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Bob’s Rock Wines

Bob’s Rock Vineyard is a tiny producer tucked away on a hillside location at Ngatimoti. Producing less than 200 cases of wine a year, all made from a single Italian grape variety. For me, it’s producers like this that add real interest to the wine offerings of the region.

Caroline Schubert grew up in Bordeaux, France, but as a child she didn’t realise just how special the vineyards she grew up with were, she just saw them as grapes to make wine with. “It’s a big, famous, wine region but I wasn’t really interested because it was always just there, it was a bit boring for a kid growing up.”

With her husband, Frank Schubert, who is a civil engineer and project manager, they travelled the world and lived in many different countries for about 15 years. They enjoyed visiting vineyards and tasting wines, but it was only when they were living in Hong Kong that Caroline decided to learn more about wine.

She worked in the export, marketing and promotion sector that included dealing with wine logistics so decided to do the WSET (Wine & Spirit Education Trust) courses to help her understand more about the product. The course really sparked her interest in wine, “everything I grew up with around me in Bordeaux started to align and make sense.”

As is usual for me I wanted to know how this couple from Germany and France who travelled the world end up living on a hillside property in a tiny village in the Motueka Valley. Caroline says “like many people we came to New Zealand for a lifestyle change.

“Before settling in New Zealand, we moved through Asia following Frank’s project assignments. With two daughters (Lisa, now 19, Norah 16), this was a great experience and fun when the girls were young. But at some point, we wanted a more stable lifestyle and were tired of moving from one place to another every few years as Frank’s work required.”

The family had holidayed in New Zealand several times, “usually in a campervan visiting lots of places, we just loved everything about New Zealand, but especially the space and nature. The small population and having so much space was rare for us, especially compared to Asia where millions of people are crowded into huge cities. We loved our time in Asia, but we wanted our children to grow up with nature and not only skyscrapers.”

The family initially moved to Auckland where Caroline worked for Villa Maria dealing with wine exports to all parts of the world while Frank started working for a different engineering company after 20 years with his previous employer, “so it was a real change of life for us. We lived in Auckland for five years but always knew one day we wanted to live in a rural environment. We never even dreamed of buying a vineyard.

“We had been to Nelson and the Abel Tasman and loved our holidays here so when we saw this property on the market we flew down, really liked it, and Frank immediately fell in love with it. I was a bit afraid of the property size and all the unknown.”

The original owners of the property developed the vineyards and then subdivided it into two properties, most of the vineyards were on one property and when it was sold it became Dunbar Estate (now River Haven). They kept the hillside property that had the main house and a small vineyard with just 11 rows of Sangiovese grapes vines. That’s the property Caroline and Frank bought about four years ago.

They now owned a small block of vines. “A challenge” according to Frank, because who would come up with the idea to grow Sangiovese, a grape that usually ripens in the hot Tuscan sun, in New Zealand?

They quietly went about learning how to grow grapes while both worked part-time. “We wanted to be part of the wine industry, but we never thought we would buy a vineyard and make wine. It just happened that this property had a small vineyard and that gave us an opportunity to try to do something with what nature gave us.

“Because it’s a hillside vineyard it is hard work, almost everything is done by hand with help in autumn and winter from our sheep when they are grazing the block. But we were really motivated. We use it as an example to our daughters who are currently thinking about what they want to do in the future, we want to show them if you put your heart in to it and work really hard you can achieve things, no matter what you want to do.”

So how did the name come about? “Because we have about 23 Ha in total (with sheep, goats and a small organic home orchard as well) we called different parts of the property by different names so we knew which part of the property we were talking about.

The goats hang out on the rocky hillside above the vineyard where they lay on the rocks watching us while we’re working in the vineyard and the handsome Bob has his special place – Bob’s Rock, and it just sounded right for a wine brand for us.

The Bob’s Rock wines are made at Heaphy wines by their French winemaker, Emmanuelle. Because they only have tiny amounts of one grape variety they produce either a rose or a red wine, depending on the climate each vintage.

The first grape harvest at Bob’s Rock was in 2020. “We arrived four months earlier and had no idea what to do so we simply picked the grapes and our daughters crushed them with their feet to make grape juice”.

2021 was the first vintage for Bob’s Rock and the first wine was a rosé, “and it was really popular. We had less than 100 cases but people seemed to like the flavours of the Sangiovese Rosé.”

In 2022 the vineyard was managed differently, and the weather was better. “So we made our first red wine. It’s medium bodied and typical of the variety. We’re pretty sure we are the only grower of Sangiovese in the region and one of very few in New Zealand, but it seems to like the micro-climate on the north-facing hillside vineyard.”

Following advice from their winemaker and friends who work in the industry the couple are refining their vineyard management skills with a focus on making really nice wine, “nothing super premium, just lovely wines to enjoy”.

From the 2023 vintage the single Bob’s Rock wine is another rosé, “we wanted it to be more than just drinkable, not just an okay wine but a really nice wine and we think we have achieved that.”

You can enjoy Bob’s Rock wines at a few select cafes – River Haven, the Apple Shed in Mapua, the Cow Shed in Murchison or the Fidelio Wine Bar at the old railway station in Blenheim. And you can buy their wines to take home at The Junction in Appleby where there will be a wine tasting on Friday 26 January, 1pm to 5pm to introduce you to the flavours of the very old Italian grape variety, Sangiovese.

Published in the Nels0n Mail 21.01.2024

Here are my thoughts on the current release wines:

Bob’s Rock 2023 Sangiovese Rosé RRP $20-$22 4*

This is an enticing, delicious wine. Bursting with crushed red currant aromas and flavours layered with warm river stone notes. Crisp but ripe acidity leaves a very long flavour-filled finish making this a perfect summer food wine, enjoy it with barbeque foods, a pasta salad or even with roast lamb.

Bob’s Rock 2022 Sangiovese RRP $26.95  4*

This is an appealing wine made from a variety not usually grown in New Zealand’s cool climate. With layers of flavours that evolve on the palate the medium body delivers tasty flavours. Flavours focussed on red currant juice but balanced with the delicate use of oak. Firm tannins are countered with juicy acidity making it a perfect food wine. Think lamb and black olives, tomato and bacon pasta or pizza. Make sure you serve it slightly chilled, an hour in the fridge will let the flavours shine above the tannins.

I have been writing a regular wine column for The Nelson Mail newspaper since 2000.

Unfortunately the column space is not big enough to include my thoughts on all of the many wines I taste. Hopefully this blog will fix that. It also gives me somewhere to archive the many columns I write. I will also include some favourite recipes from my dearly beloved who loves cooking and of course because wine and food simply go together. I will also point you in the direction of upcoming events and websites I think are great. Enjoy, Neil

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