Soljans Estate Winery has a history that dates back to 1927, when Bartul Soljan arrived in New Zealand from Croatia. The first Soljans’ wine label appeared 10 years later with Bartul’s son Frank leading the way.
Since then, three further generations have played a role in making the company what it is today. Tony, his two daughters Tonia and Lisa, and now Tonia’s two children, Amber and Tyler. Five generations in total – something of an anomaly in New Zealand wine terms.
That anomaly is not lost on Tony, who as owner of the company, understands how difficult it is to maintain a legacy.
“Usually it falls over before (you reach five generations) or people retire. Winemaking is hard graft and about long-term goals, not short-term. Some people like that, others don’t, but it is challenging. This is pretty jolly special. It is unique and if it will ever happen again in New Zealand, I don’t know.”
To celebrate that uniqueness, Soljans have just released a new wine range – aptly named Fifth Generation Series. The first wine in the series is a 2016 Chardonnay, which both Amber and Tyler have played a role in creating.
The idea came from Tony himself, Tyler says.
“A while ago he was pushing for us to be more publicly involved in the wine side of things. He approached us after we saw how good the 2016 vintage was and said he had an idea of how to make it special.”
“The second he started talking about us having an active involvement, we both flew with it,” Amber says. “He suggested we could look at designing the label. Then we asked if we could make it, could we decide everything, he said absolutely.”
“It was a dream really,” Tyler adds.
While everything had to have “Tony’s stamp of approval”, the two siblings were given the chance to influence the end product. For example, Fifth Generation Chardonnay spent 18 months in oak, longer than any of Soljan’s previous Chardonnays. It then spent 12 months in bottle before being released earlier this year.
Only four barrels were made (around 1200 bottles) and while Chardonnay is the first in the series, Amber in particular has plans for many more varieties to be added.
“If we have any say on it, we will be getting a whole bunch of different wines in that range.”
There is one caveat though, the Fifth Generation wines will only be made in years when the fruit turns out to be exceptional.
The Soljans who all admit to being very close, find working together has some major benefits.
“It means you can be brutally honest,” Amber says. “If you don’t agree with something, you don’t need to worry you will annoy your boss. You can just walk in and say – ‘You know Poppa, I think this is weird.’ And he will take that.”
For Tony, his two grandchildren have brought fresh enthusiasm and new ideas to the business.
“They are looking at the industry as 20-year-olds, not from my end of the age scale. I’m an old fellow now, I am one of the dinosaurs,” he jokes. “They are out wining and dining a lot more than I am, so they know what the market place is doing. They are up with the play, marketing wise, they have ideas, concepts and suggestions. In fact they keep firing them at me like a machine gun.”
While Tony and wife Colleen’s two daughters are members of the board, it is the grandchildren he says that will keep the Soljan wine name going.
“If they weren’t showing an interest, what the heck is all this for? To have them with the enthusiasm, drive and fresh ideas is a major plus.”
The Fifth Generation Series, Home Vineyard Chardonnay is available online and at the cellar door.