We went down to Marlborough a couple of weeks ago to see what exciting changes are happening in the wine capital. We caught up with Josh Hammond from Isabel Estate who has just released his second vintage under his new label Native & Ancient.
Josh is a local lawyer turn winemaker, from a winegrowing family here in the heart of Marlborough. He recently returned home from overseas and has quickly started this new and exciting project.
Native & Ancient is an organic only project lead by Josh, the winemaker at Isabel Estate. Why is this important? Because it's refreshing to see a bigger player in the wine game take a stand, decide to commit to organic conversion and allow their winemakers the freedom to produce low intervention wine. As they say, if you can't beat em, join em.
Below is a quick run down of our chat with Josh. We are beyond excited to be the exclusive retailer for these wines here in New Zealand.
EW: Can you give us a quick run down on your previous winemaking experience and how you ended up back home in Marlborough?
JH: I grew up in Marlborough, and my family have been growing grapes here for a long time. My school holidays were spent working in my parents vineyards, which, looking back, has given me a better handle on what it takes to grow fruit. After studying, I did the classic travelling winemaker stint, working between Marlborough, California and Burgundy.
Having so much practical experience, the theory was much easier to grasp when I returned to university to study winemaking.
I moved to London and helped establish Renegade Urban Winery with an english guy, making low intervention wines in a railway arch in east London from grapes sourced from England to as far afield as Albania. It was great fun but hard work! After 3 years in London I was keen to move back home which coincided with an opening at Isabel Estate. I have been here for three vintages now and have just produced the second vintage for Native & Ancient.
EW: What is Native & Ancient and how did it come about?
JH: Native & Ancient explores the interaction between microbiology and human intervention, of man and nature. Using native yeasts from the vineyard and winemaking techniques (Pet Nats and amphora/ skin contact whites) that were popular a long time ago (ancient). It has been a way to continue a winemaking journey started at Renegade, making low intervention wines using some of the awesome organic fruit we grow here at Isabel Estate. I think using organic fruit is a really important starting point for these wines. There aren’t enough natural wine producers in Marlborough so it is great to be able to be part of the leading few here.
EW: You could have easily made a random label with no association to Isabel Estate, why have you decided to keep this association?
JH: I think there is great synergy between the two brands and the association benefits both. Isabel Estate has been committed to sustainability and organic grape growing for some time, we make our own organic compost and have started an extensive native planting program on the estate. The Isabel wines are classic in style and appeal to a more traditional consumer. Native & Ancient is able to use the organic fruit from the estate to make wines that appeal to a different audience. You could say N&A is the younger, more rebellious sibling to Isabel Estate.
EW: Isabel Esate has 43ha under vine. Is the goal to convert all of this to organic management?
JH: Yes, eventually that is what we are aiming to achieve. We have gone down the path of doing it stage by stage rather than the whole estate at once in order to have a better understanding of the changes we need to make and ensure we don’t lose productivity or quality. So far the results have been really positive!
EW: This isn't just a Sav farm is it?
JH: No, not at all, we are lucky to be working with Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir and Syrah as well as our staple Sauvignon Blanc. Being a local, working with Sauvignon Blanc just makes sense. It's what Marlborough is known for, so it's exciting to be able to put a twist on this and its typical form. Especially when it comes to Pét Nats, we've got a whole other realm to explore.
EW: What is special about this vineyard here?
JH: This vineyard has some great acid retention, which has allowed me to make wine which doesn't need any ph adjustments. The fruit can be picked relatively late and yet still hold this amazing acidity, especially for our pinot noir. The vines here were planted with a nod to Burgundy, with low fruiting wires and densely planted with 80cm spacing and a really expansive clonal mix. It makes sampling quite tricky, but gives us a really big picking window.
EW: What has been the biggest learning curve coming home and starting Native & Ancient?
JH: I've been much more involved with the grape growing aspect, it's awesome to be able to have the winery and vineyard right next door to each other. I get to spend much more time out here in the vineyard. We've been experimenting with rotating cover crops and learning what companion planting can achieve to encourage beneficial insects during Spring/Summer. I've got more attention to detail out here in the vineyard and am able to have a better understanding about how the season progresses.
You can make shit wine with good grapes, but you can't make good wine with shit grapes.
EW: It's a tight knit community here, how have the wines been received locally?
JH: We recently got together with a bunch of winemakers in the region to taste through everyone's Pinot's. The Native & Ancient stood out for its vibrancy and freshness, not as a 'natural wine' but just a good one, so it was cool to be able to put my hand up and say yes, "Yep, that's an organic, unfined, unfiltered and unsulphured wine". It was recognized as a solid wine, instead of a natural wine which is kind of the acid test really when it comes to peer reviews.
We can see this happening globally, where shit wines that used to be a pass because it was natural is no longer kosher. This is great for the larger organic, or natural winemaking movement, to have a better standard for these wines.
EW: I love how everything for Native & Ancient is done in house, from grape growing to label artwork. How amazing are these labels!?
JH: Yeah, Tom, our Assistant Winemaker is a really talented artist. Tom has been working closely on the Native & Ancient wines, and so it's really fitting to have his artwork on the bottles.
You can see more of Tom's incredible artwork here
The 2021 Native & Ancient wines are exclusive to Everyday Wine. They are made with organically certified fruit, and are all fermented naturally with indigenous yeast, and are unfined and unfiltered. Check them out here!