In a world where our culture favours fast consumerism, and where quality often takes a back seat to quantity, there is a definite global shift back to a simpler, slower way of living. This is especially noticeable in the boutique food industry, where there is a resurgence back to the old traditional ways of making food that our ancestors favoured before fast food and TV dinners took the world by storm. It’s not only food that has been affected by this desire to move away from the mass-produced. The craft beer industry has exploded not only globally, but nationally, with around 200 craft beer brands on the New Zealand market, giving us the title of more breweries per capita than anywhere else in the world. Wine, however, has been a little slower on the uptake. While many vineyards have embraced organic wine production, natural wines, although growing in popularity, are still relatively rare in New Zealand.
Living in Amberley with her husband and two sons Louka and Marco, natural winemaker Jessica Mavromatis gained most of her knowledge of winemaking in the nearby Waipara Valley wine region. Her husband, Nik, whom she met whilst working at the Mediterranean Food Company in Christchurch, manages Greystone and Muddy Water Wines, meaning that viticulture is a constant thread that winds through the lives of the Mavromatis family. Jessica’s journey towards natural winemaking has included a full immersion in the Waipara wine industry, studying hands-on in vineyards throughout the region with some of the industry’s top winemakers and growers.
‘You have to know the rules before you can break them,’ Jessica says. Natural winemaking started as a side project for Jessica, but it has recently expanded into a much larger, stand-alone endeavour with the birth of her label Ekleipsis. Jessica describes her label as ‘wine that doesn’t take itself too seriously, but is made with thought, care and attention’.
Everything about this wine, from the way it is made to the way it is marketed, has a kind of feminine, Grecian goddess vibe. The label showcases a mixed-media artwork called The Introspection of Janus depicting the Roman God of beginnings and endings, Janus, in female form by London artist Chloe McCarrick, and the word Ekleipsis meaning ‘eclipse’ in Greek is apt since the wine’s first harvest was during a blood moon. The word can also mean ‘abandoned’, which nods to the hands-off approach to this style of winemaking, from vineyard to bottle.
No yeast or sugar is added, as there is enough present naturally, nor is any sulphur required. There are tannins in the red grape skins that help give the wine ‘body’. The wine ferments for around nine months ‘like a baby’, Jessica says, first in tanks, then spending the second ferment with extended skin contact in large 500-litre terracotta amphorae, specially imported from Spain. The technique of making wine in these large clay vessels goes back thousands of years, a method favoured in ancient Egypt and Greece. Not only are these amphorae aesthetically beautiful, but the clay also interacts with the acidity of the wine and provides insulation while allowing the wine to ‘breathe’.
Once ready, the wine is separated from the skins, bottled and stopped with a crown seal instead of a screw top or cork. The wine is sold locally, and exported to Australia and Japan, to a very niche market.
Ekleipsis, like all natural wines, differs to the mainstream Pinot Noir found in supermarkets. ‘It has depth and intrigue and most importantly is smashable, made with traditional technique, without any chemical additives or undue fiddling,’ explains Jess. ‘I really like using a traditional winemaking method called carbonic maceration, which relies on C02 to protect the ferment from oxidation. Using this technique naturally produces a spritz in the finished wine and a style that’s low in tannin, juicy and vibrant; having wine like that can be super versatile with all kinds of food flavours and in all kinds of situations.
‘I like to think of this type of winemaking as “Low Fi”. The term “natural” can often be thought of as controversial, simply as there isn’t a set of controlled parameters to adhere to,’ Jess says. ‘When I open a bottle of wine, I want to be able to taste the grapes, without any mask of additives or preservatives, and to enjoy it knowing there was nothing added and nothing taken away.’
Words & Images Claire Inkson