A New Zealand Herald columnist, who questioned the retirement of former Fonterra chairman John Wilson in July last year, is…
Blink and you’ll miss it. Not far enough out of Bay View that, between the road and a warm pie from the garage, you’ve got a spare eye to take in the roadsigns; and too close to Bay View that, if coming from Taupo or Gisborne, you’re too focused on your eventual destination to be looking for distraction, you’ll find Wishart winery.
It’s located on a perpendicular turn off in a 100Kmh zone between the old Esk Valley winery and fruit juicers “Simply Squeezed”, which is just how you feel when trying to pick out the driveway with a logging truck expanding in the rear view mirror.
For this reason the small winery has not been granted permission to have a cellar door. Indeed, the last unplanned visit by a motorist was in 2016, when an out-of-control truck ploughed through some vines and came to rest on the Spanish Mission-style veranda of the small winery.
Back then, the Hawke’s Bay wine scene wasn’t feeling too flash. Despite the promise of Trinity Hill’s acquisition by American wine suit Charles Banks, Crossroads was up for sale and Pask wasn’t far behind.
Robbie Bird - the founder of Wishart Estate in 1998 - had had his wine business liquidated in 2015 and would declare bankruptcy in 2017.
It was easy to think gloomy thoughts back then. But pulling up to Wishart in early May 2018, there was a different air.
The grass has grown over the skid marks out front. The tiled patio looks like it’s straight out of a Spaghetti Western, only minus the snoozing Mexican and lame dog.
The only dog there is Sam, Julianne Brogden’s partner’s dog, and he’s not coming out of her car. He eyes me briefly and returns to sleep, chin on the armrest. It’s wet out.
Julianne, who most people call Julz, has set up with long-time pal and mentor Kate Radburnd in the neat little winery for the 2018 vintage. They’re due to stay for another two.
When I meet them, along with Rachel Barclay (who looks after accounts and admin) they’re a box of birds. Not the best choice of phrase given that when I broach the all-woman winery angle I’m rightly - and in terms that leave no room for misinterpretation - shot down, but one that encapsulates the mood.
Both Kate and Julz are running their businesses out of the winery. Since leaving Pask this time last year, Kate was looking for somewhere to set up a new venture and, after reviewing several options, found the vacant Wishart through Julz.
Julz left Pask at the start of 2018 in order to focus on her brand, Collaboration Wines, which she set up in 2010. She also has other winemaking projects.
“We’ve thoroughly enjoyed working here,” says Radburnd. “It’s very small, we’re doing hand-picked lots of fruit. We feel ahead of the game. It’s been an absolute pleasure.”
Kate has processed 35 tons of fruit - a departure from the Pask days in that she has exclusively dealt with growers, of which it has been “a delight”, she tells me.
She isn’t in a position to tell me what the name of her new brand is (Pask still owns the Kate Radburnd Wines brand and she insists the new venture will be a completely different concept to the eponymous label), but this is due to be announced soon.
“We are beginning with four wines and the aim is to have a tight, focused range,” she says. “A Barrel Fermented Chardonnay, a Merlot-Cabernet and Syrah - all from Hawke’s Bay - and a Martinborough Pinot Noir.
“Small parcels of barrel aged wines made with great care.” Indeed, most of the winery’s tanks have been moved outside, making space for barrels.
“[The vintage] has been seamless,” she adds.
For her part, Julz has put 23 tons of fruit through the small facility. Collaboration Wines has five wines in the portfolio and, as well as a domestic clientele, exports to Japan, Singapore, and, as of last year, France.
A far cry from the one ton of Cabernet she made in 2010. By her own admission, Julz came to a crossroads last year.
“I couldn’t continue to work full time (at Pask) and grow the business.” she says.
“Also, financially, the company has reached a point where I could take an income from it... A friend suggested Wishart. It felt right and ticked all the boxes, I just didn’t need full use of the winery. So I approached Kate. That got the ball rolling.”
The ball will continue to roll for another two vintages, at which point they say they’ll take stock. As for the lack of cellar door - that’s not a problem.
“Don’t want one,” says Julz. “Appointment only tastings with me.”
“It suits us down to the ground,” says Radburnd.
The lack of bustle at the front door also suits the sleepy Sam. As I leave, Julz has to coax him out of the warm fug in the station wagon in order to stretch his legs.
He is as enthusiastic about my departure as he was at my arrival. I can’t say I hold it against him.