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Rural Delivery - A Commitment to Quality Wine and the Environment at Tohu Wines

August 15, 2015

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When Tohu Wines was launched in 1998 it was the world’s first Maori owned wine company. Now in 2015, it has its own winery, a case of industry awards for its wines, a commitment to conserving the environment for future generations, and to producing quality wines reflecting the unique characteristics of their vineyards.

Tohu Wines are produced from grapes grown in Marlborough vineyards. While the region is best known for its sauvignon blanc, other varieties are producing quality wines, such as Riesling, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.

Tohu’s vineyards are certified by Sustainable Winegrowing New Zealand and their wines are carboNZero accredited. The carboNZero programme assures the consumer that a particular item is an independantly verified and certified carbon-neutral product. This means that vineyard practices are in line with SWNZ guidelines, guaranteeing that environmentally sustainable practices have been used from the vineyard to the bottle.

The company has won awards both in New Zealand and internationally which is a testament to the skills of winemaker Bruce Taylor and his team.

Bruce joined Tohu in 2008. His philosophy is that a wine should “encapsulate a place and time”. Fruit quality and quantity (and consequently the wine produced from that fruit) differs from year to year, and between locations, and Bruce aims to reflect that diversity.

There are two distinct brands that are produced. Kono Sauvignon Blanc is a blend of a number of vineyards, while the Tohu brand is a single vineyard wine. Bruce says about 6 years ago the company decided that as a medium sized entity they could not compete on volume, so the emphasis was placed on creating a differentiated product.

There are advantages in spreading the vineyards throughout the region and creating a blend such as Kono Sauvignon Blanc. A diversity of areas gives more certainty around climate variability and production in heavier, more fertile soils. It ensures cover for events such as hailstorms, and more fertile soils produce higher fruit yield, at around 15 – 20 tonnes/ha. It also allows for a more manageable production process during the harvest.

A single vineyard wine is a riskier proposition. Tohu’s Awatere Valley vineyard is around 250m above sea level and with the Awatere River on its western boundary, the stony river terraces produce intensely flavoured fruit. As well, access to the Awatere River Scheme provides much needed water during the dry spells such as the summer of 2014/2015. The growing season is longer at this vineyard, with a drier and cooler climate than in other parts of Marlborough. Although yield varies from year to year, production off this vineyard is around 9 – 11 tonnes/ha. But Bruce says, the costs to produce that are much the same as on more fertile soils.

The effect of the dry summer was lessened by having access to water from the Awatere Water Scheme. Water is also used at the vineyard for frost fighting, although windmills are also employed. Bruce plans to install more windmills in the future, as he believes using water in this situation is having a detrimental effect on the vines’ new growth.

Bruce works with a strong team, including Mondo Kopua, Marlborough Group Vineyards Manager for Kono Beverages. Mondo is responsible for much of the work that is carried out in the vineyard, not only producing grapes, but working towards creating a sustainable environment. To further this work, a native vegetation planting programme is currently underway at the Awatere vineyard.

As well, the company is involved in assisting a PhD student from Lincoln University to carry out a study into organic control options for grass grub (also known as Bronze Beetle). Chilean student Maurizio Gonzales Chang is working with the assistance of Callaghan Innovation. Grass grub is a particular problem for organic vineyards but the outcome of the study could also have solutions for pastoral farmers.

Tohu’s winery was purchased in 2012. Bruce credits part of Tohu’s rising success and recognition at wine awards to being able to control all aspects of the wine-making process. This was more difficult when having to work around other winemakers and their timetables and commitments in a contract winery. Bruce says they are now able to use the dedicated winery that’s set up to their own requirements to produce consistently high quality wines.

Skins and pressings from the wine-making process are collected by a neighbouring farmer who feeds them to his stock, a bonus feed supplement in the recent dry summer experienced in Marlborough.

Assisting with vintage each year are a number of international workers. Tohu advertises for workers each September advertising to people in the industry who move from the Northern to the Southern hemisphere with the vintages. Bruce says about 200 people applied for the 14 available places at Tohu. It’s a very high pressure job, with a massive amount of responsibility, shifting very valuable product from place to place, and it’s important to get people he can trust to do the job well.

A challenging part of Bruce’s role is having to wear “many different hats on a daily basis”. It’s one advantage of working in a relativey small company, where a hands-on approach allows control of the entire process; from growing the grapes to harvesting, fermenting and finshing the wines. Then on to the bottling, marketing, sales, logistics and financial considerations.

Bruce believes the Marlborough region may well be at capacity for wine production, with water a limiting factor. There is however a sense of the maturing of the industry, with the vines now more mature and winemakers with more experience in growing in the region. He notes that as vines mature, there is a geographically more compact harvest period, with more uniform ripening across the region.

More information is available at http://www.tohuwines.co.nz


Masterchef winners match Tohu wines with food

Sunday, 24 May 2015

Perfect pairings of classic dishes and classic wines.

By Karena & Kasey Bird

MasterChef winners Karena and Kasey Bird write a fortnightly food column in Living.

We have been non-stop since our book tour. Last weekend we were at the Noosa International Food and Wine Festival, meeting amazing chefs we look up to and, of course, sampling all the delicious food and wine they had on offer. We love trying wine with food and seeing how they both affect each other in highlighting each other's taste.

We tried some great Australian wine while we were there, but one of the main things we were reminded of was that New Zealand does amazing wine. So many locals talked about how good New Zealand wine is and we felt proud to say we were from the other side of the ditch.

When we won MasterChef last year we went to our local shop to check the mail. A huge case of 12 bottles of wine had been sent to us with a note that made our mum cry. It was from Kono, which makes Tohu and Aronui wine.

The letter talked about how they saw values in us that they have as a company, values like integrity, that we were custodians for our heritage through the way we tried to enhance dishes influenced by our culture, the hospitality we showed in the way we cooked and how we shared the stories with New Zealand about the inspiration for our dishes.

They credited our parents for instilling in us these values and invited us to Marlborough to meet the team and learn about the company and wine. By the time we left, we had formed such a close and genuine relationship with all of the staff and learned a lot about their yummy wines. This week we are excited to share some recipes using a few of our favourites.

One of the wines we found interesting and delicious was a variety we had never tried before. The 2014 Single Vineyard Nelson Albarino is super crisp and fresh but very balanced. We thought it would be a great match for seafood. The lemon and lime notes match nicely and the creaminess of the prawns and scallops is great with the underlying ripe fruit flavours.

New Zealand has great pinot noir and the 2013 Single Vineyard Tohu Pinot Noir is no exception. It's our choice of wine when we need to say thank you to our mum for picking up ingredients for us when we don't have enough time (which is often, so she has a nice collection now).

This is our version of a classic French dish but only using the juicy dark thigh meat. It's great for winter meal and the wine adds delicious plum, thyme and cherry flavours to the chicken and mushrooms.

We both love matching desserts with bubbles instead of dessert wine. We aren't sure if that's against the rules but we love having a bubbly, long finishing glass of 2012 Rewa Blanc de Blanc with our sweet course. These poached pears are so easy and when we make them our family and friends are always really impressed.

Try Kasey and Karena's delicious recipes at bite.co.nz below


Tohu Wines success bubbles over

Tohu Wines had something to celebrate with on Saturday night when it was awarded the trophy for the best sparkling wine at the prestigious Air New Zealand Wine Awards for its Tohu Rewa Reserve Marlborough Blanc de Blanc 2011. When accepting the award, assistant winemaker Anna McCarty praised the efforts of the whole team “Producing Rewa is always a team effort, from the aroha in the vineyard to the incredible talent of winemaker Bruce Taylor.”

Anna acknowledged that she would be celebrating with other wineries that are also members of the Methode Marlborough group. “This is the second year in a row that a winery from Methode Marlborough has taken home the Sparkling Trophy – certainly something worth celebrating.”

Tohu Wines also picked up a Pure Elite Gold for its Tohu Mugwi Reserve Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2013, and a Pure Gold medal for Tohu Raiha Limited Release Noble Riesling 2013.

“Our wines are having a great run in the medals tally with our entire reserve range having recently been awarded gold medals. We have also just been awarded seven gold medals at the Sydney International Wine Competition, with six in the Top 100” commented Kono Beverages CEO, Mike Brown.

As an extra bonus at the awards evening, a photo of Tohu Rewa Blanc de Blanc and Kiwa Oysters (a soon to be launched Kono product) took out the competition for best photograph, winning the team four return airfares courtesy of Air New Zealand.   



New wines reinforce link to ancestral land

I am sure everyone is aware of the Tohu wine brand, owned by Wakatu Incorporation, but many will not know that it recently launched a new brand.

Kono Beverages is now the overarching division name within Wakatu for its wine business, and the Tohu brand is now used exclusively for wines produced from fruit grown in their Awatere Valley and Waihopai Valley vineyards in Marlborough. The new Aronui wines are made from fruit grown in Nelson, mainly from their Whenua Matua vineyards in the Moutere Hills, supplemented by fruit grown in other parts of the region.

Jonny Hiscox is the man responsible for managing the Whenua Matua vineyards and producing the fruit for the Aronui wines. His role is not only to grow great grapes but to care for the land - something that is fundamental to the owners. This, along with an artisan approach to winemaking, are guiding philosophies for the owners.

Whenua Matua means "significant land", and the word Aronui derives from ancient Maori mythology about the pursuit of knowledge, including the arts and working with the land. Both names reflect the importance to the owners of the ancestral land at Upper Moutere.

The land development that Jonny has overseen in recent years includes planting lots of native trees and flaxes in areas of Whenua Matua not suitable for planting grapes. His hard work and dedication have created a wonderful environment that delivers more than just good wines.

The finished product in the bottle has direct links to ancestral land, something that is not lost on Jonny as he goes about his work.

A lot of effort has been made to ensure the vineyards are certified as Sustainable Vineyards and all the wines are carboNZero-certified.

The result of this hard work is fruit from quite young vines that delivers big flavours with structural elements that come directly from the Moutere clay soils. At this stage, only two of the four newly released wines are made from fruit grown at Whenua Matua (pinot gris and pinot noir), while the sauvignon blanc and chardonnay are made from fruit grown near Brightwater. These, as well as other aromatic-style varieties, are also being grown at Whenua Matua, so eventually the vast majority of wines produced under the Aronui label will be grown there.


Wine part of Maori business portfolio

11/09/2013


The evolution of New Zealand's first Maori-owned wine company from a good idea to a success story.

Okay. You've heard it all before. But it's a story worth retelling, this time in greater detail, because it involves the evolution of New Zealand's first Maori-owned wine company from a good idea to a success story which reflects great credit on everyone involved.

And particular credit on a Maori go- getter named James Wheeler, who I first met when he was still a kid at school.

We did not meet again until many years later - me, a wine writer, he a former HR man with one of New Zealand's biggest tyre-makers and a veteran of 25 years as a part-time soldier who was now travelling the country selling Tohu wines.

In fact, he was essentially Tohu Wines, having been in on the act from the start when his family wondered out loud how it could broadcast its culture to the world and hit on the idea of putting its story, and that of Maori, on the back of a bottle of wine.

The question was how, which led to the involvement of the extended family - a group of four iwi (tribes) involved in the Wakatu Incorporation, which was looking to make the best possible use of its land holdings at the top of the South Island, including Marlborough.

The result was Tohu Wines which in its original form involved two other Maori groups and was launched in 1998 using contract-grown grapes and winemakers.

It was driven originally by Wheeler and his wife Robyn from an office set up in the spare bedroom of their home in Lower Hutt.

And it was from here the imposing figure of the Maori go-getter, smartly dressed in black with a bone carving around his neck, introduced Tohu to New Zealand and, with the assistance of Trade New Zealand, took it to the world.

It's success was immediate and spectacular, especially in the market at which it was aimed.

By 2003, Tohu had lifted its overseas earnings to $4 million a year, picking up a Trade New Zealand award in the process and encouraging its boss to aim for $20 million by 2007.

Given some of the problems since faced by the wine industry that proved to be a bit ambitious but growth, particularly in export markets, has continued. In 1998 Tohu produced just 3200 cases of wine. Today, it is part of Kono, which combines the Wakatu Incorporation's beverage and food businesses and this year expects to produce 150,000 cases of wine (around 80 per cent will be exported) and earn up to $15 million.

Kono has its own vineyards in Marlborough and Nelson, and a winery in the Awatere Valley which produces the Tohu, Aronui and Kono labels.

And James Wheeler?

He is now deputy chairman of the Whakatu Incorporation and a board member of Kono Beverages, who says: "I am proud of what we've done".

And so he should be.

Some new releases from Kono:

Tohu Mugwi 2012 Reserve Sauvignon Blanc, $29.95
A barrel-fermented wine that brings a new dimension (as do they all) to sauvignon blanc. In this case it's a richness, roundness and a variety of characters more closely associated with chardonnay - butterscotch, meal and biscuit - with layers of fruit. Lovely food wine.

Tohu 2013 Awatere Valley Pinot Gris, $21.95
An attractive pinot gris, made this year from fruit grown in the cooler part of the Awatere Valley. Built around fresh pears and a medley of stonefruit shot with minerals. Tastes good and feels good as it flows easily across the palate. Off-dry.

Aronui 2012 Single Vineyard Nelson Chardonnay, $24.95
A mouth-filling, assertive citrus and stonefruit chardonnay from the Brightwater region of Nelson. Tempered with a subtle hint of butterscotch and spice. A clean and expressive wine.

- © Fairfax NZ News


Tohu Wines and Aronui Wines

01/08/2013

Our award winning Tohu Wines now has a sister brand.  Aronui Wines was launched early in 2013 by the whanau who have been brining you award-winning Tohu Wines for over 15 years.

Our award winning Tohu Wines now has a sister brand.  Aronui Wines was launched early in 2013 by the whanau who have been brining you award-winning Tohu Wines for over 15 years. Already Aronui has shown it’s calibre with gold at the Spiegelau International Wine Competition for the 2012 Aronui Single Vineyard Pinot Gris.

The word Aronui derives from the Māori mythological basket of knowledge associated with crafts, arts and working with the land in beneficial ways. This reflects our commitment to caring for the land and our artisanal approach to winemaking. As our owners are kaitiaki (guardians of their natural resources) and focused on sustainable enterprise, both Tohu and Aronui vineyards are certified by Sustainable Wine Growing New Zealand (SWNZ), our company is CEMARS accredited, and our wines are carboNZero certified. 

Whenua Matua (Significant Lands) is the name of our Aronui vineyard. It is located in Nelson’s Moutere Valley – an area fast becoming an aromatics powerhouse. This compliments our Tohu vineyards located in Marlborough, where we continue to produce our Single Vineyard Estate grown wines and our exceptional Kaumatua-Reserve range, named after special elders from within our whanau. 

Distributed by Kono Beverages
PO Box 762, Blenheim, Marlborough         
0800 864 894
beverages@kono.co.nz        
www.TohuWines.co.nz                     
www.AronuiWines.co.nz

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Whanau = family. Māori = indigenous peoples of New Zealand. Kaumauta = respected elder

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