Hätsch Kalberer
FROMM

With a 40-year career in the industry, 30 of those at Fromm, Hätsch Kalberer has stamped an indelible mark on the New Zealand wine landscape.

“I am a traditionalist,” states Hätsch Kalberer. “I don’t try to copy, but I like to retain the pedigree of the classic wines I like the most. If you don’t take any shortcuts in the vineyard, we should be able to make wines with a similar pedigree, but with our own terroir expression.” A traditionalist he may be, but Kalberer is also one of New Zealand’s pioneers, who even after four decades in wine continues to push boundaries in his work.

Kalberer may be best known for his 30 years as winemaker at Marlborough’s Fromm, but his first winemaking role was at Gisborne’s Matawhero. As a cellarhand fresh from Switzerland, he played a part in making New Zealand’s second commercial syrah in 1990. He considers this one of his early milestones, going on to champion syrah in Marlborough – decades before others there started to pay it serious attention – when he helped establish Fromm with Georg Fromm in 1992.

At a time when everyone was planting sauvignon blanc in Marlborough, Kalberer and Fromm focused on trialling red varieties to prove the region could make much more. Kalberer went on to craft one of the country’s few consistently single varietal malbecs. Pinot noir however, has been his main focus, and he makes some of New Zealand’s most refined and ageworthy examples, if not the most easily understood.

“The wines I make have to give pleasure rather than being impressive,” says Kalberer. “There are no concessions in the winemaking for high marks and awards. As [the famous Burgundian] Noël Ramonet said, ‘the greatest wines are never perfect’. Perfect can be boring as they can have no personality.”

This personality comes from terroir and authenticity, an approach reflected in the intentionally single-vineyard wines he helped pioneer in Marlborough. From the early days, Kalberer made a pinot from both the Fromm and Clayvin Vineyards, and continues to make a range of single vineyard expressions from Fromm’s own site and those of others.  

He also made New Zealand’s first serious low-alcohol riesling, the Fromm Spätlese, and he’s started making an impressive chenin blanc. The estate moved to organics in 2008, and recently launched the pristine natural wine, Pinot Naturel.

“Our generation of winemakers in New Zealand didn’t have the knowledge that was passed on in somewhere like Burgundy,” he says. “Every vintage is something new, but the excitement now is having so many vintages to draw on ... to be creative and be in a position to pass things on. And not have the commercial pressure to make a gold medal-winning wine.”


Text by Dr Jo Burzynska
Photography courtesy of Fromm.

FACTS

REGION  |  Marlborough

YEARS IN INDUSTRY  |  40

STANDOUT WINES  |  2019 Fromm Vineyard Pinot Noir,
2021 Riesling Spätlese