“Immersing myself in the rural New Zealand lifestyle was like sliding into a warm bath – and then finding all your bath toys under the foam.”
As the back garden for Wellington, the appeal of Wairarapa is the many discoveries and possibilities that can be made here, which are subtle and not in your face. It is what makes the region so down to earth and welcoming to many types of people.
That is how I experienced coming to Martinborough in 2003, after finishing my University studies in Christchurch, where I found my first job in the local wine industry. A friend of mine was working for Margrain Vineyard at the time and always praised this area – so he really made the decision for me. Upon coming here, it was never my intention to stay and adopt the New Zealand life, as there were other places to go and discover. I had left Holland on many occasions for studies and travels – but the intimacy and connectedness in Wairarapa was something I had not experienced anywhere else. I discovered it was the people that made the difference, and were the real diamonds. And with the many possibilities in the wine industry available at the time, I felt like I could make a contribution, and decided to try to stay longer.
Establishing myself in a new country proved challenging at times, but those challenges were perhaps discoveries in myself too. Without a safe place or home to easily fall back on, it was work ethic and attitude that were going to set me apart from others to give me a real chance. What certainly made the difference and helped me put down new roots was meeting my partner Rachel. Together, we had some adventures within New Zealand and Italy, mainly to further my career and understanding of winegrowing. Eventually, it was Shayne and Poppie, who previously formed the team at Dry River and who are now at Poppies in Martinborough, who convinced Neil McCallum – Dry River’s founder and former winemaker – to welcome me on board.
When I finished my degree and was ready to gain experience, I curiously asked a fellow winemaker from university what it takes to grow and make wine. “Just live for it and give it everything,” was his great response.
And I remember Clive Paton from Ata Rangi once saying that working in this segment of the industry is all about having a certain mindset. For me that is having a clear vision, to make no compromise on what you believe in, and to battle it out. I think the most interesting part is that beliefs are changeable, they are influenced by anything you are open to. And the ability to implement that and see the response is why I love growing wine.
Here in Martinborough I consider wine a part of our life, a lifestyle to immerse yourself in, and that is easy to get lost in. However, climbing the Tararua ranges and looking back over the valley, gathering food in the ocean or bush, playing rugby or some social soccer, it is obvious wine is only a cog in the wheel that is Wairarapa’s culture.