Q&A with Andrew Hedley of Framingham Wines

Here is Andrew’s rather impressive biog which appears on Framingham’s website:

Originally from Gateshead in the north of England, our winemaker Dr Andrew Hedley was drawn to Framingham in 2001 by his love of Riesling. With a degree in Applied Chemistry, Andrew completed a PhD in organic chemistry in 1993 before moving to New Zealand with his wife Debra and turning his focus to winemaking in 1998. He has been involved in 13+ vintages in Marlborough. After overcoming throat cancer in 2006, Andrew returned to work with renewed focus and a even stronger sense of purpose. His strongly individual winemaking has built on the groundwork of his predecessor Ant McKenzie.

les caves de pyrene

This interview, by Jo Burzynska, first appeared as a feature for the New Zealand Herald and New Zealand Winegrower magazine.


1.    What sparked your interest in natural wine and prompted you start importing it into NZ?

Not so much an interest in “natural” wines, more an interest in “interesting” wines. Natural wines fit squarely under that heading I think. Debra and I wanted initially to try and liven up the wine scene a little bit by bringing in some wines from little known, mostly Alpine, regions such as Sudtirol and Val D’Aosta where we’d spent time on holiday when we were living in England, and also to get some wines from little known varieties that are out of the mainstream into NZ. We added to that some slightly more off-beat wines that fit under the “natural” heading that may serve to broaden the horizon a little in NZ. Once we started, we began to get requests for wines that people had tried on their travels that they may have found inspirational that aren’t available here, mostly “natural”. We deal pretty much in the niches …. Lots of our wines, though often organic and/or biodynamic, might not fit under the “natural” heading – though there is no definition of “natural”, everyone seems to have their own view of what “natural” wines are …

2.    Do you think NZ wine drinkers ready for natural wine?

Yes, of course. Not in their droves obviously, but there is an underground of wine drinkers in any society that are open minded and looking for new things, as well as quite an established wine industry with quite a few inquisitive people employed therein. Natural wine has obviously quite a following in Europe, especially France, and even Australia has a budding natural wine scene with bars such as 121BC and Love, Tilly Devine in Sydney and some stirrings in Melbourne, as well as a new breed of producers who fly under the natural banner. I would say the amount of coverage natural wine gets may be out of proportion to the percentage of wine drinkers who imbibe, or are able to imbibe, but I could be wrong. Early days in New Zealand, but Stephen Wong’s dedication to listing natural wines at places like Ancestral and Arbitrageur in Wellington and Golden Dawn in Auckland, along with Oh So Pretty’s desire and ability to supply them, means that seeds are being sown and there are opportunities for the inquisitive to get out and try them, and there are a few wineries such as Pyramid Valley and Rippon who have been brave enough to put out no sulphur and “orange” wines as well.

3.    What is it that excites/interests you about natural wine?

The fact that it is inherently interesting is the dull answer. Really interesting to try wines that are made in a very different to way to “modern methods”, maybe they are a glimpse into the past to see how wine may have looked centuries ago. You have to admire the bravery of these producers who have gone completely against modern convention, are unconcerned about, for example, bottling wines that are significantly turbid, using no sulphur dioxide in their wines, risking spoilage either before or after bottling etc etc, purely to have a product “as nature intended it to be”, whatever you think of the wines. Can you really see “terroir” shining through on these wines so much more clearly as many producers claim? I don’t buy or drink any wine based purely on the philosophy of the winery, that doesn’t make any sense to me. I’m definitely not an evangelist for natural wines, but maybe I’m more evangelical for choice and diversity of experiences. As far as I am concerned, there are just good or bad wines, whether they are natural, organic, biodynamic or made with a little more intervention, lutte raisonee or “conventional” won’t influence my opinion on whether it’s good or bad (though blitzing a vineyard with all kinds of sprays and chemicals just because you can, even if it’s not necessary, is not really in anyone’s best interests in this day and age.) Some of these are dangerous, pretty much undefined terms, especially natural and conventional, and can get peoples’ backs up quite quickly, and not without reason – it’s important to be aware of that!

4.    Has the growing natural wine movement influenced your own winegrowing/making in any way?

Every wine I drink/taste has the potential to influence what I think we should do in the vineyard and winery, one way or another! Natural wines are no different ….

5.    How serious are the potential issues that could arise from natural winemaking and what has your own experience been of these (stability, fragility, spoilage, longevity etc.)?

Natural winemaking can be viewed as an incredibly risky thing to do, if one views it from the point of view that you want the everyday drinker who buys their wine in a supermarket to drink them (and that is in no way denegrating those people). Conversely, if the target market for your wines is  people who are open minded wine lovers who like new experiences and tastes and are used to seeing a few weinsteins, crusts or other “deposits” in their wine, or maybe who like the idea of non-intervention, then perhaps it is a much less risky approach. I guess it is convention which has defined our views as to what constitutes a fault in wine today, in conjunction with the relatively modern approach to winemaking and the rise in establishments offering  winemaking courses and qualifications,  and modern wine appreciation courses taught by wine educators.  I don’t necessarily disagree with that, these are the times we live in. I would venture to suggest that in times gone by, wine drinkers would be a lot more tolerant of what are perceived to be wine faults today as they would be much more used to seeing them. But that is shifting the goalposts maybe. As winemakers, we’re used to working with turbid wine so I don’t think that clouds (!) our judgement much, but the public expects bright and clear wine on the whole but they really needn’t worry about a little turbidity, and often will tolerate in unfiltered reds where you can’t easily see the cloudiness.  Same for stability, lots of great wines drop out some crust or weinsteins over time, but that really ought not to matter, in many cases it could be seen as a badge of honour! Fragility? Well, several Champage producers have house styles that involve a little aldehyde but people don’t seem to be able to put that aside when it comes to table wines, rightly or wrongly. Some of the great Jura wines involve oxidation as part of the style, and maybe it’s no surprise that there are some well regarded natural wine producers from the Jura. Some “spoilage” issues I think are relevant however. Brettanomyces is a yeast, regarded maybe rightly as a spoilage yeast, that produces the same set of flavour compounds in wine, wherever it occurs in the world. So (natural or otherwise) wines that claim to show terroir,  but are affected by Brettanomyces, to my mind actually have their “terroir” expression blurred or totally obscured by a generic set of flavours that can occur anywhere in the world. There is no evidence that I know of that suggests Brettanomyces comes from the vineyard, but I believe there is evidence that shows Brettanomyces can live in new and older oak for instance, sustained by cellobiose. So is it a terroir expression? Similarly, some natural wines also flirt with elevated volatile acidity, which can result from several microbiological sources, as well as “unhealthy” grapes. Sulphur dioxide is often used during winemaking to suppress VA producing flora, so low SO2 wines stand a little more chance of having an elevated VA. However, in many highly regarded wine styles, eg sweet wines or one of Australia’s more highly regarded reds, elevated VA is an integral part of the style. Paradox? Not really, to my mind when you’re trying to decide if a wine’s good or not so good, the key is balance. The balance of all the components in the wine –  acid, alcohol, sugar, phenolics, VA, aldehyde, extract, flavours and “spoilage” effects etc, come together to give either a harmonious wine or an out of whack wine, where one or more components may dominate more than the individual assesssing the wine thinks is acceptable. And make no mistake, it’s really about the individual who’s deciding what’s acceptable to them in the wine, not a collective panel of “experts” or some such. Balance, and individual preference, is the key to deciding whether any wine is good or otherwise, and I think many people who maybe don’t have a lot of confidence in their own opinion (unbelieveably) can be intimidated into thinking a wine that everyone else thinks is good is also good to them (and vice versa), even if they really aren’t keen. At the same time, some natural producers may be a little dismissive of those who can’t identify with their wines, saying that they misunderstand/are ignorant etc which I think is a little arrogant and unsympathetic/unrealistic. Regarding longevity, many natural wine producers would be first to admit that their wines are designed to be drunk young, and preferrably from the ‘fridge, yet many can be long lived. Making great natural wine would seem to me therefore to be an incredibly demanding undertaking, involving an equally incredible amount of attention to detail and virtually no concessions to commerce.

6.    Natural wine appears to have become an emotive rather than rational debate (similar to that over screwcaps for a while), what are your thoughts on this and on the high profile attacks from sceptics, and those who claim that as there is no legal definition, selling products as “natural wine” is tantamount to fraud?

Yes, the lack of definition for “natural”, and of course conversely “conventional”, wines can be somwhat problematic and divisive. Emotion and nay-sayer politics have played a big part, and there are fanatics and sceptics on either side of what is in danger of becoming, or already has become, an us and them debate. In suggesting that some wines are natural, it tends to imply that all others are some how unnatural, which is of course unhelpful and maybe largely inaccurate, there are many degrees. For instance, cultured, or as I have seen them called “flavoured”, yeasts have in most or all instances been isolated from nature as indigenous yeasts from various wineries and regions. The yeasts have been found to have specific properties which may promote certain expressions which may be valuable when trying to produce a certain wine style – they may even predominate in an indigenous ferment where they were isolated from giving the same effect in the wine. Yeast producers may have found a way to isolate, propagate and dehydrate these yeasts, and while they may not be “terroir” specific in this context, to suggest they are unnatural or flavoured is disingenuous I think. Similarly, have wines that have had a little fining or some filtration had their souls removed, or just a little bitterness? Depends on which trench you are in it seems. There are many wines that have been sensitively grown and made that would be dismissed as “conventional” wines by “natural” fanatics, but “conventional” should absolutely not be a term of derision or indeed detriment. “Industrial” (again undefined) however …. It’s a minefield of claim and counter claim in an almost completely undefined space. I remember in the 80s when I was growing up in Britain, there was an advert for a well known bread maker that claimed it was “Bread wi’ nowt tekken out”, voiced by the wonderful Brian Glover in dulcet Yorkshire tones I think. Natural wine might be described simply, by me at least, as “Wine wi’ nowt added and nowt tekken out” – that seems to cover it. Whilst I have admired many, many natural, biodynamic or organic wines and producers in my time, I can’t help myself wondering if it’s actually just the fanatical attention to detail over the more esoteric philosophy behind the wines that makes them work so well. I feel I owe it to myself to think about things that way sometimes having had a rigorous scientific background in a previous life. I will let you know if I ever come to a conclusion. I kind of hope that I don’t, the research process is rather compelling and engaging. In terms of fraud, there are wineries here in NZ and around the world that would have you believe they are something they absolutely aren’t by virtue of bullshit marketing and whopper telling – “we’ve got more passion than you” and other such wallop etc. Spare me. That’s a much bigger crime than most natural producers have ever committed – they tend to be honest, forthright and place themselves open to criticism, even if they are defensive/aggressive or entrenched, which you can kind of understand given some of the resistance and derision they encounter. Conversely, “conventional” advocates can feel so aggrieved by the suggestion that their wines are somehow unnatural that they can be moved to suggest that the natural wine movement is fraudulent. Live and let live I’d say, there’s room for everyone, and really, you’ll only have a problem if you’re making more wine than your target market will buy. And, as I understand it, natural producers will say there’s no actual coherent movement, just a bunch of like minded individuals (which often becomes a movement, doesn’t it?!)

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