Last week I had the pleasure of meeting a delightful family who recently started making wine with another couple, our insurance broker introduced me to St Pauli Wines and the family he has gone into partnership with.
Matt Colling says he is a silent partner but I get the feeling he is the solid feet on the ground guiding this family through the mire of owning a business while they learn everything about growing grapes and making wine.
Victoria Reid, her daughter Robyn and son-in-law Gareth Evans bought a piece of land they fell in love with at Upper Moutere, and while they weren’t looking for a vineyard, the land that was known as the Five Oaks Vineyard was a piece of land they have had a relationship with for many years, even if that relationship was just a photograph taken not long after the migrated to New Zealand from the UK in 2002.
Victoria has wide and varied business experience, she was a solicitor by trade and worked at Sealord as their in-house solicitor for five years, “I loved the job and thought I would be there for life but after five years I got a bit bored and was thinking about getting into a totally new business when I saw a small trucking business for sale ten years ago and bought it.”
About three years ago she sold the business to two of her colleagues “they already treated the business as their own and were so hard working, I knew they’d make a success of it. The timing was right and I knew the sale would be a good thing for all of us”.
Robyn went to Nelson College for Girls before she went back to the UK to train as a midwife. She worked in the high-risk pregnancy care sector in Poole, in the South of England for five years before she and Gareth moved back to Nelson when she was pregnant with their now toddler Florence. She now spends her days working on the vineyard behind the scenes, practicing as a midwife at Nelson Hospital and at the Motueka birthing centre as well as looking after Florence.
Gareth is the quiet one in the family, in fact like all good sons-in-law he still has a few secrets. He was telling me about his time working in hospitality in the UK before he became a roofing specialist. “I ran a pub in Lymington, in the New Forest region in the south of England for six years, it was owned John Elsley, the Bass guitarist for Dire Straits, and they would turn up and play in the pub, Mark Knopfler would just wander in and start playing his guitar. Then people like Rick Stein would drop in for a beer and something to eat.”
“That’s something I didn’t know” says Victoria, “Gareth is full of surprises.”
When he moved to Nelson with Robyn he worked as a specialist membrane roofer for Pyers for a year until he started working full time in the vineyard.
So how did this group of family and friends end up owning a vineyard in Upper Moutere? When they moved here in about 2002 they met over drinks and quickly became friends, the fact Matt is originally from the UK helped too.
Matt told me their kids basically grew up together, “we holidayed together and just enjoyed one another’s company”
Victoria said Robyn had just had Florence and they were living with her and husband John at the time, “after eight months we all thought it was time the young family had their own space and John and I got ours back, so we went looking for a new home for Robyn, Gareth and Florence. I like looking at houses and Gareth was busy working so when Robyn and I searched the region for something suitable we stumbled across this place.
“We had looked at everything including olive groves but we had driven past this property a lot and were really drawn to it. We loved the village location, in fact we bought a real fruit ice cream at the dairy not long after we arrived in Nelson and we have a photo that was taken standing outside the vineyard, years later it just fell into place and felt right”
Gareth didn’t see the property until they were about to move in so he had no idea what was coming, he was just along for the ride at the time but it didn’t take long for the family to realise they were either going to have to put a lot of time into the vineyard so, almost by default, Gareth has become a viticulturist.
As you would expect they knew nothing about growing grapes, “when we saw it”, says Robyn, “the vines were laden but as we have since discovered that isn’t a great thing when you want to make excellent wine.”
When they bought the property there was a vineyard manager running it but as the property was on the market his future was a little uncertain and he left before the sale settled because he thought whoever bought the vineyard would do his job.
They realised they had to have someone who was involved in the business running the vineyard so just before last vintage, their first, Gareth took over as the vineyard manager with lots of help.
The former viticulturist, Steve Fox knew the vineyard well, “so we begged and pleaded with him to help us, he worked here for two months to get us through vintage and has been Gareth’s guide, he has also become our viticulture consultant” says Victoria.
Gareth says Alex from Tasman Crop has also been really helpful, “we have found the whole industry is full of people who are happy to give some time to point you in the right direction, very helpful with advice.
“Brightwater Vineyards will be making most of our wines this year and they have been fantastic with advice and help, while Neil and Emma at Kahurangi have also been very generous with help.”
So vineyard management is now Gareth’s fulltime job, Robyn says “Gareth is meticulous so some days it’s 16 hour days and usually 70 hour weeks.”
In his usual quiet way Gareth says “I sit here and look at the vineyard, we live on-site so things that need to be done are in my face when I wake up. At the moment I can only sit here and stress over the rain.”
Before I sat down with this delightful group of people I had a sneaky drive through the vineyard and stopped to taste grapes from the vines and I must say the focus they have on quality shows in the beautiful flavours of the fruit.
I have also tasted the wines from their first vintage and you will find tasting notes for those on my new website – www.toptastes.co.nz They are all delicious but check out the St Pauli Rose in particular, it is fantastic.
Published in the Nelson Mail 20.03.19