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A natural solution to sulphur: Loveblock winery the first in the world to use green tea

Kiwi winery Loveblock is thought to be the first in the world to use green tea (Camellia sinensis) as a natural preservative in replacement of sulphur. An antioxidant, green tea has already proven its value in other product innovations for medicine and beauty.

To achieve organic certification, sulphur levels in finished wine must be below 100ppm, which means that the wine may be at minimal risk of spoilage.

Loveblock wanted to find a natural and effective alternative to sulphur to protect the wine and comply with organic certification requirements at the same time. Once they discovered a green tea leaf extract was registered in New Zealand as a wine additive, it was the perfect opportunity to trial.

The green tea is used during the process to offset the effects of the wine reacting with oxygen, including browning or producing an off-flavour. Importantly, this means that Loveblock TEE can remain open in the fridge and retain its intended flavours for at least five days.

The powerful antioxidant is added in the form of a high-grade leaf extract powder at each stage of the winemaking process that sees the wine exposed to oxygen. These stages include harvest (on the grapes), crush, float, racking after ferment, filtration, and bottling.

In comparison, the traditional preservative sulphur is typically added pre-fermentation (on the grapes at the point of pick/harvest) and post-fermentation (to the wine before bottling), which can result in levels of around 160-200ppm in the finished wine.

Although both sulphur and green tea are effective antioxidants and preservatives, these days people are generally more conscious and interested in what they consume. And because some consumers believe that sulphur affects them adversely, Love Block wanted to give them to freedom to have a choice.

Erica Crawford, the founder of Loveblock, says her colleagues in retail and hospitality have already experienced demand for wines labelled with ‘no sulphur added’ or ‘contains no sulphites’.

“We believe this is the first wine in New Zealand, if not worldwide, to use green tea as a unique alternative to sulphur,” says Crawford.

“We are very excited about the prospects of this new way of winemaking – in our opinion, winemaking should be as natural as possible, and many wine drinkers are now exploring the natural and organic wine category more than ever before.”

Crawford explains there is also a difference in the taste when using green tea: “flavours are held tightly by sulphur, whereas with green tea flavours flow more freely, and unusual flavours come to the fore. In the TEE Sauvignon Blanc, for instance, we note flavours of saffron, fennel, mandarin and dried herbs that are not usually associated with this varietal. The wine also has a softer mouth feel”.

Founded by Crawford alongside husband and winemaker Kim Crawford, Loveblock began as a result of Erica’s passion for organics. Their vineyards are tended through organic farming principles, allowing the wines to display their true terroir.

“Sustainability is at the heart of Loveblock’s wine and farming practice, and in our view, organic and sustainable winegrowing is the way of the future. Natural antioxidants to replace sulphur are very much in line with our overall ethos.”

Erica and Kim have implemented several practices to promote biodiversity and soil health while making use of modern winemaking technology and equipment to ensure the vineyards are as carbon efficient as possible.

“As consumers become more concerned with not only the origin of what they eat and drink but also the process of how it’s made and the ingredients used, we have striven to create wines that are foremost beautiful to drink, innovative and kind to the earth.”

Loveblock’s unique approach results in a sulphite free wine with lifted aromas of lemon verbena, saffron, orange peel and ruby red grapefruit, followed by a herbaceous layer and earthy cumin tones. Juicy white peach and citrus flavours complemented by fresh acidity round out the wine with a crisp, lingering minerality on the finish.

We ask Erica what her advice is for other innovators, and she wisely says: “one often stumbles on innovation and discoveries, it is the courage to execute and present the innovation knowing that it may fail or be criticised, that sets people apart. My advice is to have a go, be brave and don’t beat yourself up if an idea fails. After all, Galileo was accused of heresy for declaring the world a round ball revolving around the sun!”

Made using grapes grown on Loveblock’s certified organic Awatere Valley vineyard, Loveblock TEE Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc is also vegan-friendly and certified organic by BioGro.

Loveblock wines are available at all Glengarry stores, Glengarry online or at selected Auckland New World supermarkets and fine wine shops nationwide.

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