The Road Less Travelled

More than four decades since planting their first vines by the Wairau River, Phil and Chris Rose's hard work has seen their vision for a thriving family business come to fruition

As you head up the long driveway towards the Rose Family Estate in Blenheim, shaded by huge looming trees, it’s obvious that Phil and Chris Rose knew big things were coming. They planted these sheltering giants in 2000, the year the business really began taking off.

Today, Wairau River Wines is still 100 per cent family owned and has become well-known across New Zealand and internationally for its award-winning sauvignon blanc, with other varietals, such as rose, pinot gris and pinot noir, rapidly growing in popularity.

Wairua Rose 380But the journey to success for this wine-loving family wasn’t as simple, or as fast, as it may seem. Phil and Chris first planted vines in 1978 upon the banks of Wairau River (hence the name), making them pioneers in the now-famous Rapaura district – another clear sign this couple knew to trust their gut. When they sought to gain consent for vine planting Phil and Chris faced more than 40 objections. Many of these objections came from future wine growers in the region – none of whom have admitted to this, of course, says Lindsay Parkinson, affectionately known as “Parky” amongst family and friends. Parky is the son-in-law of Phil and Chris, husband of their daughter, Pip, and runs the business as CEO.

“Phil is incredibly optimistic – it’s just the way he is,” says Parky. “If he says something will be done, it will be done. But he never stops there and acknowledges how far he’s come. He’s always looking forward. It can be challenging because it keeps everyone on their toes, and it can be hard to keep up at times.”

The family do everything from harvesting and growing the grapes to bottling the wines. It’s clear that the hard work and commitment shown by Phil and Chris has been passed down to their five children. Four now work full time for the family business: Pip runs the cellar door; Sam is their talented head wine maker; Hamish is the viticulturist; and chef Caroline runs the restaurant with chef husband Tane Malcolm.

They all work together to manage the 13 vineyards that cover over 400 hectares in the prestigious Rapaura area, overseeing the journey from vine to bottle. The business produces around 160,000 litres of wine per year – an impressive amount for an independently owned vineyard.

Wairua Sav 380While pinot gris and rose sales have been rising over the past couple of years, it's the sauvignon blanc which has remained a firm favourite. As well as boasting numerous accolades, it accounts for around 80 per cent of sales for the business. The popular wine offers intense tropical and stonefruit aromatics, with delicate citrus and floral notes. 

Recently, the family together decided they needed the wines' branding to resonate more with consumers, which led to a major rebranding project. The labels now focus on the lifeblood of the Marlborough region, the Wairau River, with three different graphics depicting three different parts of the river. They also developed their own Rose Family Estate crest, used as a maker's mark to represent the family and showcase the quality of the wine. But mostly it was to show that this family means business.

"This is a new beginning," says Parky. "It's a new phase for us as the Rose family but also as the brand Wairau River."