Loyalty behind success
Learning to grow grapes is not a skill learnt by reading a manual, says award winning Marlborough grape grower Jerome Waldron.
Instead it has been about cultivating long-lasting relationships built on trust and loyalty, hard work and a focus on quality.
Mr Waldron and his wife Judy were awarded the Champion Riesling Trophy for the Esk Valley Marlborough Dry Riesling 2011, made with grapes grown on their Rapaura Rd vineyard, at the 2012 Romeo Bragato Wine Awards in Blenheim last month. The annual awards recognise the role of grape-growers and viticulturists in producing high-quality wines.
The Waldrons have had an exclusive contract to grow high-quality parcels of fruit for Villa Maria since they started growing grapes 25 years ago on their 18 hectare vineyard.
Mr Waldron said their unique relationship with Villa Maria worked well for everyone.
"We don't grow grapes to win awards, but winning awards vindicates our philosophy that contract grape growing doesn't need to be about maximum production."
The Waldron's values of loyalty are deeply ingrained in their business. They have used the same spray company and accountant since the day they started the business.
"It's the way I like to do things," he said.
"Part of our philosophy is building those long-term relationships with people, it's an important part of running a long-term business.
They take on three pruners and one wrapper - the same people every year - to help with pruning, but apart from that, the Waldrons do all the work themselves.
Mr Waldron's parents were high country sheep farmers in Canterbury before moving to Marlborough when he was a lad.
He went to Marlborough Boys' College and drove tractors and ploughed fields for farmers for pocket money during the school holidays.
After finishing school he picked up work clearing land and removing fences with Allan Scott when he began developing vineyards. Mr Scott was one of many "pioneers" who adapted their sheep or beef farming skill base to develop the wine industry in Marlborough, he said. "It was good solid gut instinct . . . that doesn't happen until someone bites the bullet and makes it happen, making up the book as they go."
Mr and Mrs Waldron both had full-time jobs when they bought their property, and it took them 10 years working evenings and weekends to finish clearing the knee-high gorse and fully develop the vineyard.
Now they both work on the vineyard full-time, and while there is always something that needs to be done, they love being their own boss.
They have two teenage daughters, Dallas, 15, and Gayle, 17, who he says probably do not realise it, but were lucky to have their father around when they were growing up. "It's hard work, it can be a drag at Christmas when we'd like to be away with the family, and we are stuck here lifting wires. But for 11 months of the year it's great - as long as you're prepared to get out there and do the same job 30,000 times."
They have not been immune to the economic difficulties the industry has experienced during the past four years, although they have been in the game long enough to know how to control their finances and the quality of their grapes, he said.
"We just learned to do things a bit smarter - we haven't cut corners, we are much too fussy for that, but we learned to be more efficient and more watchful of what we do. We've also made use of some of the great innovations such as the mechanised pruners and low-volume sprayers."
The future success of Marlborough's wine industry would depend on people to continue to innovate and create new technologies and opportunities, he said.
"I would like to see the industry focus on value rather than expanding acreage, and continue to evolve and produce products the world wants and are clamouring to get."
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