“In the new world, everyone talks about winemakers, like they’re heros,” says Hans Herzog, owner and vigneron at Hans Herzog Estate in Marlborough, New Zealand, “but we should be talking about the vineyard, and winegrowing, because that’s where wine really comes from.”
Hans thinks of himself as a vigneron, a French term for someone who cultivates a vineyard for winegrowing. He thinks that winemaking is secondary to viticulture for the process of making wine, because the majority of the work he does on his estate is out amongst the vines.
“90% of our work is done in the vineyard,” explains Hans. “We do a lot of mowing and hoeing, and manual weeding, which is very hard work, but always worth it in the end.”
Hans Herzog is from a winegrowing family in Switzerland, who have been growing wine there since 1630. He is a graduate from the Wine University of Wädenswil, Switzerland, with a degree in viticulture, and a Masters in Winemaking. He participated in his first vintage when he was 16 years old at the family farm in Zurich, which has been organically managed from the beginning.
“Where I grew up (in Switzerland), we had a mixed farm that included a vineyard, and we did everything with organics,” explains Hans, “because that was just normal for us… we thought nothing of it.”
Hans and his wife Therese, were holidaying in New Zealand in 1982 and, upon visiting the Marlborough wine region, they both fell in love with the place and the lifestyle that it afforded those who lived there. Noticing many similarities, in terms of climate and soils, to Switzerland and other winegrowing regions in Europe, Hans identified the Marlborough as an ideal place to allow him to experiment with growing different kinds of grape varieties without the strict laws and restrictions that prevented him from doing so back home.
“”We moved to New Zealand for the lifestyle, and to live our dream,” says Hans, “because you can make wine differently to what you can do in Switzerland. The climate is great in the Marlborough. We have a lot of wind, dry summers and cool nights, which is great for ripening the fruit. The soil is very gravelly next to the river, similar to the Médoc (France), and there is a freedom to plant what you want to plant without the restrictions we have in Switzerland.”
Liberated from the strict constraints of the Swiss appellation control system, Hans embarked on an experimental planting regime on his 11ha vineyard, right next to the Wairau River. The Hans Herzog Estate is now home to almost 30 different grape varieties, including pinot gris, viognier, marsanne, roussane, riesling, gewürztraminer, grüner veltliner, chardonnay, verdellho and sauvignon blanc for the whites, and pinot noir, cabernet-sauvignon, cabernet franc, montepulciano, nebbiolo, barbera, tempranillo, malbec, grenache, zweigelt, st. laurent, lagrein, and saperavi, for the reds.
“My dream was to grow wines that are different to the ones you can grow in Switzerland,” explains Hans, “because, for me, it’s much more challenging to push the boundaries of winegrowing (in New Zealand), otherwise, we could just stay in Switzerland and have an easier life making wine there.”
As part of Hans’ boundary-pushing motives for wanting to grow and make wine in New Zealand, he employs an organic method of farming, because he believes it is the best way to represent the unique sense of place that he gets from his new home in the Marlborough.
“For me, natural winegrowing is so important,” explains Hans. “We never needed to spray with chemicals in Switzerland, but in the first few years living in New Zealand we’d spray with herbicide,” Hans continues, “until I thought ‘this can’t be right’, because we also use the same water in the vineyard as we do for our drinking water… we need to be careful in the way we live on the land.”
Hans switched over to organic viticulture on the estate in 2007, certifying both the vineyard, and the winery with BioGro in 2011.
“For me, certification is just an extension of what we do out in the vineyard and in the winery,” says Hans, “My passion for wine and for giving my customers a healthy wine means I would want certification,” he continues, “It’s important (to have certification), because some people will say they’re organic, but still spray. There’s no excuse with certification, no compromise.”
Using organic farming practices on the Hans Herzog Estate allows Hans to grow his grapes as best as he can, which helps him to try to make the best wine he can.
“A wine should be fresh and show the fruit,” says Hans, “this is very important. If we have a clean, healthy vineyard, then we’ll grow clean, healthy fruit, and our wines will be the best they can be, and then we don’t need to add very much sulphur to protect the wine.”
Hans does practice some elements of biodynamics, consulting the lunar calendar when it comes to harvesting the fruit – picking on fruit days – and moving the wine around, otherwise known as racking, but he doesn’t use any of the preparations associated with BD.
“We work with some aspects of biodynamics,” says Hans, “for example, we use the moon calendar to plan our picking days, as well as when we do racking and bottling”.
Doing certain tasks in the winery, such as racking (a process of moving wine from one container to another to help remove sediment and lees) on a descending moon ensures that the wine is settled and calm, and that any sediment that remains in the wine sits at the bottom of the barrel, or tank, where the wine is stored. The wine is then able to be transferred from one container to the next, without carrying across left over deposits and sediments. It also reduces the need for excessive fining and filtration before bottling.
“There’s a lot more sediment in the barrels and tanks when we rack on an ascending moon,” explains Hans, “so, we wait for a descending moon, and do our lees stirring before a full moon and it settles down beautifully.”
Moving from Switzerland to New Zealand isn’t exactly moving around the corner. The Marlborough wine country must have had a pretty profound impact on Hans to make him want to leave his home in Zurich, with all its culture and tradition, not to mention his long family history of farming and winegrowing there. But, the challenge of growing wines in an entirely new world, without the constraints of growing laws and appellation controls has meant that Hans is really able to test his winegrowing skills, and make wines that not only showcase the terroir of the Marlborough, but also represent Hans’ own philosophy for what it takes to make authentic wine there.
“We’re very lucky to grow wine in the Marlborough,” says Hans, “It’s a present that we get every year from nature, and we just try and use our one chance each year, to try and make the best wine that we can.”
D// – The Wine Idealist