New vineyards energize NZ's Kim Crawford; Nobilo adds Chardonnay

Mussell Shells Hay Block

Mussel shells keep down the weeds in a Kim Crawford vineyard in Marlborough. (Image courtesy of Constellation Brands)

KIM CRAWFORD is the red-hot brand from New Zealand that makes zesty, affordable, supermarket Sauvignon Blancs that even attract the most toffee-nosed drinkers. The name alone is considered a mark of quality. Nobilo (“Nob-Eh-Lo”) is another success story that presses every taste button in your mouth with its crisp, herbal, flowery Marlborough Sauvignon Blancs.

Both New Zealand brands were bought up some time ago by Constellation Brands, the huge wine company based in Canandaigua, N.Y.  And both are gearing up for the future with new wines and new small-batch and regular releases incorporating grapes off new vineyards. If you like Kim Crawford Pinot Noir now, just wait.

Matt Deller, Constellation’s North American sales director for the New Zealand properties, was in Detroit recently to touch base with wholesalers, and filled me in on what’s coming up. And to hear him talk, Kim Crawford and Nobilo are treated more like boutique wineries than the huge-production brands they really are. Remember, both brands are commonly found in supermarkets and Costco stores. Both brands were declared “Hot Brands” last year by Impact Databank.

The big news for Kim Crawford is a new winery, new equipment including all-new tanks, and now a new 12-acre vineyard in Bendigo, which is Central Otago’s premier sub-region for Pinot Noir. It will lift the already high quality of Kim Crawford’s Small Parcel Rise & Shine Pinot Noir.

New vineyards also have been purchased for Kim Crawford in the fabulous Blind River sub-region of Marlborough — they are called Merrifield’s and Awatere Hills and were already planted. Grapes from them went into the 2015 Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc.

More tidbits from Deller: All the vineyards are sustainably farmed, and the Hill Block in Marlborough that grows Kim Crawford Pinot Noir even uses NZ seafood producers’ discarded mussel shells as ground cover and fertilizer (see the image at left above). He explains that the country’s signature green-lipped mussels sold frozen around the world have to be de-shelled before they can be shipped. And those shells work nicely to keep down the weeds and feed the soil.

He also said the popular Kim Crawford Unoaked Chardonnay will be produced with 100 percent Hawke’s Bay grapes, where it is warmer, starting with the 2015 vintage. Previously it was a blend of Marlborough and Hawke’s Bay fruit. “We are looking for more tropical and stone-fruit flavors and creaminess. More Chardonnay-ness.”

Nobilo’s two lines — the Regional Collection and Icon — have focused solely on Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir, but will add a lightly oaked, crisp, citrusy style Chardonnay in March. It will be part of the Regional Collection.


(Image courtesy of

Deller said the 2015 vintage harvested in March is down in quantity 27 percent from 2014, but the quality is exceptional. In fact, he said, NZ has enjoyed a streak of three great vintages starting with 2013.

Deller’s job is to keep Constellation’s properties in NZ in touch with the whims of the marketplace in Canada and the U.S., which sounds like a job for a business major. But he has worked in all phases of the wine trade since he was 19, even making wine, and now, at age 41, is well on his way to attaining his Master of Wine credentials. MWs are a very elite club of wine experts who are very good at keeping brands on track.

Kim Crawford Unoaked Chardonnay East Coast, New Zealand 2014, $14.99: Crisp, dry Chardonnay doesn’t get much better this this. It’s a cocktail of lemon zest, grapefruit, crisp apple, ripe peach and pineapple. It’s well-rounded with a nutty character, creamy mouthfeel and firm but not austere acidity.

Kim Crawford Pinot Gris Marlborough, New Zealand 2014, $18: Complexity, depth of flavors, an unctuous sensation on the midpalate — this is a wine to excite the senses. It’s a pretty wine, soft and creamy with flavors of pear, citrus, floral tones and brown spices — subtle nutmeg, cinnamon. It’s elegant with a long, dry, lingering finish.

Nobilo Icon Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough, New Zealand 2014, $17: The Icon series, as the name implies, is a Reserve level. This Sauvignon Blanc from the terrific 2014 vintage has lovely tropical flavors to soften the usual tart green edge to Marlborough whites. Aromas burst with lime, Ruby Red grapefruit, kiwi and tarragon. In the mouth, you get orange zest, passion fruit, green apple, herbs and a floral twist. It has a subtle unctuous texture on the midpalate. The finish is long and satisfying. It’s a wine with understated power that can enhance a range of foods from spicy Asian cuisine to delicate chicken dishes.

Nobilo Regional Collection Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough, New Zealand 2014, $10.99: This is an affordable gem with its definitive fresh, crisp, herbal Marlborough flavors. Aromas of orange zest, intense lemon-lime, pineapple and subtle herbal tones are followed in the mouth with sassy tropical fruit, pineapple, passionfruit and tarragon laced with minerality and packaged in sturdy acidity.

You can reach Sandra Silfven at