Down-to-earth wine couple

de la Terre cellar door (Photo: de la Terre Wines)

Tony and Kaye are a “team of two” running a unique Hawke’s Bay winery that is about as handmade as it is possible to imagine. Together they built their rammed earth house, winery and café. They made and installed the joinery in both buildings, build all their furniture from recycled native timber and even made their own leadlight windows and light-shades in Tony’s rammed earth workshop.

If you think they are a couple of hippies cruising along in an idyllic back-water, think again. Both are highly-trained and experienced professionals with very high standards in their respective fields of food and wine. Tony started his career as winemaker at the country’s largest winery before moving to Church Road as chief winemaker in 1990. Kaye has a degree in food technology and a certificate from the London School of Cordon Bleu (NZ) Ltd and worked for Heinz Watties in product development, establishing business processes and training for 30 years.

They launched their de la Terre (“of the earth”) wine brand in 2009, opened a cellar door the following year and in 2014 expanded their winery and opened their winery café.

The winery draws its grapes from two vineyards. Hill Country Estate is a 5.3-hectare vineyard on the slopes of Te Mata Peak. It is a series of limestone terraces set among residential areas and planted with viognier, chardonnay, syrah, barbera and montepulciano.

The Cranwell vineyard is nearby on a picturesque site overlooking the Tukituki River. It is planted with tannat.

“The Country Hill Estate, in particular, is an expensive vineyard to run but the residents are happy to accept an average Hawke’s Bay grape price in return for having a tidy vineyard nearby and access to wines which they can offer their friends with a little pride.”

Explained Tony as he leaned on a labelling machine he’d constructed out of swamp kauri.

“Our wines are not cheap but they do express a strong sense of place particularly though pronounced minerality.”

“We produce small volumes of high-quality wines with the emphasis on elegance, texture and balance. We have a quirky mix of grape varieties which allows us to create a full range of wine styles from Methode Traditionnelle Blanc de Blancs, simple and complex white wines, a selection of lesser known (in New Zealand) red grape varieties, through to a Sauternes-style Noble Viognier.”

“I’m less concerned with producing wines that emphasise varietal character and more interested in making food-friendly, textural styles. We crush about 40 tonnes of grapes which we grow ourselves. It’s all hand-picked and bottled right here.”

De La Terre’s wines reflect Tony’s long and thoughtful experience as a winemaker while showing a strong sense of place and plenty of personality. I gained a sense that Tony has a deep understanding of his vineyard sites and the character of grapes they produce, as well as having a clear vision of wine styles that he would be happy to wear his brand.

Montepulciano – “I want it to express black fruits and not floral characters.”

Reserve Syrah – “I want a dark, brooding wine that’s not too heavy. I don’t want a pretty Syrah.”

Tannat – “I like to manage the tannins with micro-ox. I don’t fine the wine.”

Chardonnay – “It’s slightly funky, a bit of a ‘craft’ style.”

This is a “must visit” winery.

*Click here to visit de la Terre wines website.

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