Good Beer Hunting

Totally Natural – New Zealand’s Garage Project Launches Range of Natural Wines


Wellington, New Zealand based brewery Garage Project has diversified its production by launching a range of “natural” wines. Details of the range, known as “Garage Project Crushed” were teased when co-founder Jos Ruffell spoke on a GBH panel at the recent Beavertown Extravaganza Symposium earlier this year.
The initial launch features four wines: a Riesling bottled mid-fermentation and spiked with Lactobacillus, a 100% Brettanomyces fermented New Zealand Chardonnay, a Pinot Noir that has undergone carbonic maceration before being spiked with Brett and a Sauvignon/Semillon blend that has been bottled Pet Nat. A further four wines are due to be released in 2018.

 As competition within the beer category intensifies so does the need for breweries to diversify either within that category, or by exploring other products, experiences, and routes to market entirely. We’ve seen how Denmark’s Mikkeller has expanded into restaurants, some even located within ballparks. The likes of Ballast Point in the US and BrewDog in the UK have invested heavily in the production of spirits. For Garage Project, this horizontal growth means entering the world of wine, as a way of ensuring that it sustains growth, while keeping its brand at the cutting edge.
“We're heading into wine because it's an opportunity to try something new, and also for us to keep exploring and develop new ideas that could help with our brewing,” Garage Project’s Jos Ruffell tells GBH. “The market is appealing — while there is fantastic wine produced in New Zealand, it is quite conservative and safe. We see a chance to do things in a different way and introduce wine to a new audience.”

New Zealand’s Marlborough and Hawkes Bay regions rank among some of the most well regarded wine producing locales globally. The New Zealand wine industry is worth over $1 billion to its national economy with export sales growing approximately 24% annually for the past two decades. In order to maintain a link to that industry, Garage Project has teamed up with New Zealand winemaker Alex Craighead and is marketing the project as a collaboration.
“Alex has sourced all the fruit for the wines, with the fermentation and bottling happening in our Wild Workshop in the heart of Wellington,” Ruffell says. “The wines are quite progressive and at the natural end of the spectrum, although we are not adverse to pitching specific yeasts and enzymes to achieve desired results.”
This could be the tip of the iceberg as far as breweries looking towards the natural wine category goes. There’s a huge amount of parity between the worlds of natural wine, and spontaneous/mixed fermentation beers, both in terms of flavor profile and the resulting culture that surrounds them. It’s no surprise then, that Garage Project’s wines will be produced alongside its mixed ferm beers at its Wild Workshop, in downtown Wellington.

There’s also a strong link between these worlds and growing interest in naturally fermented ciders. The malleable and more open-minded craft beer consumer is often far more receptive to the concept and flavor profile of a natural wine or cider. In contrast, the traditional wine consumer will often turn its nose up at the product – as Guardian food critic Jay Rayner once put it, bluntly: “Every natural wine I have ever tried has been horrible.”
It’s beer drinkers, and not wine drinkers though, that continue to be driven by the kinds of experiences natural wine can offer. It makes sense that in a strong wine-growing region such as New Zealand that it’s a brewer making such high profile strides into the natural wine market. It’s unlikely that they’ll be the last brewer to do so either. The UK’s Cloudwater, for example, has championed natural wines in its taproom even before its 2014 launch. 
“Beer drinkers are a curious, restless bunch and are consistently looking for new flavours to experience,” Ruffell continues. “We think that if something is unique and interesting, it will attract an audience, and just like we've seen 'non beer drinkers' become ardent Garage Project fans, we expect to see 'non wine drinkers' hopefully have their minds changed by experiencing wines that taste unlike anything they might have had before.”
- Matthew Curtis