Rod McDonald (no relation to legendary winemaker Tom McDonald) is a busy man: busy last week greeting the first of the many tonnes of grapes he will process this year for his own and other labels at the old Corbans, later Montana/Pernod Ricard winery on the outskirts of Napier.
It is the biggest winery in Hawke's Bay, purchased last year by a group of local investors and leased by McDonald and his business partners to produce wines under contract and for him to produce his own growing stable of wines.
The move completes what you might call the latter-day McDonald's "coming out" in the sense that for too long he hid his light under a bushel, a stack of barrels . . . whatever.
This is a bright youngish cookie, another product of the Fistonich (as in Villa Maria) school of opportunities, who grabbed every one of them after he was promoted by Sir George Fistonich to the role of winemaker after only four years experience at Vidals, in Hastings.
During nine years there the Northland farmboy earned string of medals and trophies for his wines and in 2006, after winning the New Zealand Winemaker of the Year award, struck out to produce several wines of his own and to work as a consultant.
It was McDonald who was largely behind the wines launched in collaboration with artist Dick Frizell, and he also created some brands of his own - starting with No 8 (no longer made), then One Off and Quarter Acres and more recently Te Awanga Estate, Blanket Hills and Two Gates, a brand he acquired last year.
Initially he allowed his wines to speak largely for themselves rather than acknowledging his part in the process of producing them until a chance meeting with orange-juice whizzkid Stefan Lepionka (of Charlie's fame).
It was Lepionka who convinced him to put his name at least on the three premium brands, the Te Awanga Estate, Two Gates and Quarter Acre, rather than hide behind the labels. McDonald says it was one of the smarter moves he has made.
"It forces you to look at the world in a different away; to make better decisions because it links you intrinsically to the wine you produce."
It also gets around the problem he has always had with creating one brand with several tiers. "I didn't want that. These brands represent completely different sites and styles of premium wines. They just happen to be produced by the same winemaker. And that's the way we want to keep it."
In McDonald's words, Quarter Acre is a collection of wines that represent the ground and place they came from, and Hawke's Bay; Te Awanga wines are from "a special piece of dirt" near the coast, in one of Hawke's Bay's oldest vineyard areas; Two Gates wines, grown on river terraces at Maraekakaho, southwest of Hastings, mark RMW's first venture into organics; Blanket Hills are unashamedly comfortable, generous wines - like the hills that surround the plains on which they are grown; One Off are wines that "don't quite fit with others in the neighbourhood".
Te Awanga Estate 2011 Syrah, $28
A leading Australian wine writer gave this 95 points, which means it's a pretty smart wine in anyone's language. A deeply coloured Hawke's Bay mouthfiller awash with black fruit and seasoned with pepper of the same persuasion and a dash of spice. Great value for money.
Quarter Acre 2011 Chardonnay, $29
This is Hawke's Bay captured in a bottle of the wine for which it has a huge reputation. Beautifully soft and rich with luscious citrus- driven flavours layered with nutty oak and minerals. A very smart and stylish wine with a pleasantly fresh finish.
Two Gates 2011 Syrah, $34
Another cracker from the McDonald stable. This one is lovely aromatic example of the breed the Aussies call syrah, with licorice among the spice, the pepper and the cedar on the nose. These combine on the palate with rich red and black fruit to produce a very drinkable whole.
- The Southland Times