Over many years, Hermann and Agnes Seifried built a sound business that is a significant player in the New Zealand wine industry and their commitment to the development of a strong, vibrant wine community in Nelson has left a footprint that will last for many generations.
And it all started when Hermann Seifried emigrated to Nelson in the 1970’s to work for the Apple and Pear Board of the day, he arrived on the 1st Jan 1971 and as he was driving down the Stoke Straight a caravan blew over in the strong winds, that was my introduction to Nelson” says Hermann.
Don Sinclair from the Apple and Pear Board had the idea to use Nelson apples to make apple wine rather than a cider and needed a winemaker, “I was handed a note that said someone in New Zealand wanted a qualified winemaker and all you needed was a clean record and be in good health. At the time New Zealand had closed borders, you couldn’t just immigrate to NZ but the Apple & Pear Board was a semi-government department and if the government wanted someone with skill they made the immigration process happen.”
Seifried grew up in the southern part of Austria, had a basic education and then went to and Silberberg College where he studied apple growing and horticulture, this included learning about grape growing and winemaking.
His parents had a substantial apple orchard and the idea was for him to return home after his studies and help in the orchard “however my father died very young, just six weeks after I arrived at Silberberg so my elder brother came home and fulfilled the needs of the orchard” he says.
When Hermann finished college he preferred to go down the wine making track rather than the working with apples and “did a good job in the winery as a cellar hand in Dornbirn where the winemaker was always pushing me to do more, to lean more and to take advantage of opportunities I had. He encouraged me, said I should be doing more than just working in a winery.”
Seifreid Seifried wasn’t accepted at an Austrian university because he didn’t have university entrance “but I got accepted in Germany as a guest student to study winemaking and wine technology. In Weinsberg I had to pay student fees because I wasn’t local, I was bonded to the university for three years and they sent me to a South African winery that supported the university with research money and other things.”
After three years in South Africa someone gave him a card saying they were looking for a winemaker in New Zealand and “the idea to come here short term to find out why the All Blacks beat the Springboks appealed.”
In South Africa he played a lot of tennis so quickly joined a club in Nelson where he met a lot of people; “we used to ski all the time in Austria and one day someone took me to the Mount Robert ski field in the off-season for a work party to prepare for the winter and on one of those trips I met Agnes.”
They got married at the end of the year and that settled his decision to stay in New Zealand but he didn’t want to be in apples all his life so bought a small piece of land at Upper Moutere to establish his own vineyard.
Seifried had purchased some land in Richmond “four or five months after arriving in Nelson” and in late 1971 built the house they still live in, however when they were developing the winery it was rented out for several years.
“We bought 33 acres at Upper Moutere and sold 13 acres straight away because we couldn’t afford the whole block, the new owner subdivided it and in 1976 we bought back 10 acres at about double the money, maybe not the best investment but we had to sell it or we couldn’t buy the initial piece of land.”
The Seifrieds planted their first 2ha of vines that included 14 different vinifera varieties while still working their day jobs. “We started with one 250 litre stainless steel cooling tank and one small compressor, it is unthinkable today because it isn’t easy to make great wines when you don’t have the facilities.”
At the new facility they relocated to in 1995 their largest tanks hold 150,000 litre each, they are now harvesting about 250 ha and production has grown from about 5000 litres a year in their first vintage to around 1.5 million litres today.
“Gewurztraminer was our icon wine when we started and we only had about 220 litres (about 290 bottles)”.
The success of Seifried Estate is built squarely on Hermann’s legendary capacity to work long hours, they built everything at the first winery themselves including the buildings and tanks, “working at the Apple & Pear Board one guy gave me a few hints in what is involved in welding so with some trial and error I made the tanks.”
Hermann still works in the vineyard, “but size of vineyard catches up with you like when you need to put nets on the vines, it is now a huge job and takes lots of planning.”
When I asked Hermann what he was most proud of he said “the kids coming on board, we didn’t want to hold them back, we let them do their own things but eventually they all found their way home again.”
“I could do a wee bit less but will never just retire and sit in the sun, but I have six grandchildren and we love spending time with them.”
Seifried Estate has grown into one of New Zealand’s most successful wine businesses, all from the desire of a hard working Austrian to make Nelson his home.