Tohu on turning 20, winemaking today and the future of Tohu
TOHU RECENTLY CELEBRATED 20 YEARS IN 2018. HOW DOES IT FEEL TO BE PART OF A SUCCESSFUL WINE COMPANY?
I feel really proud. It’s been such a great experience since I started in 2008, with so many amazing moments. Moments such as when our wines win Fine Wine of New Zealand awards make me feel privileged to work with a team where we can produce high quality wines and be recognised by our peers. We had a few rough years like in 2008, when we had one of our toughest vintages, so I’m very proud that we got through that. I think it’s also great that we work for a company, Kono, that has strong values which influences how we treat each other and how we work as a business.
TOHU IS GOING THROUGH AN EVOLUTION. FOR THE FIRST 20 YEARS THERE WAS ONE RANGE – EARLY IN 2019 THIS WILL BE EXPANDED TO A RANGE OF FOUR. TELL ME HOW IT GOT TO THIS STAGE.
Our single vineyard range has always been successful for us so when it came time to explore how our business could grow, we started discussing and working on this concept of a range dedicated to our whenua, our land. We have a passion for winemaking but we also are dedicated to honouring the land and our connection to the land, so it felt right to develop a range that focuses on just that.
Our new Whenua range, which we are just bringing to the market, promises complexity and body – exactly what the region and the climate has given us. We think people who are really into wine will appreciate this range.
We also moved our current white label range into what is now called the Manaaki range.
Manaaki in Māori is about giving, sharing and showing hospitality and this is what this wine range is all about. It represents the relationship the wine holds with our everyday purchaser – buying a wine and sharing it with family and friends. It’s also about the relationship we have with our grape growers who work with us to create the wine in the bottle. These relationships have been around for years and it’s something we regard with much appreciation and respect. Manaaki represents a gift from us to you, the person who drinks our wine. We make it for people to enjoy the taste and experience of the wine.
With the Tohu Rewa Rosé joining the Rewa Blanc De Blancs, the Rewa range has become a range in its own right. There is something very special about sparkling wine from the Marlborough region made in Méthode Traditionnelle. It stands on its own merit against other sparkling wines from around the world and we are proud to be part of the Méthode Marlborough movement.
Finally, we will be developing our new Kaumātua range at the end of this year – so stay tuned.
IN YOUR OPINION, WHAT DO YOU THINK SOME OF THE CHALLENGES THE MARLBOROUGH WINE INDUSTRY AND NZ WINE INDUSTRY ARE FACING?
I think the biggest challenge we are facing globally, and as a wine industry, is climate change. As an industry and as a profession, we rely so much on weather. Trying to manage conditions makes viticulture harder. The environment, unpredictable weather and the extreme changes can make vintages harder and can also make consistency and quality a challenge.
Another issue that was highlighted at a workshop I attended recently is that we are running out of space in the Marlborough region. It’s predicted that in around seven years' time there will be no more space to grow Marlborough grapes.
WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON MARLBOROUGH RUNNING OUT OF LAND SPACE?
If these predictions come true, it may force some players out of the market. Limited supply could also enhance the premium reputation of Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc.
WHAT CHALLENGES DO YOU FACE AS A WINE MAKER?
I mentioned before, the effects of climate change on our environment are an ongoing challenge. Trying to manage forecasts, and impacts of weather such as rain, winds, frosts all add pressure to the wine-making process. Having to plan for the known conditions and be reactive to the one-off weather events has challenged our winemaking process. We have a traditional philosophy towards winemaking and use very traditional winemaking methods at our winery. Our aim is to interfere with the grapes as little as possible. So we have to work with the challenges the grapes, the vintage, and the weather, have given us.
CAN YOU DESCRIBE THE IMPORTANCE OF HAVING A WINERY CLOSE TO THE VINEYARD?
For me, the real benefits of having a winery is the amount of control we have over the style of wine we want to create. We have visibility over every single aspect of the liquid in the bottle, from vineyard to wine-making. It’s also fantastic having our winery in the Awatere Valley – the proximity of the vineyard to the winery means less skin contact between the grape bunches as transit from vineyard and winery isn’t too far.
ORGANIC WINE IS BECOMING MORE POPULAR. WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON THIS?
We have a few blocks in Awatere Valley which are organic. We’re moving towards this method of growing. It’s the way to go and obviously in demand, now our challenge is how to continue to achieve the quantities we need to.
WHAT KIND OF INNOVATIONS WOULD YOU LIKE TO SEE TOHU EXPLORING? WHAT DIRECTION WOULD YOU LIKE TOHU TO TAKE?
As a business we have some well thought out and committed projects in place such as Whenua Ora, our land and water wellness programme. This is an ongoing journey, and I’m looking forward to seeing these initiatives be implemented. We’re in the early stages of this new programme, and we’ll be able to share more as it grows and develops.
I’m also really looking forward to growing the Whenua range as I believe it’s an important element of our story telling and really defines who we are, and our values as a business. In the long term, I’d like to see our Whenua range grow to be the hero range of our Tohu brand. I’d like to increase production while maintaining the quality and premium nature of our wines.
WHAT’S ON THE HORIZON FOR TOHU IN THE NEXT 10 YEARS
I’d like to see us expand our winery and be able to produce more wine – especially the single vineyard range. Expanding the winery will give us more opportunity and control.
Eventually, I’d also like to see our vineyards become fully organic. There are a lot of practices and learnings from Māori culture we can take and implement and learn from to naturally cultivate the land so I’d like to see us be leaders in this space. We’re already taking steps into this direction.
WHICH OPINIONS MATTER TO YOU MOST AS A WINEMAKER?
Getting official industry recognition through awards and reviews is satisfying, and it's great for the team to be recognised in that way for the work that we do. But the feedback that means the most to me comes from friends of mine that make wine. The best kudos I’ve had are when friends text or email me and say “Dude, I’m loving your Rore (reserve Pinot Noir) with my pizza!” That sort of feedback means a lot to me.
The Fine Wines of New Zealand award is significant because it’s not just one vintage and one tasting and one wine show – the award goes back and measures a number of years of quality and consistency. It means a lot to us to be recognised for that long-term consistency.
HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE A STANDARD DAY AT TOHU?
It really varies from the time of the year. From September to February, our grape-growing is happening. We are monitoring the development of the grapes, doing lots of maintenance of the vineyard, like pruning. Around this time of the year, weather watching for frost is a big task for the vineyard managers – they work pretty hard with 4 am starts right before Christmas. Then March to April is harvest. The vineyards are busy with grape pickers and machine-harvesters. During this time the winery is running 24 hours a day, with a day shift and night shift. We’ve got grapes coming in from the vineyards, which are then pressed and put into tanks. May to June sees the end of harvest and is the time when the vineyard takes a break. This is usually around Matariki, which the start of the Māori New Year, and a traditional time for Māori to let their cultivated lands rest in preparation for the next season. Then in July and August, we start preparing the vines for the next vintage, and the whole cycle starts again.
OUTSIDE OF WINEMAKING - WHAT PART OF THIS WINE INDUSTRY THAT INTERESTS YOU?
I’m fascinated by the world of wine. I enjoy tasting wine and I like how each year, a wine will taste different according to the vintage. I’m also interested in wine from a social perspective - how people like to enjoy their wine.