Thursday, 01 February 2018 08:13

Family vines: Judy and Rosie Finn

Written by  Brought to you by Roots, Shoots & Fruits
Judy, Rosie and Tim Finn. Judy, Rosie and Tim Finn.

In 1978 Judy and Tim Finn were contemplating an around the world trip on-board a yacht. Instead they chose to purchase a plot of land in Upper Moutere and take on the task of establishing vineyards and later a winery.

These days Neudorf Wines are sought the world over, a testament to the Finns dedication over nearly 40 years. 

Judy is the current chair of The Family of XII – a collection of twelve vineyards who work together to raise the profile of fine New Zealand wine around the world, and is still
involved in the running of Neudorf Wines with husband Tim.

Daughter Rosie, who has only ever known the life of living on a vineyard, had no ambitions to follow in her parents’ footsteps. With degrees in Design and Photography, she spent three years in London, returning home last year. She is now carving out her own place in the company, as the Brand and Marketing Manager as well as being in charge of European Sales. She has also just been appointed to the New Zealand Winegrowers’ Marketing Committee.

This is the story of Judy and Rosie Finn.

Judy Finn, 66

Tim had just finished his Masters in Animal Behaviour at Te Kauwhata, which was next door to what was then the Government Viticultural Research Station. We became friends with the team working there and decided that is what we wanted to do, grow grapes and make wine. 

Tim was adamant he wanted North facing clay soils (so we could dry farm the grapes rather than use irrigation) and we found this property near the village of Upper Moutere. It was about the size we wanted, 25 acres. We decided to buy it. It was 1978 when we came out here, and planted the first vines, then we went back to Wellington to work for a year to make some more money and rented the land out. I look back on those days and it was extraordinary hard work. We weren’t entirely sure what we were doing and I think we had about six jobs between us and six mortgages.  Interest rates were 23 percent with the Development Finance Corporation, hence all those jobs. It was also so hard because there was so little vinicultural gear in New Zealand.  For instance, Tim had to build a grafting machine because we couldn’t get one, and there were no narrow tractors that would go down rows. So it was a case of us having to fend for ourselves. Thankfully Tim is very practical and he built the grafting machine, then we turned our downstairs loo into a hot box and kept the grafted vines down there.

I couldn’t do it now, no way. But I think our generation had just come through the 60s and there was a sense of optimism and invention, and we were encouraged to think outside the square,

While I had grown up with a family that drank wine in the 50s, I was naive to an extraordinary extent. And  the benchmark was not too high to be honest, so it appeared achievable. There were so few wineries and there didn’t seem to be a right or a wrong way to do things. We would sell out in 48 hours – they were crazy days. I remember a winery telling me a few years later, that their bank would open for them on a Saturday, so they could bank their cash. There was no widespread use of credit cards back then, and people were buying with cash – so the bank would open especially so they could deposit their cellar door earnings. 

To be honest though, the New Zealand wine industry is lucky to have such a supportive population. New Zealanders are very loyal to New Zealand wine. They adopted wine very quickly and gave the industry the lift off it needed.

My role over the years – it would probably be an exaggeration to say it was marketing because I didn’t know anything about it. I still don’t. I think that was pretty common and to a certain extent, families like us have done it themselves and developed a kit bag of skills, or so called skills to make it work. Tim was the back bone of the company.

I never took to the road to sell wine, as a small winery we just didn’t have the luxury of that time. We were working in the vineyard, Tim was making wine and I was learning to run a business, which I had no native skills at. Eventually we got somebody to help us. It was then we realised that we couldn’t keep doing this forever, so we had to buy a little more land so we were a bit bigger and could employ staff. We owe a great deal to these splendid people who helped us over the past 39 years.

When Rosie came back from London, she started taking over my role. I have always made it quite clear that the job was there if she wanted it, but she is also free to go at any stage if she wants to. The wine industry isn’t just a job – it is life and you have to be involved and love it.

We never expected her to join us because her interest has always been in design and photography. I just want to pinch myself that she is here now, because I am so lucky.

I remember many, many years ago Tim and I visited a cellar door and there was this guy who owned the winery sitting in the corner with a hugely grumpy face on, pouring wine. I walked away and said to Tim, never will we get like that. And we haven’t, we still love what we do. But you have to let the next generation in and explore other ways. I’m learning to take a back seat. That can be difficult.

Rosie is very sociable and it is just terrific to have that young energy in the company. She brings a precision to the job - that is part of her design background. She does what I think today they call brand management and she is very focused, especially on everything looking as good as she can make it look.  

We have always been conscious of presentation as a company, but she has taken it to another level. I’m very proud of what she has achieved.

It feels extraordinary to have Rosie taking charge and the company still being in family hands. It’s a situation we never thought would happen. It is joyful to be honest.

Rosie Finn, 25

Tim and Jude planted this vineyard in 1978 and the first vintage was 1981 and then I came along in 1992. I was an April baby – so literally I am a vintage baby. This is all I have known until I went to University. But I remember when I was very little, I wanted to be all of the things that little girls want to be, but I didn’t want to lose the vineyard. So I had this dream of having a vet clinic where they could have a glass of wine, while they waited. That was when I was really young.

Then at high school I fell in love with the arts. Tim is really into photography as a hobby and Jude is naturally creative. So I sort of absorbed all that growing up.

I studied design and Majored in photography at uni.  When I did my Honours papers, I did a big exploration into modern art versus fashion photography and just where that line is. So I had a dream of going to London and being a fashion photographer. My naïve idea as a girl who grew up in Upper Moutere, was walking into the offices of British Vogue in London and they would employ me. 

I never looked at wine making although I have this huge appreciation of wine being an art science. But my family always told me to go and do whatever I wanted. I’m really grateful there was never any pressure from Tim and Jude to get into wine. They were awesome.

When I left uni I came home for about six months and managed the cellar door for the summer and loved it. But I didn’t want that year after university to slip between my fingers,. So I bought a one way ticket to London. I was 21. I knew one girl in the city, she was the elder sister of a girlfriend of mine. She was amazing. She had a spare room in their house, so I had somewhere to stay. She had a car pick me up at the airport and she took the day off work and helped me set up a bank account and a sim card and got me on my feet.

Then this amazing social media thing happened. Just before I was going Jude made this Facebook status, probably about the time I was about to leave. She said Rosie is about to move to London and she doesn’t know anybody and she doesn’t have a home or a job and she really loves coffee, food, wine, fashion and art. If anyone has the time to have a coffee with her, that would be awesome. Mel (Brown from New Zealand Cellars) saw it and said she would have a coffee with me, which we did and we got on like a house on fire. She helped me get my first job at a wine bar and then I started working one day a week for her and then moved to full time.

My role when I started was doing social media digital content. Then we did the Crowd Funding campaign to open the shop in Brixton. I ended up being the store manager for her in the shop. Mel was amazing and she gave me so much confidence to believe in what I was doing At wine tastings she always asked my opinion, so very quickly it went from not just working with wine, but tasting and learning and extending my palate. I worked for her for nearly three years, and the only reason I left was because I couldn’t renew my Visa.

I wasn’t ready to come back to New Zealand, I wanted a five-year extension. It was a role where I was growing in a job I loved, in a city that I had come to know and with a great group of friends. But there was nothing I could do about it, the decision was made for me.

So I came home. I knew I would come back to Neudorf for a bit. Tim and Jude had been over in June and we had talked about what I was going to do. They had said there was a job at home if I was looking for something. I moved home for a bit to see how it went and the role just got bigger and bigger. I put in a proposal to the Family of XII to do their social media and that came through. It got busier and it snowballed into this career move which I never expected.

Things were going really well and I thought, okay I am now going to move out of Mum and Dad’s, so I found a house and a cat – which is the cutest – and now I have no plans to leave.

I could not have imagined myself being here at the age of 25 with a future. I remember talking to a good family friend when I got back and I was saying I can’t believe it has happened so quickly. He said, ‘oh really? Everyone else can. We all expected it.’

Maybe that is why I am loving it so much, because I wasn’t expecting it. It has happened organically.

Jude is an excellent boss and so good to learn from. She is bright and funny and very creative. 

She is strong willed, but really open minded and that is what makes her such a good boss. One of the things that makes this situation work is I try to get here early and have a coffee with Tim and Jude, where we talk about what is going to happen during the day. That is probably the most important 30 minutes of the day. It means Jude doesn’t have to come down to the office first thing, and allows her to step back. 

The handover has been the best handover anyone could ask for, because she is still there to answer any questions I may have, but she still gets to step back and enjoy her own time. She is preparing me in a way that not many people get to experience. She has worked with all these people for 30 years and is a treasure trove of information. 

If she were to just retire, that would likely be lost. You can never hand those sorts of memories over in a formal way or write them down. You can only pass them over the way she is doing with me. It makes me very lucky. 


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