Tuesday, 16 April 2024 13:25

Women in Wine: Sarah-Kate Dineen

Written by  Claire Finlayson
Sarah-Kate Dineen holding the Heritage Rosebowl trophy at the 2023 National Wine Awards Aotearoa New Zealand. Sarah-Kate Dineen holding the Heritage Rosebowl trophy at the 2023 National Wine Awards Aotearoa New Zealand.

You'd be hard-pressed to find a more glee-rich photo than that of Sarah-Kate Dineen holding the Heritage Rosebowl trophy at the 2023 National Wine Awards Aotearoa New Zealand.

Her grin was intensified by the fact that it was the second year running that she and husband Dan Dineen took this coveted hunk of silverware home. They also bagged Winemaker of the Show and won a trophy for their 2023 East Block Riesling.

There’s a bittersweet note buried behind that photo’s megawatt smile, though; the man who kicked this Maude adventure off 30 years ago – Sarah-Kate’s dad Terry Wilson – died seven months before the gratifying back-to-back Rosebowl triumph.

Sarah-Kate says her father was one of many doctors who’ve fallen vine-wards. “It suits their analytical brain to figure out what’s happening and come up with a solution.” Also, vines don’t moan out loud about their ailments. “They don’t confuse you with emotions. It’s more straightforward – they show their symptoms and you treat them.” The Wilsons leaned on local nous to help steer their Wānaka grape course. “They asked Robin Dicey (a consultant viticulturist for the area at that time) to find a site for them. Then Rolfe Mills (founder of Rippon vineyard) came over and made sure it was OK.” They then did everything bar the winemaking at Maude Wines, established on four hectares of steep, north-facing land in Maungawera Valley, with plantings that included cuttings from original Riesling vines grown at Rippon.

When it came to choosing her own career, Sarah-Kate almost chose the doctor route: “I thought I’d follow in my father’s footsteps and do medicine – but didn’t quite have the brains or diligence for it!” She opted instead for a post-graduate degree in wine science and viticulture at Lincoln University, before heading across the ditch to spend a heady decade in Australia’s Hunter Valley. “It was a brilliant place to learn your winemaking craft,” says Sarah- Kate, who gained more than a robust wine education there; she gained a Dan Dineen too – a man with quite the shiny wine report card: “He’d been to Roseworthy College in Adelaide and had a CV of amazing Australian wineries under his belt.” The pair worked together at Brokenwood Wines – a place famous for its culture of nurturing young winemakers and sharing wines over a harvest lunch. “It was a great learning ground.”

When they came back to New Zealand to get married at Rippon in 2003, Sarah- Kate and Dan clocked the region’s new viticultural vigour. Wine industry friends who came across from Australia for the couple’s nuptials were wowed by what they saw and predicted an imminent Dineen loss for the Hunter Valley. “At that stage Central Otago was really on the map – it was exciting. The quality of what was coming off these young vines was massive and the calibre of young winemakers was exceptional.”

Those wine-savvy Australian friends weren’t wrong: the Dineens moved to Wānaka in 2005 and became the second generation of Maude-ers. Had Terry and Dawn lobbied for this excellently seamless succession plan? “I think they always hoped for it but never presumed,” Sarah- Kate says. “When we told them we were coming home they were delighted – and probably quite scared as well.” Since then, she and Dan have built a winery, developed the Maude Wines brand, started a family (two daughters, Stella and Mae) and expanded their vineyards beyond the Riesling, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay they produce from Mt Maude. They lease Mohawk Hill in Cromwell for Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Gris, and have 6ha of Pinot Noir at Two Degrees Vineyard in Queensberry.

The Dineen marital winemaking duties tend to fall along grape variety lines: “Dan will put the final touches on the Pinots and I’ll have the last say on aromatics and white wines.” On the Maude website, Sarah-Kate is described as “a self-confessed dreamer and schemer” and “Energizer Bunny”, while Dan is “the Devil’s advocate”, Sarah-Kate explains: “I tend to be wild with my ideas and he brings me back into line.”

Vineyard Manager Brendon Wilson is another Energizer Bunny moderator in the Maude mix. His website profile reads: “As the older brother of Sarah-Kate he is probably the only other person in the winery and family apart from Danno who can come close to getting the upper hand in a ‘discussion’ with Sarah-Kate. He used to do it by dangling her over the toilet but now uses more mature methods like silence.” Which is to say, the culture at Maude is anything but stuffy. “Dan prefers a flat management style”, Sarah-Kate says. “There’s not really a hierarchy at Maude. And meetings are like margarine – a waste of time.” While the winery and vineyard are extremely labour-intensive, fun is always paramount. “We bring winemakers in from around the world to help out every harvest. We have a chef and we put on lunches and a bracket of wines to inspire discussion.” It’s that same nurturing they experienced at Brokenwood – they’re paying it forward.

Sarah Kate Dineen Photo Credit Mickey Ross FBTW

Sarah-Kate Dineen in the vineyard. Photo Credit: Mickey Ross.

This year marks a big milestone for Mt Maude. “The vines have been in the ground for 30 years now – and unirrigated for about 15, which is very rare for Central Otago. The vineyard is getting better and better all the time. The fact that Mum and Dad had the foresight to plant a vineyard and the dedication to find the right site - we’re just reaping the benefits of that now.” Maude’s team now spans three Wilson generations. Dawn is still there with her grape radar poised: “We have to hold her back from doing too much – she’s a gogetter. She’s always out there assessing what we’re doing in the vineyard. She’ll come in when I’m knees-deep in the winery and tell me that the East Block Reisling is ready to pick and I’ll say, ‘oh that’s rubbish, Mum. We’re still two weeks away’. She’ll say, ‘nope, it’s ready now’ – and she’ll be right.” The third generation is ready to add further familial buttressing, with Sarah- Kate’s nephew Sam Wilson returning to the role of Assistant Winemaker at Maude after a brief dalliance with brewing. “He’s 28 so it’s the right time to come back and settle in. It’s a great succession plan.”

But what of the pair’s 16-year-old science-keen eldest daughter Stella? Might she tag in on the winemaking one day too? At the moment, says Sarah-Kate, it’s a hard ‘no’. “She’s told me there’s no way on earth she’ll ever be involved in the wine industry. She’s said, ‘Mum, I’m really sorry but I want to live in a city and I’d quite like to dress nicely.’”

Clearly, Mum’s shorts and gumboots just don’t cut it.

More like this

The Profile: Chris Scott

Chris Scott was driven by boredom when he picked up his dad’s copy of the Cuisine New Zealand Wine Annual in the 1990s.

Wine to the People

Puffin wine bar, tucked away in Wellington’s Ghuznee Street, champions some of New Zealand’s smallest biodynamic and organic winegrowers. In the lead up to its second Superwild event on 17 February, owner Hannah Wells tells us the how, why and who of Puffin.

» Latest Print Issues Online


Editorial: Plenty of tears

Editorial: Plenty of tears

OPINION: Rachael Cook is the smiling grape grower on this month’s cover, tending vines on the miniscule, beautiful and dream-driven vineyard…

Popular Reads

Ten years of Méthode Marlborough

New Zealand wine enthusiasts have a deepening understanding and growing appreciation of sparkling wine, says Mel Skinner, Chair of Méthode Marlborough…

Sustainability Success

Taking two sustainability awards at two events on a single evening felt like "true recognition" of the work Lawson's Dry…