Vineyard Life

What's not to love?


With thanks to Paul Donaldson, General Manager of Pegasus Bay Photo caption: Summer vinery finery at Pegasus Bay
The joys of living on, owning or managing a vineyard are, well, multiple. Setting the obvious aside for a moment, it’s also true that owning a vineyard makes very good commercial sense, even in these crazy times. And you don’t have to be a wine expert or a massive business mogul to achieve this lifestyle – there are many ways to enter the industry at an individual, personal scale. Nowhere in the country illustrates this better than the wine community of Waipara, North Canterbury.


Friends and wine, the older the better

Paul Donaldson describes Waipara as a “boutique region full of interesting providers making interesting wines.” As General Manager of Pegasus Bay, the entirely family-owned, intergenerational winery which has created delicious wine for over 30 years, he knows the region better than many. It’s a place of smallish-scale investments, 4–8 ha blocks, where you’re surrounded by producers creating all the good things of life – wine, cheese, luxury foods, arts and crafts…

Paul describes Waipara as a “great community if people want to get involved – there’s no shortage of small producers happy to share their knowledge. You’re not just getting into wine, you’re getting into a great farming community lifestyle.”

But how to start off if you know nothing about wine? Options for ownership and management of vineyards are flexible. Put simply, you can buy grapes and make the wine, or even just buy wine and bottle it. Or you can contract out your vineyards and harvest to larger scale producers – given the region’s easy road access to the winery giants in Marlborough, this is a highly feasible option.
Bayleys viticultural sales specialist Kurt Lindsay says “As a contract grower you can expect at least a 9 percent return, and if you trade off some risk as a leased block you would still be looking at about 7 percent, it’s a good return in the current market.”


Time makes a wine

Vineyard management has strong appeal for those naturally drawn to sustainable practices. Paul agrees that all true wine producers live in close symbiosis with their soil and their ever-changing local climate. There’s no short cuts possible, whether in starting fresh crops – it’s five years minimum before you get usable grapes – or in “correcting” a grow that’s struggling. Natural methods of counteracting pests and diseases pay off much better in the longterm.


Life is too short to drink bad wine

Even despite the pandemic, the current market is good for wine sales. Kiwis are, ummm how to put this… doing a sterling job of supporting local. As supermarkets will attest, we basically drank our way through lockdown. Even Dry July had less of a presence last year. So while the bar, restaurant and hospitality trade is still under pressure, it’s home sales that are carrying vineyards through. We’re putting more effort into our home culinary creations, and we want quality local wine to go with them.

Wine exports are still going ahead, belying the industry’s initial doom-forecasting. Up to the end of August 2020, NZ’s wine exports enjoyed a solid 10% growth in volume and 11% growth in value against the same period last year – extraordinary.

Our sector’s fame for producing proven quality alongside affordability has paid off. The only other country to experience an increase in exports was Argentina, but its 48% surge in volumes was undermined by a 2% fall in value.


Raising a glass

When asked what brings him joy about his vineyard lifestyle, Paul talks about both the pride and humility that comes from other people loving his family’s creations. “When someone comes up to you in the tasting room, from the other side of the world, to tell you that they like and remember something you’ve made. For most people, wine is about experience, not consumption – so they like to share their experience. They remember the marriage proposal, and they remember the glass of our Riesling that went with it. It’s an absolute thrill.”
Of course we won’t all be this successful straight away – but vineyard life is possible and attainable in Canterbury for those who seek it. Who knows what you’ll uncork…

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