His name is associated with some of the most polished wines in New Zealand, but Hugh Crichton is passionate about limited intervention.
Digging through some older press releases from Villa Maria, I came across one from February 2015 that introduces Hugh Crichton succinctly: “Vidal Estate Winemaker Hugh Crichton is continuing to display his chardonnay expertise by winning two gold medals for his signature variety, at the iconic Royal Easter Show Wine Awards.”
There’s no question that the Vidal Legacy range of wines – and in particular the chardonnay – will also form part of Crichton’s legacy in New Zealand wine sector. The list of accolades attached to his name is long and a testament to his chosen field of winemaking. Vidal’s Legacy Chardonnay was recently included in the Air New Zealand Fine Wines of New Zealand program.
Crichton holds a Bachelor of Commerce from Canterbury University and a post-graduate diploma in viticulture and oenology from Lincoln University awarded in 2004.
“I started a career in commerce working for the National Bank in Wellington. Soon after I embarked on a nine-month backpacking trip, largely through Asia, followed by the South of France before settling in London working in the City. The only way I could stay in the country was to study. At that stage I was going to further study commerce but had a good think and decided I’d do something that I had an interest in, which at that stage was wine.”
Upon his return to New Zealand, Crichton started work as cellar master for Vidal Estate, dove-tailing to his head winemaker role in 2006, which he recently left.
What new trends in wine are exciting you? “I’m excited about the movement away from intervention. Our increased viticulture knowledge and understanding of what grows well and where, has led to a dramatic improvement of the raw material, the grape. Winemaking is very simple when the raw material is good. There’s little need to intervene in what is a relatively natural process. In the case of chardonnay, hand-picked fruit, juice to French oak barrels or other vessel of choice and naturally fermented. I get more excited about this approach than the more processing/interventionalist approach.”
How would you like to see New Zealand’s wine industry evolve in the longer term? “New Zealand is well down the path of planting the right varieties in the right places and we’ve seen dramatic increases in quality over recent times. Some regions are becoming recognised for particular varieties and styles, but still more regional recognition is needed. The movement to organics is gathering pace. I think that’s table stakes for business from now on. I can’t see any downside from continuing to evolve down this path but plenty if we don’t”.
Cameron Douglas MS
Photography courtesy of courtesy of Vidal Estate.
REGION | Hawke’s Bay, Gisborne
YEARS IN INDUSTRY | 27
ANNUAL CRUSH | 100-120 tonnes
STANDOUT WINES | 2018 Vidal Legacy Chardonnay