An Australian and a New Zealand winemaker have pooled their know-how to put Marlborough’s Te Whare Ra on the world wine map
Australian-born winemaker and co-owner of Te Whare Ra winery in Marlborough Anna Flowerday says while many businesses want a bronze statue of a founding father in their entrance lobby, she’d like a statue of her nanny.
Without long-term caregiver Kay, “the glue that holds my family together,” Anna says juggling two sets of twin daughters, 11 hectares of organic grapes and the demands of hand-crafting a celebrated stable of wine in collaboration with her Kiwi winemaker husband, Jason, might have tipped her over the edge.
“Every day at Te Whare Ra is fairly crazy and living on site just 30 metres from our winery building is a live-it-breath-it existence but every morning I wake up and think how lucky I am.”
Luck, labour, progressive thinking and perfectionism are key ingredients in the tale of Te Whare Ra Wines.
In the summer of 1999 the trans-Tasman couple crossed paths on the winery floor at Hardys Wines in McLaren Vale, South Australia.
Anna – a science and oenology graduate from the University of Adelaide was assistant winemaker and Kiwi boy Jason – an experienced wine industry apprentice who’d bottled his first blend in his parents’ garage at the age of 16 – was working the vintage.
Their marriage merged the couple’s hefty winemaking credentials.
Anna is the fifth generation in her family to pursue wine while Jason’s family has been involved in Marlborough wine for more than 20 years.
Anna and Jason’s joint adventure in the world of wine began in Clare Valley where they bought a mature seven-hectare vineyard and pursued organic and biodynamic practices.
“Jason set about farming the grapes as his grandfather would have done – old school – using the moon calendar, replacing fertiliser, pesticides and herbicides with natural compost, seaweed and natural biological controls.”
Within several years they’d turned the property around and were considering where next when Te Whare Ra came on the radar.
“I’d been in France on wine industry business and Jason collected me from Melbourne Airport with real estate photos of Te Whare Ra. We were attracted by its old vines. Vines are like people – older vines have stories to tell and amazing layers of interest. Jason knew the vineyard. It had a mix of unique varietals and needed loads of work to bring it back to life – a challenge we were up for. We bought Te Whare Ra with huge excitement about its future potential.”
That potential has translated into a knock-your-socks-off success story of a small batch organic boutique winery with big-scale resonance.
Its best moments to date include being named 2014 Winery of the Year by highly respected wine writer Raymond Chan – “humbling and a tremendous accolade,” says Anna; the regular presence of its wine in New Zealand wine master classes around the world; an accolade for its 2014 Pinot Noir in prestigious wine magazine Decanter; the promise of the 2016 vintage – “we are super chuffed so far”; and the runaway success of its ground breaking aromatic blend Toru.
“Toru (three in Māori) is our wine love child and people are absolutely hooked on it. It’s a blend of gewürztraminer, riesling and pinot gris based on a classic Alsatian wine we had tried. We co-ferment the grapes which produces a highly complex intriguing wine. We were the first in New Zealand to make it – it’s now our flagship.”
Anna says Te Whare Ra’s organic certification – “our big badge of pride” – and its minimal intervention winemaking brings challenges – meticulous attention to detail, an intense work regime, chemical-free problem-solving (vineyard rows are interplanted with buckwheat to attract beneficial insects) and the need for richly informed decision-making.
She says prior to harvest she and Jason and the girls walk in the vineyard after dinner, tasting the fruit to determine when varieties should be picked.
“Jason is our secret weapon. He’s three generations of experience rolled into one person. He followed his father around vineyards from the age of four. He’s very intuitive about the land.”
Making the land at Te Whare Ra a blissful and balanced environment for their beloved vines and bottling “the authentic taste of place” is Anna and Jason’s objective.
“Ninety per cent of our winemaking happens out in the vineyard and we go into extreme detail about what comes into the winery – it’s instrumental to our delivery of x-factor wines.
“One of the most awesome moments for us is at the cellar door when a visitor sips and says ‘wow’.”