Imagine being first to plant grapevines in a brand-new wine region as the less courageous cry “too wet”, “too windy”, “too disease-prone”, too frost prone” and “too cold”.
In addition to a good knowledge of grapevine physiology you need plenty of courage and very deep pockets to pay for the significant investment in land and irrigation and zero income for the first few years. That’s before you have tackled the costly matter of building or borrowing a winery. Then you need someone to sell your wine because you’ll be too busy in the vineyard and winery. And if Jack Frost strikes and you lose one year’s production you will need a nest egg to tide you over.The big winner is the Martinborough wine region. Each of the pinot pioneers have contributed to that success, as have the many winemakers who have followed in their footsteps.
Pioneering is a high-stakes game. It is not for the faint-hearted.
I met four Martinborough wine pioneers at a dinner organised by the Wairarapa Wine Region. It was prepared by Michelin-starred chef Adam Newell at the Martinborough Hotel. The four pinot pioneers were honoured for their part in transforming a rural farming community into a thriving, sophisticated wine village that put Martinborough firmly on the world wine map.
The four heroes are Derek Milne (soil scientist), and winemakers Dr Neil McCallum (Dry River), Larry McKenna (Martinborough Vineyard and then Escarpment), and Clive Paton and Phyll Pattie (Ata Rangi). They each spoke passionately about their struggle to establish a successful wine producing company, giving others much of the credit.
Milne was a partner in Martinborough Vineyards which was purchased by American wine investor, Bill Foley, some years ago. Foley also bought Martinborough winery, Te Kairanga, and is putting the finishing touches to an impressive cellar door that is rumoured to have cost NZD $8 million. Te Kairanga Estate ranked 80th in The Real Review Top Wineries of New Zealand 2023. Martinborough Vineyard ranked 115th in The Real Review Top Wineries of New Zealand 2023.
McCallum sold his winery, vineyard and brand to wealthy American buyers. Dry River recently sold again to Wellington businessman Charlie Zeng. It ranked 4th in The Real Review Top Wineries of New Zealand 2023.
Clive Paton and Phyll Pattie continue to make outstanding wine with the help of family members including winemaker, Helen Masters. Ata Rangi ranked 6th in The Real Review Top Wineries of New Zealand 2023.
The big winner is the Martinborough wine region. Each of the pinot pioneers have contributed to that success, as have the many winemakers who have followed in their footsteps.
Just imagine if no-one had summoned up enough courage to establish a vineyard, leaving sheep to provide farmers with a meagre return. That would have been a tragedy.