I think it goes without saying that I am a big fan of Nelson wines and the people who make them; every winery in the Nelson region is family owned and it is the heart and soul that these people pour into their wines that makes them special, the fact they taste great too helps.
One of my favourite producers of Pinot Gris, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir wines is Patrick Stowe from Rimu Grove Wines, he has an uncanny ability to put risk aside when it comes to harvesting his grapes and ignores Mother Nature and only uses technology to help him rather than direct his harvesting decisions.
Stowe is often one of the last in the region to harvest his grapes because he picks based on flavour in the fruit rather than technical results; others do this too but I don’t think there are many people in the industry that have his uncanny knack at weaving his way through harvesting and winemaking decisions to create wonderful wines.
This ability to judge risk at harvest time may seem counter-intuitive to his science background but I think even in scientific research there is a certain amount of risk taking and the best scientists have the ability to know when they are doing something special so in many ways his risk taking is based on an intuitive scientific mind.
Born and raised in Napa Valley, premium American wine making country Stowe studied bio-chemistry and microbiology, qualifications that earned him a career in medical research for 25 years both in the US and New Zealand.
Stowe holidayed in New Zealand as a backpacker in 1990 and fell in love with this country and the lifestyle it offered. He bought vineyard land in 1995 and commuted between The US and New Zealand while developing the vineyard before moving to New Zealand permanently in 1999 where he managed to combine the passion for wine and his bio-chemistry career, he worked for Industrial Research Limited (IRL) in Wellington while he was developing the vineyard and he while producing the first Rimu Grove wine in 2000.
At IRL he was the director of quality which saw him “making sure everything they did met US FDA regulatory requirements” when they were producing cancer treatment drugs. These were baing made in New Zealand “because there was a facility for the type of drug they were making, US companies developed the technology and IRL had the facilities to be able to produce one component of the drug. New Zealand also has some very skilled people doing some great research and contributing to the worldwide research into the development of new drugs to help everyone.”
As the vineyard produced more fruit and he was making more wine Stowe left his job at IRL in Wellington to focus on the quickly expanding Rimu Grove Wines.
While his background in science was a key factor to the success of Rimu Grove Stowe says “making wine is quite different to the science work that I could do much of from Nelson by using technology; from working in the vineyard to making the wines for a winery business you need to be on site and at certain times of the year and it is all-consuming. As well as the technical side of the science of winemaking there are other synergies, especially with attention to detail and making great notes. In winemaking we are doing one experiment a year with each vintage and if you are going to learn and improve you need good notes to turn back to. Attention to detail is vital as it is in any business.”
Rimu Grove Wines was the culmination of a life-long dream to create great wines in a wonderful environment, something that came from his background growing up in the Napa Valley and Stowe has produced great wines including award winning chardonnay (Colin Harrison Memorial Trophy two years in a row), highly sought after Pinot Noir and flavoursome aromatics.
When the Moutere Hills winery sold a few years ago he became their consultant winemaker using their state-of-the-art winemaking facility and has since moved all of his winemaking to Moutere Hills where he is also making wine for others. His science background and attention to detail has enabled Stowe to build a significant contract winemaking business as well as making his own wines. He has reduced the volume of wine he makes and is focussing on the high quality end of the market as well as producing interesting wines like Viognier and Gewurztraminer.
His latest venture with his partner Barbara Dunn is the Rimu Wine Bar on the Mapua Wharf, “this fits very nicely with winemaking, while the grapes are growing I am at the wine bar and when the grapes are ready for harvesting and turning into wine it is the quiet time in the hospitality industry so I don’t need to spend as much time there” says Stowe.
Rimu Wine Bar is more than a tasting room for his own wines, there is also like a big selection of regional wines, “a regional tasting venue where we have more than 40 wines by the glass from wineries across the region as well as a couple of international wines and Nelson made spirits along side some single malt Scotch Whiskies.”
You can buy a ‘Wine Tree” for $20 and you get five tasting glasses of wine and a $5 discount off a bottle of wine to either drink in with great pizza or take away – yes he does have an off licence so if you find a wine you love you can buy a bottle to take home.
“While I may be the face of the wine bar my partner Barbara Dunn has been the driving force behind both me and the new venture, she has been the main design brain behind the fitout and she deals with all the staff training.”
Rimu Wine Bar is an exciting addition to the wonderful new development undertaken by TDC at the Mapua Wharf, and they should be congratulated for their vision for the area, it is a wonderful destination for locals and visitors alike.