Tuesday, 19 December 2023 15:25

Land Custodians: Devoted grapegrowers a 'tonic' to Hawke's Bay wine

Written by  Sophie Preece
Some of the winemakers working with Two Terraces gather for a media tasting. Photo Credit: Richard Briner Some of the winemakers working with Two Terraces gather for a media tasting. Photo Credit: Richard Briner

Show up at Two Terraces vineyard during harvest, and you’ll find an array of orange cones and nametags, a platter of piping hot scones, and a kaleidoscope of plans and potential.

The cones are there to ensure that 15 winemakers working with 45 parcels get the right fruit from the right place at the right time, whether it’s a half row of Chenin Blanc or Gamay from the lower terrace of the 20-hectare Hawke’s Bay vineyard, or a section of Albariño or Chardonnay from the upper one.

The scones are baked by Linda Quinn to fuel the community she and her husband Ian have built since 2015, when they bought an arid sheep farm on the Mangatahi Terraces and planted a patchwork of varieties to suit their tastes, the land, and the winemakers they wanted to work with.

Myriad varieties, styles and philosophies emerge from this place, so that the same grapes from the same block, in some cases picked on the same day, produce wildly different wines. “The last thing we want is six or seven winemakers making the same wine,” Ian says. “We actively look for winegrowers who want to do things differently.”

The Quinn’s dream was that the vineyard would be a haven for independent and unique winemakers, and that one day they’d read its name on a bottle of wine. They didn’t wait long, with the first Two Terraces single vineyard wine released after their inaugural vintage. By spring 2023 more than a dozen wines had Two Terraces front and centre on the label, and there’ll be more than 20 after upcoming releases, Ian says. “Our goal is really to continue to focus on that quality, and building the reputation of the vineyard.”

They’ve found a niche position amid a burgeoning community of bespoke wine producers in Hawke’s Bay, and are truly passionate about playing a role in every one of their wines, he adds. “They really need growers like us to be focussed on doing what we do well.”

The couple have been “a real tonic for the industry”, says Rod Easthope Of Easthope Family Winegrowers, reflecting on a traditional divide between grape growers selling fruit and winemakers seeking it. “It was always an antagonistic relationship, in terms of what you want from the fruit versus what they are prepared to do.” Two Terraces is “completely different” from that model. “They say, ‘tell us what you want and we’ll dial it up in the vineyard’.”

Dan Brennan of Decibel Wines says it begins with the Quinn’s love of wine. “They want single vineyard wines from this place and you can’t say that for every grower. Some are good growers, but they might not necessarily know or desire to be involved in the finished product.”

Ian and Linda Quinn Two Terraces Photo by Richard Brimer FBTW

Ian and Linda Quinn. Photo by Richard Briner.

Ian took up extramural wine studies while living in Wellington, to take his mind off his work in telecommunications, and continued them in Hong Kong, where they lived for more than two years. He started with wine appreciation, followed by winemaking, then finally papers in viticulture, which he imagined was akin to gardening, “which I don’t really like”. Instead, the science of growing grapes captivated him. “I pretty quickly worked out there was easily 20 years of learning in viticulture, so we decided we would buy some land and plant a vineyard.”

The couple bought the rundown, bony block of land at Maraekakaho, where 30cm of silt loam, including some volcanic ash, lie on 30 to 40 metres of alluvial gravel laid down by the Ngaruroro River in the last ice age. The planting process, which began in 2016, was “organic” in nature, Ian explains. “Partly based on who we wanted to work with, partly based on the suitability of the site and the climate, and really what we enjoyed as well."

They quickly decided that they didn’t want to grow beyond their 20ha, “which is enough to make it a full-time job and sort of run with one tractor and one operator, being myself,” Ian says. “So we really have to focus on maximising the value out of smaller blocks of grapes.”

His studies through Eastern Institute of Technology had sold him on the importance of soil heath and biodiversity, and Two Terraces is a mix of BioGro certified organic blocks and those in conversion, with plans for a 2ha regenerative organic block of Chardonnay, in coordination with the winemaker who buys that fruit.

They love such interactions with the winemakers, all of whom bring a different lens to the fruit and what can be done with it. Discussions range from vineyard management to winemaking style to labelling and marketing, with the Quinns organising tastings and gatherings for the Two Terraces network. “We don’t kick the gates shut after the fruit leaves,” Linda says.

It makes for a complicated business, and on any given day of vintage there might be half a dozen winemakers organising their pick, directed by cones and fuelled by scones. “From a management point of view we probably don’t want to go too much more,” Ian says, somewhat uncertainly. “That said, there are still people out there I would love to work with.”

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