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


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


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            

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

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