Framingham the high performers

Dr Andrew Hedley (second from the left) and the Framingham wine team. (Photo: Framingham Wines)

Since Framingham earned top place in the first The Real Review Top Wineries of New Zealand 2018 list, I’ve received an encouraging amount of feedback from wine drinkers who believe they truly deserve that exalted status.

“I am not a believer in forcing a certain style of wine on grapes that are inappropriate for the purpose.” – Dr Andrew Hedley

It’s fair to say that their success with a large number of very high-quality sweet rieslings probably tipped the balance in their favour, but a quick scan of their scores in my database reveals that they are a high-performer across a range of very different wine styles.

I contacted Framingham’s very talented winemaker, Dr Andrew Hedley, to find out what factors lead to their success. Here is a summary of his lengthy reply on “what has made us ‘us’.”

Long experience

Andrew started as assistant winemaker in 2001 and was promoted to winemaker about a year later.

“I know some of the vagaries of our own estate vineyard quite well now, as well as those of the Wairau Valley itself (all of our grower fruit is from the Wairau Valley too), although it has to be said that things are still changing quickly around here climate-wise, which can help to either negate that experience or mean that it needs to be called on more than I would care!”

Broad horizons

“I get bored easily and am always on the lookout for interesting stuff to drink or taste, there is a huge world out there and most of it is not represented here in NZ. In the earlier days here, we would do some benchmarking tastings to see where we fitted in with our peers, as well as what I used to call ‘style development’ tastings where we would look at stuff from further afield.

I always enjoyed those tastings more than the benchmarking ones, however, and we don’t do either any more really. We have had quite a turbulent history in terms of ownership over the 17 years I have been here and it became apparent (to me at least) that we would be best served ploughing our own furrow and doing stuff we believed in rather than making wines for large commercial appeal or ‘to fit in’ and so on as we don’t have the economies of scale to be able to compete at the lower end of the market.

I kept the style of the wines I inherited largely the same for the first three or four years in charge (the only real change was introducing the spätlese style Select Riesling to the range in 2003), but from about 2007 onwards we started to focus on more esoteric things in the wines rather than just simple fruit flavours, essentially and importantly texture and complexity and absolutely around harmony (the big H word), in some cases making a start on the move away from ‘Marlborough-ness’ in a lot of our wines to ‘Framingham-ness’.

This involved simple tools like more hand-selecting of fruit, lots of small parcels of grapes allowing for lots of different approaches (and therefore lots of blending components) more spontaneous fermentation, lees work and the use of different containers for fermentation, bottling later etc. Basically making life more complicated as a means to an end. These days, with Framingham you get what we think you should have, rather than making ‘wines for the market’ (yuck!).”

Good fruit

“We have good fruit to play with grown by James Bowskill on our estate vineyard, and I have quite a clear idea about what I want to do with the wines and the sort of grapes we would need to achieve those styles. I am not a believer in forcing a certain style of wine on grapes that are inappropriate for the purpose; it’s rare for us to pick grapes and think ‘what the f— can we do with these?’ We are also leasing a lot more vineyard, which gives a level of control. Great raw material is always the basis for a good product.”

Individuality and the ‘right’ attitude (different from the proper or correct attitude, however!)

“When you are a small-to-medium size winery, there are some things you can do well, and others not so much (like making cheap, boring wine to sell in large volume at a low margin). Differentiation is important; having an individual identity as result. This was drummed in to me from a youngish age basically by the attitude of some of the bands I listened to in my formative years.

I’m quite keen on the phrases ‘f— you’ and ‘f— that’ when I see people or stuff that I struggle to agree with or see the point in. I don’t think it is arrogance (?); I get paid for my opinion basically and how it translates into the bottle. I am quite happy to stand up and be counted, though I am less keen in having my own identity (if I have one) explicitly linked with our products. I know our wines are not to everyone’s taste, but then again we don’t make huge volumes so we should be able to find places to sell them on the whole.

If we are making multiple wines from the same variety, I like them to have their own strong identity, not to just be variations on a narrow theme… basically, especially these days, I don’t give a shit what people think about me or if they like the wines or not. We know when we have done a good job and when we haven’t (generally nobody gets so see those ones!)”

More than one string to the bow

“Everyone knows us for riesling and yes, we do make lots of different wines from a good vineyard. But it is not all we do. The same care and attention and ideas go into all the other wines that we make too. I hope they are well differentiated from others in Marlborough.

Most people don’t take much notice of the other wines we make but I would hope we would get to a place where if someone buys a bottle of Framingham then they can buy with confidence and get something that has its own presence and importantly that it will be a good drink within our ‘house style’. Jamie Goode came here a few weeks ago and was kind enough to take notice of the other wines we make too and kind of get that we are not just a one trick pony, we don’t always get that and often people have made up their mind before they come here.

What you see is what you get. Be what you are.”

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