“With the way wine seems to be going, I think you need to be a winegrower, not just a viticulturist, or winemaker,” says Jason Flowerday, winegrower, and part owner with his wife Anna, of Te Whare Ra (‘te fahree rah’ TWR), in New Zealand’s most famous wine region, Marlborough.
Jason and Anna purchased TWR in 2003, becoming the third owners of one of Marlborough’s oldest vineyards, which was first planted to vine in 1979 and includes the grape varieties, riesling, chardonnay, and gewürztraminer. Instead of ripping these varieties out, and jumping onto the Marlborough sauvalanche, Jason and Anna kept these varieties, so they could showcase another side to the place they call home.
“People would ask, when are we pulling these old vines out,” recalls Anna Flowerday, “why don’t you rip them out and plant savvy? But we said no, we’ve got slightly different plans.”
“Here’s a place that can grow grapes with it’s fantastic climate, and great soil,” explains Jason, “so why limit it to only one variety?”
Located in the sub region of Renwick, TWR, which means ‘the house in the sun’, in Maori, is a 14ha property with cows, a horse, a dog called Monty, it’s own compost piles and cow pat pits, it’s own winery on site, two sets of twins, and 11ha planted to vine, which, in addition to the already existing chardonnay, gewürztraminer and riesling, now has sauvignon blanc, pinot gris, pinot noir, and syrah. Each of these varieties are made into their own wine, along with an aromatic white blend, called Toru (co-fermented: gewürtz/riesling/gris).
When they first bought the property, Jason and Anna set about redesigning the whole place to suit their own precise needs, in order to be able to grow the best wine they possibly can. This included overhauling the on site winery, where they converted old beer tanks into grape fermenters, with every variety having its own dedicated tank for it to be processed in. Plus, Jason designed and engineered specific tools for them to utilise during the crush, such as their cold soak contraption, which looks a bit like a chip basket from a deep fryer. Yet, before all of this, Jason and Anna’s first challenge to get TWR shining again, was out in the vineyard.
“The soil was dead,” explains Anna, “it was like concrete. There was not a living thing it it, and the vines were really struggling. So, we needed to start from the ground up.”
TWR had previously been managed conventionally, that is with agrochemicals, since it was established in ’79. Because Jason and Anna had seen the benefits of organic management when they worked on 4 acres of dry-grown vineyard in Clare Valley, S.A. they immediately set about trying to revive their new home with organic farming practices.
“We’d been through a couple of vintages where the vineyards were organically dry-grown,” says Anna, “and the proof was in the pudding, because our vineyard was healthy and had amazing fruit, as opposed to the chemical vineyard next door, which looked dead.”
“We’re farming like our grandads did,” explains Jason, “it’s nothing new.”
TWR have their own cow pat pits, which are inoculated with the biodynamic preparations 502-507. They get the manure to make their own 500 from their Beltie cows, which they let into the vineyard to graze the cover crop over winter. In the winter Jason and Anna plant cereals, such as wheat, barley and a lupin crop, before gently cultivating it back into the soil to act as a green manure, which helps with soil moisture retention. In the summer they plant buckwheat and phacelia flowers, which provide a habitat for beneficial bugs, such as lady bugs, lacewings, and wasps to keep unwelcome pests, like caterpillars at bay, and away from the fruit.
“We just treat our vineyard like a big vege garden,” says Jason. “We make compost and utilise companion planting to create natural and biological controls, so that we don’t need to spray with chemicals. It’s about creating and maintaining an ecosystem amongst the vines.”
TWR are certified organic through BioGro, and is a part of the Mana group of natural winegrowers, as well as participants in Organic Winegrowers of New Zealand program. Certification is important to Anna and Jason because it emphasises their integrity for what they’re doing, and contributes positively to their community.
“We want to look after our piece of community within the world,” says Jason, “that’s important to us… it’s important to shop in the local shops, and have our kids go to the local schools. We own bricks and mortar here, our families live here. This is our land, and we want to be here to hand it over to our kids. We’re not going anywhere else, this is our patch, and we want to look after it.”
“The best winegrowers I know spend a lot of time worrying about what’s going on underneath (the soil), which is the bit you can’t see…,” explains Anna.
“And it’s so important what’s going on down there,” adds Jason, “because you can’t put ripeness into the fruit when it’s sitting in the fermenter already picked. You need the soils to make that already happen.”
Spending as much time out in the vineyard is Jason and Anna’s main priority, because that’s where the raw materials come from to let them make TWR wine.
“The best chef’s talk about how the key to making food taste great is to get it first from the raw ingredients,” explains Jason, “If it’s a good tasting piece of meat already, then you don’t need to do much to it to make it taste good. It’s no different to wine.”
When it comes to converting grapes into wine, Jason and Anna have an almost military plan of action, with everything in it’s right place, cleaned and ready to go, right down to the last little thing. From the time the fruit is harvested off the vines, to the sorting table, into the crusher/destemmer, then into the press (for whites), and finally into tank, Jason and Anna have set up a workflow system that leaves nothing to chance.
“It’s the 1% that can make the difference,” explains Anna.
“And we have to be organised,” continues Jason, “because our livelihood is based on only one vineyard. Yes, it’s financially harder on us, but it’s important to have that control.”
“It is harder, but any other way, it just wouldn’t make your heart sing,” adds Anna.
“Every season is different,” explains Jason. “The organic management technique gives you the tools and ability to adapt to that vintage… Our wines are determined by the vintage and we make wines that represent the season we’ve been given, rather than having any preconceived idea… that’s why it’s called a vintage.”
D// – The Wine Idealist
TWR Riesling ‘D’ 2013 – This is the sort of wine I want in my water bottle while I’m exercising, or while relaxing against the gentle current of the Marlborough’s Wairau river. It’s so refreshingly vitalising, so clean and fresh. Intricate aromatics flushed with juicy minerality and thirst slaking dryness from 35 year old vines ensure this wine is honoured with patient time in the glass, as it lives and breathes, and stretches out along an acid line full of punch, spark and verve.
TWR Syrah 2011 – Unlike Australia, syrah (shiraz) is one of those varieties that isn’t much represented in New Zealand, and, really, there are only a handful that bother to grow it in Marlborough. TWR is one of the few, and that’s a good thing because this is a wine of place. If the whites seem to effortlessly exhibit a freshness and vibrancy within them, then so too should the reds. This 2011 Syrah is as energetic as the rest, only, that it’s a more considered expenditure of spirit. Rather than lolling about in the river, this should be drunk over dinner, with friends, in the wintertime, with a warm roast, baked vegetables and crunchy potatoes. It takes time to emerge from the obvious black peppercorn and darkly roasted coffee aromas. It maintains a firm grip in your mouth via tannins that meld like purple coloured ribbons woven from mulberries and plums. It makes you think a bit… why aren’t more people making Marlborough syrah?