Erica Crawford

20 Mar 2019

To celebrate International Women’s Day this month, we’re interviewing women in different professions and stages of their career in wine.

 

Erica Crawford is the founder and driving force behind Loveblock Wine. Originally from South Africa, she is an industry legend, founder of one of New Zealand’s biggest export brands.  

 

Her career in the wine industry was quite by accident, she began working as a medical research scientist in Cape Town until she attended a wine festival and met a kiwi called Kim. Loveblock Wines, with its focus on organics, heralds their return to the vineyards of Marlborough.

Loveblock Wines - Kim and Erica Crawford

Medical science and chance encounters

In my early 20s, I working as a research scientist at the University of Cape Towns’ famed Ischaemic Heart Research Unit (now the Hatter Institute).

In my free time, I explored wineries and new varietals that were right on our doorstep in Cape Town and Stellenbosch. Some of those wine farms are 300 years old, wine tourism has been well developed for a long time. I had the time of my life.

My journey into the wine industry was quite by accident actually.  I never really had the X-factor to become a hot-shot scientist, I was driven to vegetarianism by the smell of the research test animals while manipulating their hearts.

Instead, I got a job as a medical rep with one of the pharmaceutical companies I did trials for, which was very humbling, and I was about to embark on a short-lived career when I attended a wine festival on the top of Paarl Mountain with an old friend.

There was this Kiwi with really flat vowels... his name was Kim. One thing led to another, and 3 years later after some serious to-ing and fro-ing, I arrived in NZ with my suitcase and my university degrees.

 

The humble beginnings of Kim Crawford Wine

At first, I worked for a German diagnostics company in NZ, where I was very lucky to have good business principles drilled into me by a patient team. I learnt that writing a research paper is not dissimilar to a business plan, so I was on my way.

We had two babies 13 months apart, so going back to a big job wasn’t going to work for me.  We started the Kim Crawford brand on $20,000 from the spare room of our little central Auckland home.

Kim made the wine, I made the brand, it was dubbed the first “virtual” winery (grower-based model). We were going to keep it small, but the brand and the NZ wine industry exploded internationally. The rest is history.

 

Celebrating Success

Obviously, building the Kim Crawford brand into the mega NZ brand that it is today, with the help of Constellation in the past few years, has been one of my biggest business successes.  

But the launch and life of Pansy! Rose in 2002, a wine for the LGBT community, was one of the better things I have done. It was against the advice of many, but what a party that was!

 

Going organic with Loveblock

To date, I am immensely proud of what we have achieved at Loveblock Farm, it was a massive challenge and is ever evolving.

From a production point of view, the past few seasons have been nerve-wracking. I guess this is when experience comes in – 1995 was a bitter learning experience but it sure has come in handy.

In difficult years, the role of the winemaker is critical. I think I’ve got that covered!

I really enjoy the vineyard side of things as well and am committed to organics. We have so much to learn in NZ, it’s been exciting to be part of it for the past 25 years, and I can’t wait to see what the flavours do every year.

 

On the New Zealand Wine Industry

My favourite thing about the wine industry is unquestionably the people.

One meets a spectrum of people who are generally interested in what you have to say. People have afforded the deep-hearted generosity and some jolly good laughs.

It has been a privilege to be involved in the Women in Wine programme as a mentor. Women are really good at questioning our ability, so I think the programme has benefitted both the mentee and me!

I look forward to an extended version where we will be able to give both young women and men a leg up.

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