Posted on February 27th, 2011
As I’m writing, Joe Ryan and his team are busy tending to their vineyards, mowing and trimming, before they cover their vines with nets. If they don’t net the entire vineyard, starlings will devour their entire crop before harvest. Such is the ebb and flow between man and nature.
Joe Ryan’s family are fourth generation New Zealanders now. His great great grandfather arrived in New Zealand in 1874. The boat ticket says he left from London, but that’s as far as Joe can trace it. He believes the family arrived in London after escaping the famine, possibly from either Tipperary, or Limerick, before seeking their fortune in New Zealand.
Gladstone is one of 3 grape growing areas in the Wairarapa, the others being Masterton, and the more established Martinborough. Joe originally began exporting to Ireland under the Wairarapa banner, but the name is a bit of a mouthful for us (pronounced “Why ra rap a”) so they used the more local Gladstone.
Joe figured if he was going to sell wine in Ireland from an area named after a British priminister, at least it was one in favour of home rule.
Gladstone is a rural area 10 minutes east of Carterton, that only has a school and a pub, like many Irish towns, except for the shortage of pubs. It sits on the valley floor along side the Ruamahunga river. It was this river, moving eastwards over thousands of years that created the free draining stony terraces that the dozen or so vineyards here grow in.
Unlike Marlborough across on the South Island, they can’t achieve high yields, mainly due to climate, so the cost of grape production is higher per ton.
Joe shares the concerns of many of his fellow New Zealanders, with production increasing faster than their markets.
The problem of over production in New Zealand
A few years ago vineyards in Marlborough (over 60% of NZ’s production) were selling for hundreds of thousands of dollars per hectare. This attracted a lot of developers without any other interest in the industry to start vineyards with the idea of making a quick buck.
According to Joe, the over supply that has resulted coinciding with the onset of the global recession has really knocked the whole New Zealand wine industry.
The high cost of production
While New Zealand can still achieve reasonable prices for their wine on the international stage, New Zealand remains one of the most expensive places in the world to grow grapes. Why? Nature is a cruel mistress, and they have to deal with frost, fruit loving birds, higher labour costs before they transport wine half way across the world to get to most markets.
So, even if they wanted to be they probably could never compete on price.
In terms of the future, Joe is optimistic. Luckily, New Zealand has always been about quality despite many producers here being forced to currently selling below cost.
New plantings which led to the rapid increase in production have significantly decreased since 2008 when the over supply issues began. Joe sees the balance between supply and demand will return and is hopeful, like many of his peers that new wine markets in Asia will help this happen.
I’ve tried two of Ryan’s wines, both adorned with the celtic bands.
The Sauvignon Blanc 2008 was, almost as you’d expect, full of gorgeous tropical fruit, but with a nice streak of minerality, almost “Sancerresque”. Unmistakably New Zealand Sauvie but with perhaps more restraint than many Marlborough styles.
The Pinot Noir 2006 Single Vineyard is very classy. Lovely succulent cherry fruit, backed up with great acidity and a lovely silky texture. Very Elegant.