A Celebration of Wine

When consumed in moderation and enjoyed with food, wine enhances the occasion and helps to make us happy. It helps us to celebrate the essence of life. In most European countries wine is an essential component of any meal. It is part of their culture. We need the same sophisticated approach to wine in New Zealand. This requires increased education around responsible drinking and more emphasis on wine and food matching. To that end, glass pours in a restaurant should be a given.

Some of the scriptures where alcohol is discussed in positive terms provide guidance in such matters: reference Ecclesiastes 9.7 ( ” Drink wine with a merry heart ” ) and Psalm 104.14-15 where wine ” makes glad the heart of man. ” What the Bible does condemn is drunkenness and its effects due to consuming alcohol. Alcohol is not, in and of itself, tainted by sin. It is drunkenness and addiction to alcohol that a Christian is urged to refrain from.

With the predominance of screw-caps as the preferred wine bottle closure in New Zealand, our wines can sometimes present as reductive on the nose and the palate: they need a little more oxygen once opened to allow the aroma and flavours to fully express themselves. Pouring the wine into a jug or decanter allows the wine to breath and open up before being consumed.

Cheers!

BARRY JOHNS  ( aka Le Vigneron )

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Tenth Excerpt – Winegrower

In 2001, we were able to attract equity investment from private sources to enable us to re-structure the business of Fiddler’s Green Wines Ltd. The same equity source took a 50% stake in the acquisition and development of an adjoining property at 242 Georges Road (Ensor block ). A separate company structure was created for this purpose. Settlement of the purchase from Tim and Helen Ensor was completed in March, 2002. It was a bare block of land: of easy contour, a northerly aspect, and immediately adjoining the eastern boundary of our own existing vineyard. Following settlement the first task was to plant shelter trees along both the eastern and southern boundaries. We planted a mix of big Italian Alders and Crows Nest Poplars. The standard development work followed preparatory to planting the new vines. We first planted part of the block in 2003 with 12,150 pinot noir grafted rootstock vines in a mix of scion wood French clones of 114, 115 and 777. The row spacings were 2.4metres x 1.6metres plant spacings  within the rows. This gave a density of 2,604 vines per ha. A temporary water connection from the Fiddler’s Green reservoir provided the necessary water supply for these new plants. This was followed by a planting of 8,960 pinot gris grafted rootstock vines in a mix of scion wood clones GM2-15, GM2-16 and Sel Ovaille in 2004. The same row and plant spacings were used as for the pinot noir. By this time a groundwater well at 96 metres was in place and with a resource consent to take up to 8 litres per second for irrigation. The term of the consent was the maximum permitted of 35 years. The first crop of pinot noir was picked in 2006 and the first crop of pinot gris in 2008.

The investors did not have any experience in the wine industry but were keen to be part of the future growth of our business as an investment opportunity. Over time the new business structure began to unravel. There were philosophical issues at play, as well as management and performance factors pulling us apart. The seasons from 2001 through to and including 2005 had been a mixed bag in terms of production levels,  except for a top vintage in 2004.At one stage we had a business structure involving 3 different entities owning and controlling the total assets.

By 2005 we were actively looking to other options to grow our business. We needed outside expertise and capital to assist the growth of sales both within New Zealand and in export markets. We particularly needed specialist input in the areas of distribution and marketing. We never connected with the right people – despite our best efforts. Over the years we had 4 different distributors represent our Fiddler’s Green brand within New Zealand. I have to say, that none of them lived up to their own hype and expectations for what they could achieve for our brand. Commission agents, too, came and went without much success. We experienced similar issues with our export markets: UK, the Netherlands, the Cook Islands, and Australia, all failed to perform after strong initial orders. Other markets pursued were Brazil, Japan, and the USA – all to no avail. We were never able to achieve strong distribution relationships  – to the detriment of our brand and business. On the other hand, our direct sales achievements within the Canterbury region and mail order continued to be strong.

In 2009 we finally reached an accommodation with our equity investor – he taking title to the vineyard at 242 Georges Road as part of an overall settlement.This block has been leased to another Waipara wine producer since that time to ensure that the vineyard is properly maintained and to preserve its value. Of recent years I am aware that it has been on the market but without a sale being achieved to date. This is indicative of the lack of interest from outside the Waipara Valley for the acquisition of established vineyards within the valley. The only exception, of recent times, has been the sale of the former Mudhouse vineyards and winery to overseas interests.

Cheers!

BARRY JOHNS ( aka Le Vigneron )

Ninth Excerpt – Winegrower

We also trialled selected sonic bird-scaring equipment sourced through a cousin of Jennie’s, Andi Flower, based in Australia, representing an American manufacturer, again without any significant success. The product was branded under the name Bird Guard. The issues were mainly around setting up the system, installation of speakers, maintenance of batteries, controlling the bird calls (distress and others ), and maintenance of the equipment. It also proved to be an expensive option. Again, we persevered for a couple of seasons before consigning the equipment to storage, never to be used again.

Another option trialled was to use mirrors mounted on a 3- legged stand which rotated with the wind and flashed in the sunlight. This ,too, proved to be ineffective and was soon abandoned. By this time we had accumulated a collection of curious bits and pieces of equipment, all of little practical use to anyone.

The final solution, adopted for the 2004 season, was to go with multi-row nets which covered 4 rows at a time. These nets had been manufactured to suit the layout of our vineyard canopy, with good tolerance to achieve best positioning and coverage. The large rolls of netting came on spools and were heavy to handle. They required an applicator mounted on the back of the tractor operated by a vineyard worker to uncoil them. As the net unrolled the tension was maintained by having a another vineyard worker on each of the outside rows pulling the netting down and into place as the tractor, in the middle of the rows, was driven slowly ahead. The netting was later clipped into place on the outside rows, usually to a wire laid at ground level, and also secured at the ends of the rows. The outer edge of the outside rows was still exposed to bird attack. To overcome this, metal brackets were temporarily attached to the intermediate posts over which the netting was draped, which created a balloon affect and kept the netting away from the fruit. This strategy proved very effective and was used for all our harvests thereafter.

Even with the multi-row nets covering the whole vineyard, there was still surveillance required on a daily basis, to ensure best protection. Regular movement, on foot and/or riding the Honda quad bike, the noisier the better, through the vineyard, was essential to keeping the birds unsettled during daylight hours. We would also regularly open up the ends of the nets to allow access for ongoing work on the vines and to flush out any birds. To achieve this, we would start at one end of the covered rows, carrying tins with stones inside, rattling them vigorously as we walked bent over under the netting through to the other end- spooking any intruders ahead of us. We needed to be ever vigilant in our bird patrols and in ensuring that the nets were secure, particularly at times of high winds. You could expect some damage to nets from time to time-whether from rabbits chewing through them, tearing due to the wind, or even hawks catching on the top of the canopy. These could usually be repaired in a practical way for the next season.

As backup, we always encouraged the hawks over the summer months with offerings of dead rabbits, which we secured on the top of posts for best results. The rabbits came from our own property – we had the services of a sharp-shooter from the city, Lou Donaggio, who needed any opportunity to visit and do his thing. The presence of hawks was an added weapon in our fight against the enemy – unsettling the starlings in particular, though not entirely. It was not uncommon to witness the sight of a black mass of starlings on the wing, harassing a lone hawk and driving it off the vineyard. Magpies too, on occasion, would gang up on a lone hawk and bully it, in an aerial display above the vineyard. The hawks were our friend. We derived much pleasure from watching them circle over the vineyard, diving and gliding in harmony with the air currents, all grace and style- at once elegant and predatory.

In the latter years of our time at Fiddler’s Green we observed that the bird pressure at harvest time had eased somewhat. We put this down to the growth in the number of vineyards across the Waipara Valley, which ensured a wider range of potential feeding options for the bird populations to explore.

We never had our own winery. All winemaking services for our Fiddler’s Green wines were out-sourced from established wineries in the Waipara Valley. In the early years we used the services of Waipara West where Petter Evans was the winemaker. When Peter moved to Sherwood Estate in 2002 his successor at Waipara West was Rob Lowe. Others involved in making our wines have included Belinda Gould at Muddy Water, Frank Manifold at Waipara Springs, Nicholas Brown at Omihi Hills, Peter Saunders of Bishops Head, and Mat Donaldson of Pegasus Bay.

From very early on our wines gained a reputation for their consistency of quality and style. To have achieved this against a background of multiple winemakers’, is testimony to the quality of the fruit harvested from year to year.  The vineyard was the essential constant in our production cycle. The other  key player was our eldest son, Ben, who ensured that the vineyard was managed to the highest standards of sustainable winegrowing.

Every growing season proved to be different and presented its own challenges. The wines produced spoke of their vintage differences and individuality. For Jennie and I the golden days of autumn made for our favourite time of the year; temperate and yielding as the harvest was embraced.

Cheers!

BARRY JOHNS ( aka Le Vigneron )

Eighth Excerpt – Winegrower

The main birds that can wreck havoc among the vines in the Waipara Valley are the starling, blackbird, thrush, and the cheeky little waxeye ( silvereye ). The starlings operate in flocks and are grazers. Given the opportunity, they will start at one end of a row and move methodically and efficiently to the other end, removing whole berries as they go. They leave nothing and are even more efficient than a mechanical harvester – which tends to leave fruit around the intermediate posts and at the end assemblies. The waxeyes constitute an even greater threat, in that they go from berry to berry, pecking holes and extracting juice- leaving behind damaged fruit and a heightened risk of disease from mould and botrytis. They are small, sleek, evasive, and risk takers. Waxeyes have the ability to get through the smallest gap or opening. They would make their appearance, in search of food, as soon as the weather cooled in the hills around the Waipara Valley, usually in April through May.

Other birds to frequent our vineyard included the Eurasian skylark, the spur-winged plover,  magpie,  and Californian quail. None of these birds of flight posed a threat to our grape crop.

The Eurasian skylarks are small birds with streaked brown plumage. We would be made aware of their presence as they swooped through the vineyard making their vibrant aerial song:  a rich sequence of chirps, trills, and whistles, rising and falling rhythmically.

The spur-winged plover was originally a native to Australia only, where it is called the masked lapwing. It is a typically noisy bird as you might expect, given its origins. It is a medium-sized bird which gives off a loud, penetrating staccato call, often heard at night.

Magpie are a small to medium sized bird most closely related to the crow. They have distinctive black and white feathers. They tend to fly in small groups and can be dominant in their behavior. They could often be seen’ ganging up’ on larger birds, particularly the hawk, to chase them away from their patch.

The Californian quail are small and plump. The male is particularly impressive: a striking black face bordered with white, and a conspicuous top-knot or plume. The female is slightly smaller, duller and browner, with some streaking on the neck and belly. The female’s crest is much smaller than the male’s. They are sedate foragers, but when disturbed they run at real speed, their feet a blur of movement, or burst into flight with noisy, rapid wing-beats. They have an amazing ability to take off vertically – up the side of a shelter belt, when disturbed or threatened. The male bird has a distinctive and appealing call. The calling bird is usually perched slightly above the surrounding area, say a post  – acting as a lookout. Other calls include foraging grunts, sharp urgent clucking warnings, and softer sounds. The chicks make a whistling sound to indicate their location. Quail have a large number of chicks, often 15- 20, from our experience. They are able to fly at a young age, but have a low survival rate. They are very vunerable to feral cats and ferrets. We loved the quail, so long as they kept out of our courtyard and domestic garden area.

Our bird-protection strategy for the early years involved the use of single row nets. These were manufactured and supplied to suit our particular row lengths and canopy height. Allowance was made for extra width and height to enable the nets to be closed off at the ends and the 2 sides at ground level. A degree of tolerance was required so that the fruit was not left exposed up against the nets for birds to get at from outside. The main disadvantage with single row nets was the amount of work required to secure them in place for each row. If waxeyes got in then they could be troublesome to get out. It was also more difficult to work on the vines once netted, though crop sprays could be applied through the nets, if required.

We later experimented with side nets as a potential cost- saving option. These nets were usually no more than a metre wide. They were run out along each side for the full length of the row in the fruiting zone and secured top and bottom with plastic clips. The canopy above was left clear. The real work was in the careful clipping of the netting which was time consuming. These nets, too, offered little resistance to the ever present and determined waxeyes.

The use of gas guns also proved to be of limited protection against the enemy. The cannon was mounted on a large tripod and connected to a cylinder of butane which intermittently let off loud explosions. The angle of the gun, direction, and frequency of the explosions could be controlled and varied. The unit was able to be moved around the vineyard as required. A number of these cannons are usually needed to protect a whole vineyard. We found them to be loud and largely ineffective.

The birds soon got used to the noise and put up with it. They would invariably jump up on hearing an explosion, as they sat atop the canopy, and just as quickly settle back down again. The explosions certainly didn’t drive them away.

Another experiment was to use black cut-out images of a hawk secured to a long aluminium pole positioned at different points across the vineyard. The image was intended to move about in the winds, particularly the north- westerly, and to mimic the flight habit of the hawk. The whole contraption proved difficult to manage and a threat to life and limb in a howling north- westerly. We abandoned this strategy after one season.

Cheers!

BARRY JOHNS ( aka Le Vigneron )

Seventh Excerpt – Winegrower

By 2005 we were actively looking to other options to grow our business. We needed outside expertise and capital to assist the growth of sales both within New Zealand and in export markets. We particularly needed specialist input in the areas of distribution and marketing. We never connected with the right people – despite our best efforts. Over the years we had 4 different distributors represent our Fiddler’s Green brand within New Zealand. I have to say, that none of them lived up to their own hype and expectations for what they could achieve for our brand. Commission agents, too, came and went without much success. We experienced similar issues with our export markets: UK, the Netherlands, the Cook Islands, and Australia, all failed to perform after strong initial orders. Other markets pursued were Brazil, Japan, and the USA – all to no avail. We were never able to achieve strong distribution relationships, to the detriment of our brand and business. On the other hand, our direct sales achievements within the Canterbury region and mail order continued to be strong.

In that same year we planted another small block of 1100 grafted rootstock gewürztraminer vines, in an area on the eastern side of the reservoir. The scion wood was the French clones 456 and 457. Again, the row and plant spacings were as for the first block planted in 2004, and with the same management regime. This block, too, produced small volumes of stunning fruit which was sold to Glasnevin Wine Estates for their own brand.

The weather for the 2006/2007 season was a mixed bag. Again, in December of 2006 cold and wet weather descended upon the vineyards of the Waipara Valley. With a poor flowering and fruit set, we were faced with a reduced crop for yet another harvest in 2007. The one consolation was the high quality of the wines produced from these low cropping vintages. Both the Fiddler’s Green 2003 Pinot Noir and the Fiddler’s Green 2007 Riesling were awarded Gold medals in New Zealand wine shows.

Over the years we were fortunate to have a number of our wines selected for Air New Zealand International in-flight Premier Business class service. The wines chosen were our Fiddler’s Green 2001 Riesling, Fiddler’s Green 2004 Pinot Noir, Fiddler’s Green 2006 Chardonnay, and Fiddler’s Green 2006 Pinot Noir. These were always good contracts: the volumes ordered were significant for us, they were treated as export sales and free of excise duty, and the airline always paid promptly direct to our bank account.

Cheers!

BARRY JOHNS ( aka Le Vigneron )

Bitches

I have, of recent times, had cause to have dealings with two different women involved at executive level in the wine industry. One is employed by a retail liquor chain based in Auckland; the other a manager of an off-shore liquor outlet in the South Pacific. The parallel outcomes have been disappointing, to say the least.

The Auckland connection repeatedly failed to acknowledge or even reply to my emails. She was invariably away from her office – an administrative email message would be transmitted to say that a response would be made upon her return. It never happened! The other off-shore party was just as bad. Initially she was responsive to sourcing our Glasnevin range of wines, subject to her receiving samples and tasting the wines with her wine club group.Samples were promptly dispatched through an International courier at our cost, without any acknowledgement at her end. Follow-up emails inquiring how the wines had shown at the tasting have never been replied to.

In both instances, the woman concerned has shown a complete lack of courtesy and common decency. I know that the wine industry can be ‘ rough and tough ‘ at times, but there is no place for this sort of spiteful behaviour. They have both shown a complete lack of professionalism: they have acted shabbily!

Cheers!

BARRY JOHNS  ( aka Le Vigneron )

Sixth Excerpt – Winegrower

                                                Pro-Bono Activities

 

In March of 1993 I was appointed the honorary solicitor to the Canterbury Grape Growers’ Association. At that time the Association was a loose grouping of wine growers in the wider Canterbury area. My initial role was to advise and make recommendations concerning registration as an incorporated society and to lay out the steps required to achieve this. A name for the intended   Society was agreed by the Association and submitted to the Registrar of Incorporated Societies for approval. I also submitted a draft set of Rules for approval by the Registrar. The approvals were confirmed. A public meeting was held on 2 June 1993 at Lincoln University where the matter of incorporation of the Association was fully discussed and considered. The meeting attracted some 30 people. I addressed the meeting to explain the process and the benefits /protection afforded by incorporation. The necessary Resolution was carried approving the draft Rules and for the Application for incorporation to proceed. The Application paperwork was completed at the meeting and duly lodged with the Registrar of Incorporated Societies in Christchurch. Incorporation was granted in the name of The Canterbury Grape Growers’ Association Incorporated on 4 June 1993. By incorporating the Association became a separate legal entity from its members. The members had no personal liability for the debts, contracts or other obligations of the Association. Likewise any property belonged to the Association itself and no individual member had any personal interest or right in such property. The Canterbury Region in the Rules of the Society was defined by reference to the area delineated in S.O. Plan no.18871 deposited with the Chief Surveyor of the Canterbury Land District. The Region extended to the Waitaki River in the south and to the Kaikoura District in the north. Full membership was open to any person, company, partnership or other incorporated body directly involved in the growing and production of grapes as a commercial enterprise in the Canterbury Region for the purpose of supply and/or for winemaking. Associate membership was available to any person, company, or partnership interested in or associated with grape growing or the wine making industry either within the Canterbury Region or elsewhere. An associate member had limited rights under the Rules. In a letter of 5 July, 1993 I was formally thanked by the committee of the newly incorporated Society for the work I had performed in providing legal advice and guidance for the establishment of the Society. I continued to be involved in advising and implementing changes to the Rules of the Society and registration of those changes with the Registrar of Incorporated Societies. By 1997 the Society was struggling to maintain membership numbers and there were governance issues around compliance with the requirements of the Incorporated Societies Act 1908 and Regulations. My last involvement with the Society was to give advice to the then president Colin Marshall in May 1997 prior to the AGM of 21 May, 1997. I was never involved thereafter.

At the end of 1993 I undertook a similar role as honorary solicitor for The Waipara Winegrowers’ Alliance. At a public meeting on 14 December 1993 the necessary Resolution and paperwork was completed for incorporation. The society was incorporated on 17 December 1993 under the name The Waipara Winegrowers’ Alliance Incorporated. In May of 1996, a qualified approval in principal was agreed by the New Zealand Grape Growers Council Inc, for Waipara to be recognised as a separate grape  growing region in its own right. The Council suggested a name change for the Alliance, a change of the financial year from 31 March to 30 June ( subject to the approval of the IRD ), and certain Rule changes to better reflect the relationship with the national body. These suggestions were taken up by the Alliance and the necessary meeting of members and approvals from the Registrar of Incorporated Societies completed. The new name registered was The Waipara Winegrowers Incorporated. In later years I also provided legal advice and input around Special Meetings and further Rule Changes. All of this work was done on a ‘pro-bono’ basis. I had also served on the Committee of the Society in the 1990’s. My last written opinion was provided to the then President of the Society, Gwyn Williams, in late July 2012- leading up to the AGM of 16 August, 2012. Subsequent to the AGM I gave written notice to the secretary of the Society that due to personal factors I could no longer continue as the honorary solicitor to the Society; that my services were to cease with immediate effect. I never received a reply, nor was I ever formally thanked for my advice and services to the Society over some 18 years.

When we left Fiddler’s Green vineyard in2013, we did not receive any verbal or written contact from anyone on behalf of the Waipara Valley Winegrowers to express support or appreciation for our involvement in the local wine industry over the years. It was all taken for granted. The support we did receive was from neighbouring farmers who had no involvement in the wine growing industry. What we experienced was a very high level of indifference from the Waipara Valley wine growing community.

Cheers!

BARRY JOHNS ( aka Le Vigneron )