Te Whare Ra
A visit to a boutique wine company
In a market demanding ever-cheaper wine, Te Whare Ra (TWR) are “fighting the good fight” to provide outstanding, hand-made organic certified wine for those who are prepared to pay for top quality product.
Anna and Jason Flowerday come from generations of wine growing families and have extensive backgrounds in viticulture and wine – they met during the 1999 vintage at Hardy’s in McLaren Vale.
Anna and Jason had completed over 20 vintages between them when they purchased Te Whare Ra in 2003. Anna laughs that what drew them to the 11 hectare property in Renwick was everything that would make others run a mile – such as the small size of the operation and the old vines having been planted back in 1979.
The Flowerdays use the analogy of “vines are like people’ – the age and history of the vines makes more interesting wines – “there’s more depth and complexity in the fruit from old vines”.
The size and scale is also important, in that it allows the Flowerdays to run the entire production with just the 2 of them and a small team, and be hands on in every step of the process.
Since taking over in 2003 they’ve added Syrah, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Gris to the mix and replanted other sections of the vineyard with more Riesling and Pinot Noir.
“We don’t want to be the biggest but what matters to us is being the best”.
The 11 hectare vineyard is planted to 7 different grape varieties and produces a staggering stable of 13 different wines – it is this depth and diversity that has allowed them to ride out the roller coaster of oversupply (and Marlborough’s rapid expansion) to produce wines that are served in top restaurants around the world.
Control over every step of the growing and making is important for the Flowerdays – both are self-confessed ‘control freaks’. Anna says, “It’s our name on the bottle, so it’s really important to us that what is in that bottle is the best quality. We rely on a reputation for quality to build our brand long term – we can’t afford a big billboard.”
Te Whare Ra is organic certified and they farm their 14ha part of Marlborough using organic techniques – they focus on improving soil health and structure and on encouraging biological activity in the soil, which in turn feeds their vines. “Stressed and unhealthy vines do not produce good grapes”.
Jason takes charge of the vineyard, Anna refers to him as a true vigneron – a winemaker who also grows their own grapes – increasingly un-common in the new world winemaking industry.
Key approaches at TWR are: cover-crops to improve soil structure and fertility; companion planting; composts made from grape skins, stalks, their own hay and manure from their cows; canopy sprays made from seaweed and the application of biodynamic preparations such as cow pat pit or barrel manure to feed soil life and biology.
They run a tiny herd of cows (at present a couple of Belted Galloways and Red Devons). The cattle graze the vineyard mid rows in winter and their manure is also collected and used to make a biodynamic fertiliser and soil conditioner known as ‘cow pat pit’ (CPP). CPP has added to substantial improvements in soil microflora over the last 10 years.
Jason points out that their organic fruit has shown more resistance to fungal disease pressure and the Flowerday’s meticulous approach to canopy management means they are always prepared for any weather vagaries.
Many of the organic farming techniques they employ encourage the vines to develop more resilience. Anna adds that a lot of other organic winegrowers in other regions have also observed that their grape skins and vine leaves toughen up significantly when the vines settle in to organic farming.
The age of many of the TWR vines also means their roots have grown much deeper in the soil profile, which means they are not as susceptible to the vagaries of the seasons. The age of the vines combined with the attention to detail in every aspect of their viticulture means that in a year of extreme weather, when a number of vineyards are feeling the pressure or recent rains, the fruit due to harvest in 2018 at TWR remains healthy and robust.
The organic approach also means they are continually prepping for the worst case scenario – as they do not have the last minute option of spraying chemical fungicides or other quick-fixes.
TWR hand tend their vines throughout the year. All vines are pruned to 2 canes and they are shoot thinned and bunch thinned. All the canopy work is also done by hand as Jason prefers removing the inner leaf from the canopy and allowing dappled fruit exposure and more air flow through the canopy.
He also believes that the people are very important factor in the growing of quality as a trained person assessing a vine can make a much more informed decision about the balance of that individual vine and what it needs. This meticulous approach means that they can coax the best of our each vine.
Wine quality is always of utmost importance at every step of the process at Te Whare Ra and this is followed through on their home block, hand picking and sorting the grapes. The sorting and gentle handling is a crucial step – which means that none of their wines require any fining (clarifying) later in the winemaking process.
While Jason reigns in the vineyard and Anna takes the lead on sales & marketing and compliance, making the wines is a team effort.
When you’re taking a sip of a Te Whare Ra wine you can guarantee that either Anna or Jason has handled the grapes or looked them over in the sorting process (also done by hand) – indeed it’s highly likely they also packed the box. In their sorting process there is no room for second best – there’s only the best quality used for wine – anything that doesn’t make the grade for their wines is returned to the vineyard via the compost pile.
The whole team at TWR work very hard in every step, to make naturally produced wines without any significant additives, unlike many mass-produced wines that have various additions and treatments such as reverse osmosis, added tannins, treatment with fining agents, and chemical yeast nutrients.
TWR is presently producing Gewürztraminer, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Syrah and an aromatic blend called Toru.
Te Whare Ra was named “NZ winery of the Year” in 2014 by Raymond Chan.