The unexpurgated Memoir of a Passionate Pioneer Winegrower 




Winemakers are not generally noted for writing memoirs. However, this winemaker's memoir is really an adventure story - a "success against the odds" wine pioneering adventure story. It is my recollection of how my wife, Jeanette, and I - just a couple of innocent, middle-aged New Zealand Do-It-Your-Selfers - set out to create a pioneer winemaking enterprise on a tiny secluded island off the coast of a very remote country on the wrong side of the planet, and succeeded in gaining world-wide recognition.
That little island is called Waiheke and it is situated just a 35 minute fast ferry ride east from the city of Auckland. It is a place where the experts of the day declared that wine could not be satisfactorily grown. They prophesied that such an ill-considered endeavour would inevitably end in failure and told us that even if we could eventually get grapes to grow in that inclement, salt-laden island environment we would not be able to sell the resulting wine in New Zealand, let alone internationally. That we eventually produced wines which sit so comfortably beside such illustrious names as Petrus, Margeaux, Mouton Rothschild, Lafite and Grange on top international restaurant wine lists is the stuff of dreams and testament to the passion, perseverance and determination we demonstrated in overcoming the many obstacles strewn in our path.
And so our little wine adventure began under a cloud of professional pessimism, but we proved the sceptics wrong with that healthy, colonial can-do attitude and not only succeeded in growing beautiful grapes, but also in turning them into decent wine. Featuring in Hugh Johnson and Neil Beckett's elite magisterial tome "1001 Wines You Must Try Before You Die" is surely proof of that.
As I punched the corks into the bottles of our first vintage of red wine with our antique, hand-driven corking machine I did not imagine, even in my wildest dreams, how Jeanette and I could achieve this extraordinary outcome. Our whole crazy adventure got completely out of control and grew in size from a tiny Mom and Pop pioneer winegrowing enterprise to become one of New Zealand's largest - and one of the world's most notable - wine producers.

That we succeeded in producing some decent wine is remarkable enough. That we were able to sell this wine profitably in a world which was drowning in a gigantic lake of excess wine defies credibility. To even get that wine noticed locally, let alone internationally, was an extremely difficult proposition. Despite the initial pessimism, however, the growing of the grapes and turning them into acceptable wine was relatively easy.

Mme Philippine de Rothschild, owner of the legendary Bordeaux Chateau, Mouton Rothschild, confirmed this view when she once told me that "Making great wine is easy. It is just the first 300 years that are difficult!"

She is absolutely correct. Making good wine is relatively easy, getting it noticed is a very different ball game. To achieve success in this endeavour takes courage, tenacity, cunning, enterprise, considerable cost, damn hard work and, above all, extraordinary good luck - and hopefully a little less than 300 years! But first you have to make some decent wine!

How we managed to make the reality of our winegrowing enterprise far exceed our dream is related in the following pages...