known unknown vintage
Pinot gris picking in process for Known Unknown, and freshly picked gamay (Photos: Supplied)

KaiMarch 26, 2021

A vintage story (with an unexpected twist)

known unknown vintage
Pinot gris picking in process for Known Unknown, and freshly picked gamay (Photos: Supplied)

As Jules van Costello launched himself headlong into vintage for his new natural wine label Known Unknown, a sizeable spanner was thrown in the works. He explains what happened.

Vintage is the six-week period where grape growers and winemakers up and down New Zealand do approximately 90% of the work getting wine into your glass and keeping an almost $2.5 billion industry going. It should go without saying that in a time without international tourism, this is especially important both for businesses and for everyday people who live in wine regions like Hawke’s Bay, Central Otago and Marlborough that usually rely on both the wine and tourism industries.

My vintage did not go according to plan… they never seem to. First off, everything was super early (this turned out to be a good thing) because as well as making more wine than we ever had before, we were doing it in a brand new space that we took over in late February. This was complicated further by the fact that the entire primary production industry is desperately short of labour (pickers, cellar-workers… everything).

In order to overcome and counterbalance some of the effects of Covid-19 on the hospitality industry we’d relocated (to New Plymouth of all places, but that’s another story) and rebranded our winery Te Aro Wine to Known Unknown. We’d also launched a PledgeMe campaign to raise a little extra cash in order to make more wine than we had before – in theory making the business more sustainable in the long term.

We harvested chardonnay on March 1 – about 10 days before we ever have before. Each year harvest seems to get earlier and earlier; followed by pinot gris, gamay and riesling (which was being made in Marlborough). I drove to Wellington on Monday morning to bottle wine from 2020 to free up tank space to finish harvest.

Frustratingly my bottles didn’t arrive until Tuesday morning so I bottled 400 bottles of pet nat before packing the tank and pump in the car and driving home. All was right in the world.

That’s until a car sped around a blind corner and hit me, more or less front on (at least that’s what I remember). Out of respect I’m not going into more details here but you can google the gory details if you want.

First off, I’m lucky to be alive. My worst injuries (broken ribs and sternum) are from my seatbelt and airbags (these burn your skin) and my bruises are the colours of the wine I was intending to make!

This changed everything… there were still more grapes to pick, events to be held and a business to move!

All of this is ticking on slowly, we’ve postponed the party and an amazing winemaker (the same one that grew the grapes) has offered to make the wine at the winery he works at. I’ve been elevated to the title of consultant winemaker, instructing my father-in-law on daily punch downs via Facebook messenger (I wish they had a smell function as this is one of a winemakers most important senses).

I’m lucky. We’re lucky. We’ll keep going! We always do. We’ve got a bunch of unanticipated costs but at the moment that’s a problem for next week (or next month).

I’m writing this from a day bed in Palmy hospital – I’ve taken a lot of morphine in the last few days so I hope it’s readable. Thank you to everyone who has helped out over the last week. You can follow our journey on Instagram and support our project on PledgeMe which ends tomorrow (Saturday) in the evening. We’ll be open in New Plymouth later in the year so come say hi.

Keep going!