Founder, Loveblock Vintners
Erica Crawford began her career as a young scientist in cardiac medicine in her native South Africa, but it was her self-taught skills as an exporter and marketer that saw her rise to business prominence in New Zealand. Nearly twenty years later, those skills as well as her life experiences and ethical beliefs are brought to bear in a wide range of professional and cause-related pursuits.
Erica co-founded Kim Crawford Wines in 1996, inventing the “virtual winery” business model that would later come to be widely adopted in the wine industry. She grew the company from a small, family-owned business to a significant international player before selling the brand to a North American alcohol beverage giant.
Today Erica manages the family’s wine interests with the same business savvy and sense of vision, but within a completely different paradigm. There’s nothing virtual about the Loveblock: The estate holds a farm and vineyards in Marlborough and Central Otago where vineyards or “blocks” are either certified organic or are on a low-intervention regime.
“Falling in love with the view was a part of the Loveblock story,” Erica says. “As we converted the sheep paddock to plantable land, we took the decision to tackle organics, a cause that is deeply personal to me. This philosophy was anchored when life forced me to carefully and progressively examine the chemical nature of our immediate environment.”
The Loveblock farm in Awatere Valley is certified organic by BioGro New Zealand, the country’s leading organic certifier. The Central Otago property, purchased in 2008 and dedicated solely to Pinot Noir, is SWNZ (Sustainable Winegrowing) accredited.
In addition to guiding Loveblock and working towards a Post Graduate Viticulture qualification, Erica sits on the investment committee of the Auckland University Business School Entrepreneurs’ Challenge and is a member of the NZ Global Women Advisory Board, an organization focusing on mentoring women business leaders and helping build peer networks.
Erica is married to Kim Crawford, winemaker at Loveblock. They have two children, Rory and Pia.
Led by winemaker Brianne Day, Day Wines is a natural wine producer in Oregon’s Willamette Valley. Brianne crafts wines that are instinctive, restrained and capture a specific time and place. After two years traveling to over 80 wine regions, Brianne cut her teeth working harvest at Brooks, Scott Paul, Willakenzie Estate, Belle Pente & Grochau Cellars in the Willamette Valley, Domaine Huber Verdereau in Volnay, Burgundy; along with stints in New Zealand, and Argentina. Dedicated to site-driven expressions, Brianne seeks out fruit from farmer-owned biodynamic and organic vineyards and crafts wine using minimalist winemaking methods. Between 2012 and 2017, Day Wines grew from 125 cases annually to 6,000. In 2015, Brianne realized her dream of creating an incubator for emerging winemakers by opening a 14,000-square-foot collective winery and tasting room in Dundee, Oregon. She has made a splash on the natural wine scene with her creative and unorthodox wines, while paying homage to the Old World. Brianne was selected as one of the top 40 tastemakers under 40 by Wine Enthusiast Magazine, was one of the few American winemakers at the seminal RAW Wine Fair in London and New York City, and one of seven domestic producers mentioned in the book Natural Wine.
Farmer & Proprietor
After planting Rancho Ontiveros, James worked in vineyards in the Sonoma Coast and the Russian River Valley, driving home to Santa Maria on the weekends to take care of his own vineyard. It was during this time that James developed many impactful relationships in the wine industry, and began looking at wine and winemaking as a way of life rather than solely a practical use of the land. In 2003, he took his first of many trips to Burgundy, tasting in the cellars, walking the vineyards, and learning about biodynamic practices of producers like Domaine Dujac, Lucien Le Moine, Domaine Leflaive, and Domaine Romanée-Conti. He would take these lessons home with him to the Santa Maria Valley, and implement many in his own vineyards and wines.
General Manager for Quintessa, Consultant for Ritual
Rodrigo Soto has spent the last 20 years working alongside some of the New World’s leading pioneers in organic grape growing and winemaking. He can take credit for undertaking one of Chile’s most important long-term organic vineyard projects. For the last six years, he has worked towards converting all four Chilean estates – Veramonte, Primus, Neyen, and Ritual – to organic farming.
Before organic winemaking was a buzzword in natural wine bars, Rodrigo chose to write his thesis on organic pest control at the Universidad Católica in Santiago, Chile. Alvaro Espinoza, then the winemaker of Carmen Vineyards and Chile’s leading pioneer in organic and biodynamic viticulture, was the only winemaker who would let Rodrigo run trials.
This early collaboration forged a relationship that continues to this day. Alvaro put Rodrigo in touch with Paul Dolan, the President of Fetzer, and Rodrigo travelled overseas for the first time to work the 1998 harvest at Fetzer.
Rodrigo worked the 1999 harvest at Wither Hills in Marlborough, New Zealand, ground zero for the wine world’s modern Sauvignon Blanc movement. Later that year, he returned to California to work for Ceago Vinegarden, where he reunited with Alvaro, who had been hired as a consultant, and met Alan York, one of the leading biodynamic voices in America and someone who was to deeply influence Rodrigo going forward.
In 2000, Rodrigo took on his biggest winemaking challenge yet – to design a vineyard and winery called Matetic Vineyards from the ground up in one of Chile’s up-and-coming, cool climate coastal regions, San Antonio.
He brought in an all-star team of organic viticulturists and winemakers. He hired York to consult, as well as Ann Kraemer, today the founder and owner of one of California’s most successful, dynamic organic vineyards, Shake Ridge Vineyard.
Rodrigo spent six years building Matetic as one of Chile’s leading producers of terroir-driven Pinot Noir while establishing Chile’s claim to world class Pinot Noir.
In 2006, York offered Rodrigo the opportunity to return to California to be head winemaker at Benziger Family Winery. Here, he worked with Mike Benziger to change the face of biodynamic winemaking in America. They set out to produce collectible, single-vineyard Pinot Noirs from Sonoma County’s top vineyards – all organic and biodynamic.
By 2012, Rodrigo was growing homesick for his native Chile. The Huneeus family, also native to Chile, had already converted two of their California properties, Quintessa and Flowers, to organic and biodynamic farming, and they were looking for the right person to convert their four flagship Chilean properties, Veramonte, Primus, Neyen, and Ritual. Rodrigo was the perfect fit.
As soon as he arrived back to Chile, Rodrigo set out to convert all four properties to organic and biodynamic farming. In the winery, he introduced native yeast fermentations and organic nutrients for the yeast. Today under new ownership with the Gonzalez Byass family of Spain, the winemaking team headed up by Sofia Araya continues this quest.
The results are stunning, and the wines are changing wine drinkers,’ and wine critics,’ perceptions of what is possible in Chile, and the world of wine. Today, he is credited as one of Chile’s, and the wine world’s, leading organic practitioners. For harvest of 2018, he returned to Northern California joining the Huneeus Family once again this time as Director of Fine Winemaking for their flagship properties in California and Oregon. He remains as a consultant for the Chilean properties of Gonzalez Byass working in close concert with Sofia Araya.