Manawatū's only winery, Pohangina Valley Estate, is closing the cellar door
They planted rows of grapes with a dream of starting a winery – and they pulled it off.
Nearly 20 years later they're moving on, closing the cellar door of an established Manawatū winery, the only one in the province.
In 2000, with little in the way of horticultural experience, Fiona McMorran, Bronwyn Dymock and husband Nick turned their 4-hectare lifestyle block in the picturesque Pohangina Valley, 23 kilometres from Palmerston North, into a flourishing little business.
Pohangina Valley Estate's three owners will retire in April and the vineyard will not be sold.
McMorran said sustaining a winery in Manawatū's climate was no mean feat. The trio faced several challenges to grow their brand in an area not known for its blooming viticulture.
While Nick was based at the vineyard full-time, sisters Fiona and Bronwyn juggled full-time jobs – Fiona, an employment relations manager at Massey University, and Bronwyn, a vet in Feilding.
In summer months it wasn't until they got home that the real work began.
"It is hard work," McMorran said. "The biggest challenge for the vineyard was establishing a reputation in a non-grape-growing area.
"It's been a huge learning curve for us, but we're just getting a bit old."
Despite the odds, the winery forged a formidable reputation. Its first industry medal came in 2004 for its pinot gris, leading to a landslide of awards in Hong Kong, Australia and the prestigious New Zealand Bragato wine competition.
"We entered a lot of competitions to prove our wine was good."
Since then, it's produced on average 16 tonnes of grapes a year – that's 12,000 bottles of wine.
McMorran said a large part of the vineyard's success was down to winemaker Chris Buring, based out of Oak House in Martinborough. His intensive approach to the management of the vineyard proved fruitful, she said.
Under Buring's guidance, the vineyard had released pinot gris, pinot noir and chardonnay, but over the years dabbled with several other blends, including the unique Beaujolais-style red called Totara Reserve – named after a reserve in the Pohangina Valley.
McMorran said during its release in 2008 the reserve had been damaged by floods and heavy snowstorms. A donation of $1 a bottle was given to the Manawatū District Council to replant totara trees.
The Totara Reserve is made from an unidentified grape that was DNA-tested at the University of California, Davis, where it is now registered as Pohangina Red.
The vineyard had become a venue for concerts and the Manawatū Walkers' Club, McMorran said. It also produced extra virgin olive oil from about 250 olive trees.
"We have had a great time and would like to thank all our customers who have supported us over the years," McMorran said.
The summer season would be the last chance to buy wine from the vineyard and McMorran said they would have several cellar-door specials.