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Kina Cliffs – 11.09.14 (NZ WineGrower Magazine)

One of the most frequently asked questions owners of small wineries are asked must be ‘why did you decide to plant a vineyard and start a winery?’ It will probably be no surprise at all to you but the answer has two or three themes, either ‘we owned some land and didn’t know what to do with it’, ‘we grew up in a rural environment and always wanted to grow something’ or ‘we love wine and wanted to create our own’.

For Alistair and Julie Ashcroft the reasons for starting Kina Cliffs Wines was a combination of all three things. They bought their block of land on Cliff Road at Kina overlooking the remarkable Tasman Bay in 2000 and didn’t have any plans for it other than a desire to one day come back home and live in a more rural environment rather than in a city.

Software developer Alistair had a contract in Zurich for a year and while they were there they met their Kiwi neighbour for the first time when he came to their place for dinner and brought along a bottle of wine. Renat Nussbaumer who spends much of the year in his Swiss homeland owns an adjoining vineyard in New Zealand and suggested they might like to plant some grapes.

While Julie has a background in human resource management and at the time had been working primarily in employment law it was an area of the sector she didn’t really enjoy as it was away from her original recruitment background, she wanted to do something with an outdoors focus. An advertisement for a viticulture course at Nelson Marlborough Institute of Technology (NMIT) caught her attention and enrolled in the course to figure out what was involved in the industry before committing to their own vineyard.

Having grown up on a kiwifruit orchard she was very familiar with the outdoors working lifestyle and the repetition of horticulture. At the time (2003) the wine industry was a commercially viable option so viticulture was particularly attractive to Julie. The NMIT course included a mix of practical vineyard work as well as classroom lectures covering everything from science and growing techniques.

When Julie’s parents pulled out their kiwifruit orchard her dad, being a traditional Kiwi farmer, he kept everything including the tractor, 700 kiwifruit posts, irrigation and other materials so when it was time to establish the vineyard he and his equipment were there to help. With her dad’s expertise and borrowing a post driver from his neighbour they reduced the setup costs significantly.

Al came from a Southland sheep farming family and over the years spent many hours fencing on the farm so had plenty of skills to set up the vineyard, his parents travelled from Southland to help with this part of the setup making the establishment of this boutique vineyard a real family affair.

Turning back to his farming skills was a change from the software development that saw him working in various parts of the world developing trading systems for a bank. Back in New Zealand he is still working in software development and has an office at the cellar door overlooking the vineyard, which Al says is “a nice place to have an office.”

In the first year after establishing the vineyard Julie was pregnant with twins so it was pretty difficult working in the vineyard training vines at the same time. They had a contractor run the vineyard for three years and they sold their grapes under contract while she was at home with the boys.

They had always intended to make their own wines and in 2008 the huge over supply in the market was the motivating factor to take the plunge into creating their own label.

The gently sloping 3.5 Ha vineyard, office, tasting room and home are located at Kina Peninsula and as well has having stunning views the location is perfect for growing grapes; the soils are clay with gravels running through it so retains moisture while the gentle slope helps excess water drain away. Being on the coast a nice gentle coastal breeze drops in around 11am each day helping keep the vines dry and making the vineyard frost-free. The North facing aspect means the vines get to make the most of the warm Nelson sunshine.

The small vineyard and production size means they can do everything by hand themselves and they make just enough wine to sell in the Nelson region through restaurants, wine shops and at their beautiful cellar door outlet.

Al and Julie Ashcroft have created the perfect boutique vineyard, Kina Cliffs, on the perfect piece of land in Nelson, they sell everything they make and are able to bring up two very active boys in a semi-rural environment, a small scale version of the one they both grew up in. They are living the boutique vineyard owner’s dream.

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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