The Lowdown: Lex Thomson and Franzi Grab of Tua Marina Vineyards

Lex Thomson and Franzi Grab of Tua Marina Vineyards
DAVID JAMES PHOTOGRAPHY

Lex Thomson and Franzi Grab of Tua Marina Vineyards

Lex Thomson and Franzi Grab of Tua Marina Vineyards are taking the road less travelled when it comes to crafting quality wine.

 Tell us about Tua Marina Vineyards - where did it all begin?

As long as we can remember both of us have been interested in wine, food and wine and wine culture. Lex had a career as a chef in Australia prior to his return to New Zealand, and I was working in the fruit and vegetables industry in Switzerland before emigrating to New Zealand.

Tua Marina Arneis at the Marlborough Wine and Food Festival.
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Tua Marina Arneis at the Marlborough Wine and Food Festival.

We met at Lincoln University while participating in the university's Viticulture and Oenology programme in the early 2000s. An initial sojourn in Central Otago was a valuable experience but the warmer climate of Marlborough appealed.

We bought our home and vineyard on the Tua Marina Track 10 years ago, already mostly planted with Sauvignon blanc. A half ha block that had been left unplanted by the original owners seemed ideal for an experimental planting of a variety other than Sauvignon blanc.

You focus on a very niche wine - arneis. How did that come about?

Initially we were just grape growers, but something was missing. It felt that we were too far away from the end product. So we thought that making and marketing wine would be fun. Well, it kind of is, but it is also hard work.

We wanted to grow something different. We both love Mediterranean food, so we were looking for a variety that matches well with this kind of food. While travelling in Piedmont Italy, we were impressed by the local Arneis wine and thought the variety, known in Piedmont as the Little Rascal, may be suitable for the Marlborough terroir. In 2008 we planted a small block of the variety in our boutique vineyard in Marlborough.

You have been certified as a BioGro organic operation from the 2014 harvest. Is this consumer driven, or part of your own philosophy? Do you think we will see a greater emphasis on organics in the next few years?

Both really. We live on the property and don't want to put anything nasty in the environment around us. We also want to craft our Arneis in harmony with nature and with minimal intervention in the winery. Organic management is helping us to increase biodiversity in the vineyard and improve soil fertility. At the same time organics is one means of differentiating our wine from the competition.

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I was lucky to be part of the organic market when it took off in Switzerland in the 1990s. We know that consumer demand for organic products is growing both internationally and in New Zealand. There is certainly increasing interest from growers as well. It's wonderful to have a growing organic network supporting each other. Organic Winegrowers New Zealand is organising another organic and biodynamic conference in June this year. The first one two years ago was a huge success.

The age-old question: is good wine made in the vineyard or the winery?

Good question and part of our regular debate at home. But really, if you do it right in the vineyard, you don't need to do much in the winery. Sorry any winemakers in the audience. Organic management provides great quality fruit, resulting in great wines. A number of the top producers in New Zealand and Europe are now growing organically or biodynamically.

Are there any other grape varieties you see as having real potential in Marlborough?

We have a great climate here. Many varieties grow well. Because of the size of the industry we are dependent on the demand in our export market. Worldwide there is a huge range of varieties, and we would like to see a bigger diversity grown here. Other similar varieties from a Mediterranean climate are already grown in New Zealand, such as Viognier, Albarino, Vermentino.

Where do you see Tua Marina Vineyards in 10 years' time?

Hopefully we will have more time to enjoy our place and wine with friends.

By that time we will have proved that it is possible to run a lifestyle vineyard profitably and improve the vineyard ecosystem at the same time. We may even take the opportunity to experiment with other varieties once the vineyard is paid off.

Friends are coming over, there's a bottle of Tua Marina Vineyards Arneis in the fridge - what food should I be looking to pair it with?

Our Arneis is great with Mediterranean food and matches perfectly with fresh and local products from Marlborough. Typically we would pair it with fish or shellfish, for example risotto with clams using olive oil. Other delicious options are pasta with lots of vegetables, olives and pine nuts or a salad Niçoise or Panzanella. The aromatic wine also handles well robust flavours such as fennel and artichokes.

 - The Marlborough Express

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