I have been following the winemaking career of Trudy Sheild for many years because I think she is a winemaker with an exceptional talent.
I first met her when she was an assistant winemaker at Waimea Estates, and wasn’t at all surprised that when co-owner and the bloke in charge at the time, Trevor Bolitho, offered her the head winemakers job when general manager and winemaker Mike Brown moved on.
There is nothing unusual in the fact she is a woman, there are plenty of female winemakers in New Zealand but I think it was obvious to anyone who knows Trudy why Trevor had such faith in her, she speaks in a very measured, considered manner and credits everyone else for the success of the wines she produces but also has a quiet, understated self-confidence in her ability, an ability that lead to many gold medal and trophy awards for Waimea Estates before she decided she wanted to work in a smaller winery environment.
“Waimea Estates has grown exponentially over the 13 years I have known them, and I’m 13 years older! Moving on was a tough decision as I became really attached to the Waimea gang and had invested a lot of time and love but I really wanted to truly handcraft my own wines again, right down to the cellar work and Waimea had grown to the stage I couldn’t do that.”
Trudy told me that the wines produced before she took over had a great track record and that you don’t need to change a winning formula but over time she quietly put her stamp on the wines she made with great results.
Being the daughter of a Hawke’s Bay sheep farmer who used to ride past the Gimblett Gravels as a young shepherd (if only he’d known the potential the land had for grape growing he wouldn’t have any regrets about not buying land there”, Trudy relates very well to the grape growers she worked with and made wine for at Waimea Estates over the years.
She says “these people work in the horticulture sector and are people of the land so we have lots in common and I understand the commitment they have made to growing grapes and I feel a real sense of responsibility to make the best wine I can for them.”
With a background that started with a BSc as an undergrad then six years working in Medical microbiology she had not been a big wine drinker but like many people in the industry had a ‘wine moment’. In her case it was a bottle of Montana Gewurztraminer that got her hooked so she went to Lincoln University in 2001 to complete a post-grad degree in wine science.
After finishing her winemaking qualification she headed off to the Hunter Valley and worked for Monarch Wines, a vast wine processing centre, for a vintage followed by a stint on Waiheke Island at Stony Batter (now Man o’ War) working both in the winery and vineyards.
A second vintage at Monarch followed and it was during this vintage she worked with one of the many people who helped shape her career. She will always remember Nigel who showed her you don’t need to be strong, just smart to handle the heavy work in a winery.
After Monarch came a vintage at Stonier in Mornington followed by a vintage in the village of Tramin in the Alto Adige region of North-East Italy, blending previous vintage wines and making current vintage.
Producing Gewurztraminer, Pinot Gris and Riesling in Italy deepened her love for aromatic style wines while working in the cooler climate with Lagrein and the Merlot they produced showed her great heavier style red wines can be produced in cooler climates.
Waimea kindly held her job for her in 2006, when she travelled with other Nelson winemaking friends to Alsace for a vintage position.
As a young woman Trudy, from a relatively sheltered Kiwi rural background, hadn’t travelled a lot and she says that wine gave her the opportunity to do that, “meet rural people, eat their food, go to beautiful out of the way places you wouldn’t otherwise go to” and these experiences have moulded the person she is today.
After Italy she got a role working the nightshift for vintage at Waimea Estates so “many hours were spent processing grapes into presses and lugging hoses around the cold winery during the night, it was character building.”
Then in 2003 she completed a research essay on yeast autolysis before returning to Waimea for a daytime harvest job in 2004 and that resulted in fulltime employment as a cellar hand and lab technician, with her past medical lab experience adding significant value to the winery.
In 2007 Trudy became Assistant Winemaker and at the end of ’09 and she was offered the head winemaker role, “when Trevor Bolitho and new GM Ben Bolitho offered me the job my first response was ‘are you sure!?’”
Not sure what to do she went home for Christmas and talked to dad in his workshop down at the woolshed and he said ‘Trude, don’t be a wuss, just do it’ – “ok, dad had spoken. If I didn’t do it I would always be wondering if I could have and because I had worked in the winery doing everything from the most basic jobs to the winemaking role I was confident I could do the job justice.”
Ever since she took on that role I have been quietly keeping an eye on her wine show successes, and there have been many, including the Trophy for the top Sauvignon Blanc at the London International Wine Show with the first wine she made at Waimea Estates, their 2010 Sauvignon Blanc.
When she left Waimea nearly a year ago now she officially took on the role as winemaker for Middle Earth Wines. Using the winemaking facility at Kaimira Estates and she has immediately added a stamp of quality to the wines, the Middle Earth 2017 Pinot Gris has just been awarded a gold medal at the International Wine Show in New Zealand.
2017 was a very tough, wet vintage in the Nelson region so to make a gold medal winning wine in trying conditions is a pointer to even better things to come in future good vintage conditions.
As Middle Earth is a much smaller operation than Waimea Estates she has with some time to share, time she is filling by working at Rimu Wine Bar.
“It keeps me social, I come from a line of hermits so helping out at the bar and discussing wines is really good for me and my winemaking and I enjoying hosting customers and discussing what wines really excite or please them”.
So next time you are at Rimu Wine Bar and Trudy is working don’t be afraid to ask her lots of questions or get all geeky about wines like I do, she has the knowledge and skill to help you learn a lot about why wines taste like they do.