More to winemaking than making wine


The wine industry has come a long way since I was a kid growing up; even further in a much shorter time since I did.

In fact, you could say the industry - represented by the people who grow the grapes and make the wine - has grown up too.

Winemakers now recognise this is not just about planting vineyards, building fancy wineries and producing wines they hope will win medals and customers. They have realised that they have a much wider role to play in the general scheme of things, especially where the local economy relies so heavily on tourism, as indeed New Zealand's does.

In many cases wineries are the attraction. Even more so since Vidals, in Hawke's Bay, opened New Zealand's first winery restaurant 30 years ago, paving the way for others to do the same. But it took a newcomer to the industry 15 years later to recognise the much wider connection between wine and food and to convince others of the importance of both in what he called a new "experience" economy.

His name was Graeme Avery, a big, deliberately-spoken man who turned his liking for wine into an interest after meeting Ross Spence (of Matua Valley) when he moved his medical publishing business from Wellington to Auckland in the late 1970s. It was an interest that grew as his business did the same and he was exposed to wine and food regions, particular in the Old World.

Such was the connection when he sold his business in 1996 (publishing revenue was $100 million, greater than the total value of New Zealand's wine exports at the time) he decided to produce some wine of his own. The result was Sileni Estates (named for the group of forest spirits in Greek mythology known for their unrestrained revelry) centred on a new and imposing winery and extensive plantings in The Bridge Pa Triangle, southwest of Hastings. It included a restaurant (now a function venue) as well as a cellar door cum epicurian centre cum gourmet food store where the goodies can be transformed into a platter and served with wine or coffee.

He, with the support of his Gaby, has since been instrumental in launching the Hawke's Bay farmers' market, which has led to others around the country. He has also given his time, resources and money to the Wine Country brand, the Food Trail and other initiatives that have helped to change the face of the Bay's tourism. Hence his award last week by the Hawke's Bay Tourism Industry Association of its first ever Outstanding Contributor Award to go with the New Zealander of the Year Award and an honorary doctorate for other contributions, to tourism, health, business and sport, which have included huge amounts of time and money.

The latest award was accepted by his wife. He was overseas following the advice he gives to others: "Get out of your own backyard. You'll never cover your investment in New Zealand."

Which means in Sileni's case servicing the 76 overseas markets which already buy 95 per cent of the wine it makes, and looking for new ones. "That's the other big challenge," he says.

Sileni 2013 The Straits Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, about $23
An intensely concentrated fresh but fleshy gold medal wine that mixes tropicals and stonefruit with gooseberries and an appetising splash of acid. Very palatable.

Sileni 2013 Cellar Selection Merlot, $20
Looking for a good merlot, then look for a winemaker like Grant Edmonds, the boss at Sileni, who dotes on them. A lovely ripe and flavourful, ready-to-drink red that won't blow your hat off in the summer sun.

Sileni 2012 Cellar Selection Pinot Noir, about $18
An early-drinking Hawke's Bay pinot noir that should do the trick for those who want to develop a taste for pinot - in this case a soft, black cherry-berry model that flows effortlessly across the palate.

The Southland Times