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 )

 

 

 

Fifth Excerpt – Winegrower

In June of 2005 Jennie’s father Michael ( Mick ) Flower died aged 89 yrs, after a short illness. At that time we had no proper outdoor living area where we could get away from the brutish nor’ wester. Jennie was willing to use part of her inheritance from Mick’s estate, which I administered, towards the creation of a professionally designed and built sheltered courtyard. It was positioned immediately in front of the downstairs sitting room which had full length glass sliding doors to the outside. The layout included large concrete pavers immediately along the front of the opening doors, followed by an area of mixed gravels, with a low concrete strip step-up to a ready- lawn area. A low teucrium hedge separated the lawn from a small vegetable garden at the northern end of the courtyard. In the garden we planted raspberry canes, a crab-apple tree, a bay tree, and everyday vegetables. The courtyard was defined by fixed timber trellising and plantings on the west and northern sides and black iron trellising with a gate on the eastern side. We planted 6 Manzanillo olive trees within the courtyard on the west side and installed 3 substantial concrete planter boxes planted with lenisaria hedging along the eastern side. There was also a concrete water feature in the gravel area with a small pump- operated fountain. Once all the plantings were established the courtyard proved to be a wonderful private sanctuary where we could relax and entertain friends and family. We derived a huge amount of pleasure from using this space: Jennie always considered it money well spent. Mick would have approved of what we had created.

Cheers!

BARRY JOHNS ( aka Le Vigneron )

Fourth Excerpt – Winegrower

It was in 2004 that our resource consent to take and use water for irrigation purposes came up for renewal. We filed the necessary application for the grant of a new consent with the Canterbury Regional Council. In the interim, we were able to operate under the existing consent pursuant to a provision in the Resource Management Act, until the new application could be heard. There were a number of other consent holders in the same situation as us. Objections were lodged opposing the applications from the usual suspects;  Forest & Bird Society, North Canterbury Fish & Game, DOC, and Ngai Tahu. The Regional authority had already begun a review of their Water Management Plan for the area, so that this too, complicated the whole process. There were numerous public consultation meetings and workshops held, extending over a number of years. We finally got our hearing on 30 August, 2010 before 2 independent Commissioners appointed by the Regional Council. At the hearing, attended by me, and 2 other consent holders on the upper Waipara River, we were informed that none of the objectors now wished to be heard or give evidence in the matter. I presented our evidence and made submissions in support of our application. In a reserved decision of the Commissioners of 15 October, 2010 we were granted a new consent for a term of 20 years, confirming the graduated take arrangements, and with no minimum flow condition during the months October to May inclusive. This was a great result for us. It was an endorsement of the efficiency of our irrigation regime based around a reduced rate of take over those critical months, and our significant on-farm storage capacity. It had taken more than 6 years, and much angst, to achieve the desired outcome.

The 2004 vintage was the last time we used cork closures for our wines. From 2005 we switched to screw cap which has proved to be a more economic and reliable closure. With cork we had reached the point where 1 bottle in 12 could be affected by taint or even badly corked. This was not only costly and time consuming but damaging to one’s brand reputation. In a way, the worst outcome was for the wine to be tainted and present as flat or dull on tasting, thereby putting customers off the brand, or, at worst, not coming back. Since using screw caps we have hardly had a single issue or complaint about a wine. The costs have also much reduced compared with a natural cork and capsule closure – saving as much as 60 cents per bottle.

Cheers!

BARRY JOHNS ( aka Le Vigneron )

Third Excerpt – Winegrower

In 2001 we harvested our first crops of chardonnay and pinot noir grapes. The yields for a first pick were low, as could be expected for young vines. The fruit quality and ripeness was stunning. Both wines were fermented and aged in French oak barriques. The wines were bottled and released to the market in late 2002. The Fiddler’s Green 2001 Chardonnay went on to be awarded a silver medal and the Fiddler’s Green 2001 Pinot Noir a Gold medal and Trophy in New Zealand’s oldest wine show in 2003. On the day of the Awards Dinner in Auckland, we were fully involved in bottling our Fiddler’s Green 2002 Chardonnay at a contracted winery in Waipara. We had been notified earlier that our 2001 Pinot Noir had been awarded a Gold medal and was therefore in the running for the Trophy for the top pinot noir wine in the Show. Recognising this possibility, we had arranged for our then Auckland based distributor Burleigh Trading Co Ltd to represent us at the Awards Dinner. Later that night we received a telephone call from Dru Mackie, the sales director for the company, to say that he was holding a cast bronze Trophy as presented to him only minutes earlier. We had a bottle of champagne on ice ready for such  eventuality . This was soon being consumed amid much excitement. This success was seen as a huge result for our small wine brand and also for the Waipara region. Needless to say, this particular wine was fully allocated within weeks of the Trophy result. Our Fiddler’s Green 2001 Riesling was also awarded a Gold medal in the San Francisco International Wine Competition in 2003.

In a subsequent review of our Fiddler’s Green 2001 Pinot Noir, Keith Stewart, writing in the Listener, described the wine as being “The epitome of what will make Waipara world famous one day soon – fragrant, charming, sexy and expensive. It smells deliciously feral and alive with appealing fruit that reminds us of those little, red-fleshed Christmas plums, and it tastes like it, too. It is the feel of this wine that gets you really going, however, suave, seductively soft and lingering on like a gentle pinot breeze. Completely indulgent, with some serious construction to keep red wine technocrats appeased “.

In December of 2002 we experienced cold and wet weather. This impacted on flowering and fruit set to the extent that the harvest in 2003 was much reduced from that of the 2 preceding seasons. The spring that followed the 2003 vintage was benign and without frosts. The weather conditions for flowering and fruit set in December were ideal – light winds and warm temperatures. There followed an abundance of fruit to be harvested in April and May, 2004. We experienced our biggest harvest ever with around 120 tonnes of fully ripened grapes picked. We were able to process the majority of the grapes for our own label and have surplus crop to sell to other local wineries. This particular vintage put us in a confident mood looking to the future of our business.

Cheers!

BARRY JOHNS  ( aka Le Vigneron )

Wine Prices

Domestically, the market for wine in New Zealand has become very congested and even over-crowded. There are simply too many brands and labels out there. Many producers now offer more than 1 label as part of their business strategy. This is done essentially to meet the market at a range of different price points. The last 7 years have been a great time for the consumer in New Zealand. Prices have never been sharper. It has got to the point of being ridiculous and unsustainable.

Another recent example occurred in April, 2015 with Ngatarawa Stables, a Hawkes Bay brand, produced by New Zealand’s first family of winemaking, the Corbans ( Alwyn and Brian Corban ), offering through the Henry’s stores ( owned by Foodstuffs NZ Ltd ) their 750ml bottle varietals and their 375ml bottle 2013 Late Harvest wine (excluding Reserves) at $9.99 per bottle. A late harvest wine will have been picked at very low crop yields- akin to picking moist raisins. The juice extraction is minimal and highly concentrated with sugar. The risks and costs involved in making a naturally botrytized wine make it necessarily more expensive to produce. The bottle, labels, and general packaging are specific to that wine when using a 375ml bottle. The standard retail price for late harvest  wines in a 375ml bottle in New Zealand will usually range from $25.00 to $40.00. Even at these prices the return to the producer will be marginal to say the least.

The marketing of wine in New Zealand is very much over-hyped and over-heated. Prices are being kept at artificially low levels. Is it any wonder that we are considered a nation of heavy drinkers! The bigger producers dominate the distribution chains. The supermarket groups dominate the retail sector. Many of the restaurant wine lists are similarly set up. Where will it all end up?

Cheers!

BARRY JOHNS ( aka Le Vigneron )

Second Excerpt – Winegrower

In 1996 we planted a further 4,000 riesling vines on grafted rootstocks to give a total planting of 8,500 vines for this variety. In the same year we started the first stage of construction of a Mediterranean style building on the property. This was intended to give us future living accommodation, a cellar door for public tastings and sales, and warehousing for wine stocks and dry goods. We turned to well known Christchurch architect Philip Kennedy to design the building. The plans were put out to tender and a builder selected. The exterior walls were of tilt slab concrete, the roof was a charcoal coloured corrugated bitumous product from France branded under the name of Onduline, complimented by copper spouting and downpipes. The window joinery was timber with stylish French designed wooden shutters on the exterior to close the building in at times of extreme weather. It was considered to be a building of simple design and understated elegance.

These were truly enjoyable years for us – getting the vines established and making our mark on the land we had carefully chosen. In May, 1997 we harvested our first crop of fruit. With the help of local people, farmers wives and others, we hand-picked a crop of fully ripened riesling grapes, of excellent quality, for delivery to a contracted winery in the area. In October of that year we released our 1997 Fiddler’s Green Riesling to general acclaim and a first up award in a well-established and highly regarded wine show. Things could hardly have been better for us. I was still fully involved as a lawyer and my income was at a level where we could keep our borrowings tightly controlled. The vineyard development was ongoing  – a stylish building was underway and our reputation as wine producers was gaining traction within the industry and with consumers alike.

The final building work was undertaken in the early part of 1998. This involved construction of the cellar door facilities, an office, and warehousing and storage areas. The design and materials were in keeping with the initial building work. We retained the same builders as for the first stage. Set amongst established trees, with a paved terrace to the north, the completed building exuded quiet confidence and a sense of place.

Other events in 1998 included, inter alia:

In March we registered a change of company name with the Companies Office: Spencer Estate Wines Ltd (incorporated on 27 November, 1992 ) was re-registered under the name of Fiddler’s Green Wines Ltd. The new name was considered more appropriate: having regard to the name of the vineyard, our wine label, and trade-marked brand.

The planting of 2 further blocks of grape varieties; 2ha of chardonnay and 4ha of pinot noir, all on grafted rootstocks. The chardonnay scion wood was predominately the French clones 15 and 95  and for the point noir clones 113, 114, 115, and 777 . Again, we chose to enhance the appearance of the enlarged vineyard by planting a David Austin old English yellow rose ‘Graham Thomas’ at the ends of selected rows of chardonnay, and a new red rose ‘ Dublin Bay ‘ for selected rows of the pinot noir.

By the end of harvest in 1998, we had 2 wine varieties in production to work with, riesling and sauvignon blanc. We needed to grow our sales. Part of the strategy to achieve this involved obtaining an Off- Licence from the local Council for the Cellar Door to be able to offer wine tastings and sales direct to the public.

Cheers!

BARRY JOHNS  ( aka Le Vigneron )