While all are obviously wine brands, they have a different regional focus; Tohu Wines are produced from fruit grown mostly at Whenua Awa, their vineyard in the Upper Awatere Valley, Marlborough, while Aronui Wines are produced exclusively from fruit grown at Whenua Matua, their vineyard in the Upper Moutere, Nelson.
However, for its latest release, Tohu has produced a range of single vineyard wines that put a focus on the best wines from each vineyard. Tohu Whenua is the name of the wine series for the group of single vineyard wines, and each wine is identified by the vineyard and region it is produced from – either Whenua Matua or Whenua Awa.
TOHU whenua seriesTohu Wines also produces the Manaaki, the Kaumātua and the Rewa ranges. Add in another brand, Kono Wines, and for a uncomplicated mind like mine it’s all getting a bit confusing so I figured the best way to understand what the group is doing was to have a coffee with chief winemaker Bruce Taylor and Jonny Hiscox who is the man responsible for Whenua Matua vineyards.
It turns out that, like with any rebrand, it is quite simple, Kono is gradually retiring the brand Aronui.
When the last of the Aronui wines have been sold you will see the classic Tohu Wines, Manaaki and Kaumātua, with the new addition of Tohu Whenua, the Rewa series as well as Kono Wines on the shelves of your favourite wine shop or being served in restaurants and cafes.
Bruce said the best place to start was the beginning, “Tohu Wines is the world’s first Māori-owned wine company and we aim to create ranges of award-winning, premium quality New Zealand wines that encapsulate their terroir and tūrangawaewae, their sense of place, and the best way to express this is with a series of single vineyard wines.
He told me that if we think about their different offerings as a pyramid-shaped wine whare (house of wine) then at the base is Kono (average RRP $17.99). With Kono Wines we have taken the best from each vineyard and created a range of flavoursome yet affordable wines. Then you go up the pyramid to the Tohu Manaaki range (average RRP $15/$18 ) that is widely available and made from grapes grown in smaller, premium sub-regions and are sourced from a mix of company and grower vineyards.
Go further up the pyramid to the lesser volumes of Tohu Whenua single vineyard range – these are made from grapes from select blocks of their company vineyards, Whenua Matua in Upper Moutere and Whenua Awa in the Awatere Valley (average RRP $34) that you will only find in fine wine outlets and on-premise.
Then at the top of the pyramid are the Tohu Kaumātua range of wines “the range of premium wines quite rightly carry the names of people who have a special place in the history of Wakatū and Tohu,” Bruce said.
Jonny Hiscox told me “Tohu means sign or signature in te reo Māori so we think it is appropriate for our single vineyard series to carry the label of Tohu Whenua. The wines in the single vineyard series reflect the strengths and the strongest varietals from each vineyard.”
Bruce added “there’s not too much wine-making trickery in them, we want to let the land and terroir to shine through, we want the characteristics of each site to come through in the wines. The varieties and winemaking techniques are very similar, but they are very different wines, the land is the only key difference.”
“Naming the single vineyard series Tohu Whenua also makes a strong link back to the land, and is a good fit with the broader Wakatū group of horticulture and seafood businesses,” says Jonny.
“Then, because ‘kono’ means food basket, the Kono range is designed for people to enjoy every day. It is one of our main export brands and in 2018 we brought it home to Aotearoa so people could enjoy it here too.”
Wakatū Incorporation has Te Pae Tawhiti, its 500-year intergenerational strategy and Whenua Ora (land wellness) is a key part of that strategy, as Bruce noted “Wakatū Board Chair Paul Morgan says we need to ‘be good ancestors to our descendants and look after the whenua for future generations’, we need to look after the people and the land.”
In terms of land wellness at both the Nelson and Marlborough vineyards they have been reducing the use of herbicides and moving to using none, “we’ve been working on this over the years in the Whenua Awa vineyard and have been organically farming small blocks within the vineyard so we can learn about what the vines need, as we are starting to see the benefits of less chemical use we wanted to bring out a range of wines that shows the benefits of this” says Bruce.
A focus of Whenua Ora is on the health of soil and waterways, and waste minimisation with viticulture is contributing to the Wakatū Group’s (fruit, hops, seafood, property) holdings by developing a waste reduction programme. In Marlborough they are blending mussel shell by-products with grape marc (the stuff left after the grapes have been pressed) along with wood and bark to create a compost for reuse on the land.
There are many challenges in ensuring the health of the environment for future generations, for example Bruce says “application of the compost to land is tricky, do we just spread it under the vines or between the rows too, we need to understand how it will impact on the land and make sure what we are doing now isn’t going to cause issues for future generations to clean up. It is also expensive building facilities to contain the waste and turn it into compost, but it is an investment in the future and that’s very important to the Whenua Ora commitment we have made.
“This is the start of our journey and we keep reminding ourselves that some of the greatest wines in the world are coming off organically managed vineyards.”
You can follow this journey by tasting the single vineyard wines being produced under the Tohu Whenua Matua (Nelson) and Tohu Whenua Awa (Marlborough) labels, they are beautifully expressive wines. You can buy them online at tohuwines.co.nz, and look out for a selection of the Tohu Whenua range at Urban, Hardy Street Café, Liquorland New Street, all in Nelson – and The Wine Station Blenheim
In the Nelson region, look out for Kono Wines at The Boathouse and Liquorland New Street, and you’ll find Tohu Manaaki wines at most of the local supermarkets.