The New Zealand wine industry attracts people from all walks, people who either have a love of wine and want to own a piece of paradise themselves and people who are attracted to working in the industry; no matter the reason, it is the intrigue the variables in every bottle of wine offer that attracts people to the industry.
In my case a love for the bottled nectar led us to starting a wine collection some 35 years ago and that in turn led me into writing about it.
For one couple who bought a vineyard in the rolling hills of Upper Moutere it was the desire to get involved in the industry before the dream became too difficult to achieve. Ian Bathgate, his wife Jeanne and two sons relocated from the U.K. a couple of years ago and bought a former Spencer Hill vineyard.
Old House Vineyards is the realisation of a dream for this family who looked at almost every wine producing country before deciding Upper Moutere is where they wanted to create a future for themselves.
Ian has been a long-time wine enthusiast, having collected wine since he was 18, “Dad traveled a lot and he always had good wine so I was introduced to it at a young age, especially the wines of Burgundy, and after years of talking about having our own winery and looking all over the world, the decision was made to move to New Zealand, and in particular the Nelson region. “
Like many people in the wine industry his first choice of career was quite different, he qualified as an engineer at university then worked for consultants in London where he realised “my boss was ten years my senior and not earning much more than me” so he moved into the toiletries and cosmetics industry where he ended up as sales manager for Peter Black, one of the largest private label manufactures in the UK and the largest non-food supplier to Marks and Spencer.
After a successful career in the cosmetics industry he joined his father’s business in the plastics industry. Years later he gave up the family business to make the move to New Zealand and ownership of their own vineyard.
Jeanne’s career was quite different, she took to the skies as a pilot as a 15 year old in Kenya where she lived with her parents before they moved back to UK. “I started as a flying instructor and then got my Airline pilot’s licence and for a few years worked for an air taxi business that operated out of Stanstead airport. It was single-crew work and was pretty tough work so I moved on to multi-crew operations.
“Initially it was flying old Vanguard four-engine turbo props for Air Bridge Carriers, and then on to British Airways. I was amongst the first of the ladies to work for BA as a pilot and flew for them for nearly 30 years, 25 of those was flying the 747.” She took early retirement as a 747 Captain for British Airways to move to Nelson.
The couple have two sons and while James is completing his UK A levels by correspondence before heading to university next year older brother John is studying viticulture and wine science at EIT in Hawke’s Bay.
When I sat down with the family to talk about why they wanted a vineyard and about their plans for the future Jeanne told me “we wanted to do the vineyard thing before we got too old. Because we love chardonnay and pinot noir we had been looking at all the great chardonnay and pinot producing regions around the world – South Africa, the Americas, Chile, France – we looked everywhere they produce great examples of these varieties.
“New Zealand was always near the top of the list of places to visit and we came to Nelson in 2013, looked around for a vineyard, found this one and fell in love with it. It’s a former Spencer Hill vineyard that was planted in about 2000.”
They bought the vineyard in 2014 and went through a long process, Ian told me the Overseas Investment Office approval was easy but getting a visa to live and work here was a different story.
“It took about 18 months, because we came in as investors we had to prove we had the skills and experience to run the business, and due to a paperwork issue, the process took 18 months. With the help of Nick Smith, the issue was resolved, visas were issued and we were on our way.
So the whole family moved to New Zealand and got stuck in to the new business, selling grapes to other producers, including Spencer Hill, while they quietly establish their own label from wine made in the 2017 vintage.
They have also set about restructuring parts of the vineyard to suit the wine styles they want to make, “Ewen Martin is our viticulturist” says Ian, “he wanted to retire from Spencer Hill and wanted a smaller job, but he runs the place like it’s his own. We don’t know what we would have done without him.
“He restructured the vineyard from a higher volume production vineyard with a focus on accessible wines to small volume, high quality. We replanted some of the vines, and removed some lesser clones of Pinot Noir.”
The land the Bathgate’s purchased in Old House Road is about 45Ha in total, 17Ha is planted in vines and about half of that is Sauvignon Blanc with the remainder in approximately equal parts of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.
Jeanne told me the logo for Old House Vineyards features the New Zealand fantail because they are everywhere on the vineyard. “They are friendly little birds hopping around and chattering to you as you work in the vines so it seemed only right that they should also appear on our labels.”
While the journey the Bathgate’s have been on may have been a long one they have hit the road running with their first wines, their 2018 Old House Vineyards Chardonnay was just pipped for the Colin Harrison Memorial Trophy for the region’s best Chardonnay this year. This is a new Nelson wine label I will be following with a lot of interest, and you should too.
Finally I would like to wish you all a very safe and happy Christmas and New Year holiday season and as always drink alcohol responsibly this holiday season and never drink and drive, we want to see you all again in 2020.