John Hancock moves on

John Hancock (Photo: Trinity Hill Wines)

John Hancock has resigned from Trinity Hill. He jointly founded the company 25 years ago and has been winemaker, general manager and, for the past ten years or so, occupied a marketing position with the company.

John plans to get back into winemaking and has registered the brand Hancock and Sons. He has teamed up with son, William, who recently gained a winemaking degree and now has three vintages under his belt.

I talked to John after learning about his resignation and asked him about his goals with Hancock and Sons.

“My goals with Hancock and Sons are pretty much what they were with Trinity Hill. I wanted to leave a legacy for my sons and am disappointed that it didn’t work out. Hancock and Sons will be a negociant type of business involving the purchase of grapes, juice and wine to produce wines that the market wants.”

“I plan to concentrate on Hawke’s Bay chardonnay and syrah but also on less well-known varieties such as cabernet franc. Hawke’s Bay makes great wines, but I will go outside the region and hope to include Marlborough sauvignon blanc and Central Otago pinot noir in my product range. Most of my wines will be in the NZD $20 range, plus a small quantity of super-premium labels.”

John was born and raised in South Australia, moving to New Zealand to make wine at Delegats in 1979. After four vintages with Delegats, he moved to Morton Estate for their first vintage in 1983 and left them to join Trinity Hill for their first vintage in 1996.

John was christened “Mr Chardonnay” during his time at Morton Estate. In 1984 he made the country’s first whole-bunch pressed, barrel-fermented chardonnay. His annual international chardonnay tastings while at Morton Estate reinforced his reputation as a masterful chardonnay maker.

I asked John to name his favourite wine.

“I really liked the 1986 Morton Estate Black Label Chardonnay. It didn’t age particularly well but was a standout wine in its day.”

What’s the best wine he’s ever made?

“Probably the first Trinity Hill Homage Syrah from the 2002 vintage, although I also have a soft spot for Trinity Hill’s Gimblett Gravels blended red from the 2006 vintage.”

Best wine ever tasted?

“That’s a tricky one, certainly the most influential wine was a Latour 1979 Corton Charlemagne tasted in 1981. It was an inspiration – by far the best chardonnay I’d tasted at that time.”

You’ve been part of a revolution in the quality of Hawke’s Bay wine over the past 25 or more years. What has helped drive quality?

“Well, technology has played a big part. In the Gimblett Gravels district, for example, aquifers under the gravels supply even adjacent vines with different water supply resulting in different levels of physiological ripeness. Satellite imaging now allows us to identify parts of the vineyard that need to be treated differently. It’s almost down to dealing with vines on an individual basis. That one factor has promoted a vast improvement in grape quality.”

It’s hard for me to imagine Trinity Hill without John Hancock. His larger-than-life personality was, for me at least, very much part of the Trinity Hill brand. However, the Hancock brand lives on. I wish John and William all the best in their new venture.

2 thoughts on “John Hancock moves on”

  1. Clare Dunleavy says:

    John – your legend will live on with Hancock and Sons. I’m excited for you about your new venture and cannot wait to taste your work. I still talk about your Homage Syrah – legendary in our NZ line up of Syrah, amongst everything else you have done for our wine industry. Congratulations – all the best for your future, our future in wine!

  2. Lyn says:

    I’ll for one will look forward to raising a glass of something wonderful that he makes one day!

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