Marlborough Express - The Saturday Express, Marlborough
Young winemaker goes outside the box
Whether fermenting peaches from his childhood garden, or throwing oak chips at a tank of sauvignon, Alun Kilby has long had an appetite for new things.
‘‘I have always wanted to be a little bit outside of the box and not run by the recipe,’’ says the 2022 Young 2022 Tonnellerie de Mercurey Marlborough Young Winemaker of the Year.
‘‘Even at university with our microvins, my friend and I ended up making fortified wine ... just because everyone else was making normal wine.’’
Alun, who is production winemaker at Marisco Vineyards, took the regional title in late September, up against the competition’s largest-ever regional field, with 10 competitors putting themselves to the test.
The winemakers – all aged 30 or under – were of a really high calibre, says Marlborough regional committee chairperson, and former winner, Emily Gaspard-Clark. That bodes well for the industry, she says.
‘‘I think we have a great group of young leaders coming through and the industry will be in good hands as they move up the ranks.’’
Alun grew up making fruit wine with his mother in the kitchen of his family home in Matakana, with frozen berries defrosted and fermented, and fruit plucked from the pear, peach and feijoa trees in their garden. They weren’t all good, but they were all an experience, he says.
‘‘You learn lots, even working with fruit wine.’’ He was practical by nature, and fascinated by biology, ‘‘so yeasts and conversions came naturally to me’’.
Alun started holiday vineyard work when he was 13, and went on to undertake the Bachelor of Viticulture and Oenology at Lincoln University.
While studying, he worked the 2014 vintage at Marisco and ‘‘loved it’’, as his past experiences fell into place.
On finishing his degree the next year, he went to Central Otago, before returning to Marisco as a cellarhand in late 2015, with plans to make it to winemaker.
Some overseas vintages followed, but Alun returned to Marisco again, and was made assistant winemaker in 2018, then production winemaker this year.
‘‘I have learned a lot being in the role,’’ he says, noting that being at one winery, on and off, since 2014, including ‘‘multiple harvests’’, has allowed him to embed knowledge of the processes, and what each block, additive or remedy brings to a wine.
‘‘I do feel that in winemaking you have to spend a certain amount of time in one place to be able to get a good grasp of context,’’ he says.
‘‘Once you have that information tucked away in your brain, you can take that anywhere from there.’’
Working in the state-of-the-art winery has also given him the opportunity to be involved in sauvignon blanc trials, including hot, high solids, and barrel ferments, learning more about the versatility of Marlborough’s flagship variety.
One of those trials involved adding a tonne’s worth of oak chips to an 80,000-litre tank of sauvignon, fermented warm with high solids.
That successful trial created a new thread in Marisco’s programme, he says, pleased to be involved in pushing outside the box.
‘‘I am always out there to try new things and learn new things, and the competition does help with that as well,’’ he says.
‘‘It gives you insights and networking advantage as well.’’
In the judging section of this year’s competition, Alun felt lucky to have chardonnay on the table.
‘‘We had just graded our chardonnay . . . so I was going in with a lot of information.’’
And while the marketing pitch is often a challenge for him, this year’s brief – to blend and market a rose´ for the Swedish Meatball and Flapjack Innovation Expo – was so entertaining, he could set his nerves aside.
‘‘It was just too good. I went for a darker style rose´ and a bit of sweetness, but made it with a salty minerality so you’d still want to drink it with food.’’
It’s been a long time between berry wines, but Alun’s mother, who passed away in 2014, is a constant inspiration.
‘‘She is the one who has driven me to be in this industry and I always felt that with this competition she would be super proud of me; she would be stoked,’’ he says.
‘‘So I do it more for her than for me.’’
Thomas Jordaan, from Vavasour, came second in the Marlborough competition and Ruby McManaway, from Yealands, third.
This article first appeared in Winepress magazine and is republished with permission.