have you ever seen any­thing like that?” I said: “I’ve seen worse.” There’s a lot of science in wine­mak­ing, but no mat­ter what you do, Mother Na­ture still rules the roost. As told to Paul Lit­tle.

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