Wright’s Vineyard and Winery

August 2017

Wright’s Vineyard and Winery produces quality organic wines.

Sustainable quality is the key to self-described “corporate hippies” Geoff and Nicola Wright’s vineyard and winery business in Gisborne.      

Wrights Vineyard and Winery was a finalist in the 2017 East Coast Ballance Farm Environment Awards and they won the Hill Laboratories Harvest Award. The Ballance Farm Environment Award judges said Geoff and Nicola Wright don’t just walk the talk, they run it.

The Wrights have a winery and coastal vineyard at Manutuke, and valley and terrace vineyards in Ormond Valley Road. They grow Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc and Gewurztraminer grape varieties. Wrights wines are sold in supermarkets throughout NZ and exported to China and the Pacific Islands. 

Their approach is about sustainable quality, not quantity. Grapes are harvested by hand and turned into wine in their own winery. Just under 100 tonnes of grapes produce just under 100,000 bottles a year. 

The three vineyards are certified organic and biodynamics is practiced on the vineyards. 

The first vineyard was planted in the Ormond Valley in 2005, and has native plantings and a pond/wetland. Plantings there also include organic crops of garlic, pumpkin, zucchini, sunflowers and commercial crops of grapes and olives. The Wrights later bought two other vineyards, converting them from conventionally managed to organic. 

In 2009 the Wrights bought an under-vine cultivator with a change-over head to a tiller, the first unit in New Zealand at the time. “This helps us keep grass turned over into soil undervines and helps us to avoid using herbicide around grapevines. The unit is PTO driven and can be run by a small tractor as it contains its own hydraulic unit.” 

Nicola says they’re living the dream of being sustainable, self-employed and self-sufficient including living in a straw-bale house they built in 2011. “We live and breathe organic principles, so biodiversity is second nature to us. Avoiding monoculture, we have promoted the natural cycle of life and encouraged positive bird and insect life.” She says their focus isn’t just what’s on the surface, but the life and activity below the surface, such as grass roots and worm activity. 

They use lavender under their vines for a multitude of reasons: 

  • camouflage to the smell of ripe grapes
  • reduced use of bird bangers, in an echoing valley,
  • reduces noise pollution and
  • improves neighbourly relations. 

The business also has 600 olive trees for local market olive oil and 100 gum trees for firewood. 

“Long term the wood will be used to supply the pizza oven at our cafe/cellar door over summer”, says Nicola. A neighbour’s sheep are grazed on the vineyard in winter and the Wrights also have four Dexter heifers that provide diversity, fertiliser and raw materials for many of their bio-dynamic preparations. 

Geoff’s family were originally from Croatia and became one of the first wine growing and producing families in New Zealand. Geoff had moved from Auckland to Gisborne with a dream of one day owning his own organic vineyard and winery. He studied winemaking and viticulture at EIT in Gisborne – working as an chartered accountant during the day then working as a cellar hand at wineries by night, all while producing his own wine label. 

While Geoff is the now chief grape grower and winemaker for Wrights Vineyard and Winery, Nicola is in charge of marketing and distribution. As a qualified lawyer she is also in charge of the business’s legal obligations while also operating her own criminal legal practice. 

The couple see themselves as pioneers in the grape industry in NZ and are focused on continuing to build a sustainable business for the next generation. They have five boys – Noah, 9, Elijah, 7, Luke, 5, Guy, 2, and baby Otto was born in October. “Our kids play an active role in many parts of our business on a day-to-day basis. It’s a family business built from the grassroots.” 

They don’t use herbicides around the vines or in the vineyards. All the vineyards are certified organic through AsureQuality. For them it is really important to promote the life of the soil, encouraging soil micro – organisms which then help to release nutrients in the soil which the plant then utilises. They use hoes and spades to remove weeds, or the under-vine cultivator. 

This machine can manoeuvre in and around grape vines while turning over the top layer of the soil and mulching the weeds. “We have two heads we can use, one works like a rotary hoe system and the other is a tiller system. We generally go through the vineyards in spring and rotary hoe and then in Summer we till the top layer. This machine saves us a lot of time and does a good job. The machine is PTO driven and has its own hydraulics oil. Therefore the tractor does not need to be running fast or need horse power. The general speed we run the tractor at is a slow walking pace.” 

Another important implement for their tractor is our Side Mower, which goes down the rows and swings in and out of the plants. The mower is a round disc and goes around the plants. This machine runs on the hydraulics in the tractor and does one side at a time. 

The Wrights believe in promoting bio-diversity, from the animals, insects, sward of grass, plants and soil micro-organisms. On the 18ha of vineyards they have used several methods to create and enhance biodiversity. The Wrights explain:

  • There are patches of land in which we don’t harvest or find it hard to get to with the mower, some of these area’s we have planted native trees and flaxes. We see that this will help maintain insects – beneficials and predators, attract birds – which will help reduce insects and yes eat our crops, but not all of it.
  • Domestic ducks and chickens help reduce the beetle population, especially the grass grub. Due to the fact we are certified organic with AsureQuality New Zealand, we have patches of long grass around some of our grapevines, this can cause problems with snails and slugs, so our chickens do a great job of keeping this in balance.
  • On our vineyards we have a lot of yarrow, these plants attract hover flys which eat leaf roller. Other beneficials we have increased on our vineyard due to our practices of bio-diversity are lacewings & parasitic wasps (tasmanian, brachymeria & dolichogenidea). Around cap fall we have millions of native bees flying in our canopy. This is an amazing sight, we are privileged to have them on our vineyards. With not using synthetic chemicals we believe this allows us to protect the insect life.
  • We also apply biodynamic preparations which increase the life of the soil and thus the micro-organisms. This then allows more nutrients for our plants, healthier plant development, more disease resistant, thus a better fruit, nutritionally and taste wise. 

They also use seaweed, stinging nettle and comfrey. The collected seaweed is cleaned by removing the sand and saltwater, then stored with comfrey and stinging nettle in a water solution for a month or two. This is used as a foliar spray, watered down and applied on cool overcast days or in the evenings.