|Hermann and Agnes Seifried held a wine tasting in my home town this week. They are the visionaries who planted the first vineyard and built the first winery on the South Island of New Zealand. Now they've been joined by hundreds of wineries and the South Island is recognised as making world quality Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir. |
But it was very different in the 1970's when Herman and Agnes struggled to create Seifried Estate Wines.
Hermann was born and brought up on an apple farm in Austria and his English still has a thick Austrian accent. He was interested in wine and travelled to Germany to study winemaking at Weinsberg then worked in South Africa at the huge KWV winery. It was there he met a New Zealander who invited him to come to New Zealand. There he got a job making apple wines for New Zealand Apple and Pear Board. He met Agnes who lived in Nelson at the top of the South Island. They fell in love, married and decided to open a winery.
All New Zealand's vineyards were then in the warmer North Island and the South Island was considered too cold for vines. Hermann didn't agree and in 1973 started planting on land he bought within sight of the sea, just west of Nelson. There's a mountain range just south of Nelson that keeps the coldest winds away from the vineyards.
Because the authorities didn't think vines were suitable crops he wasn't allowed to borrow money at the Agricultural rate of 4% but had to pay a commercial 14%. These early experiences made him decide that the winery would never again be in debt.
Hermann also planted all his vines on American rootstocks, which he and Agnes had hand grafted, even though it was said that the South Island was phylloxera free. "It was my training," he says. "That's what you did."
The first Seifried wines were made in 1976 and entered in the national wine competition where their success encouraged others to plant vineyards on the South Island.
Some years later phylloxera struck and many had to start again. Hermann's initial decision to graft on resistant rootstocks paid off and he has some of the oldest vines on the South Island. Hermann also supplied vines to the newcomers. In the early years all Siefried's vine prunings (which would have been thrown away) were sold "for 10c each" he says bringing vital income to his new winery. Seifried now operate a nursery growing rootstock and vines for themselves and for sale.
Today Seifried Estate owns 200 hectares of vineyards on six vineyard sites. They produce around thirty different wines in four ranges, Aotea, Siefried Winemakers Reserve, Seifried and Old Coach Road. Hermann says he has handed over day-to-day control to his children, but he was heading home so as not to miss this year's vintage. And three years ago when I called in at the winery Agnes was behind the tasting counter pouring the wine.
The wines I particularly liked were Aotea (their super premium label) Sauvignon Blanc 2011 which had a richer more complex flavour then many other New Zealand savvys, the Siefried Estate Pinot Noir 2010 which was many layered with sweet ripe fruits and Seifried Estate "Sweet Agnes" 2010 dessert wine with luscious sweetness. "We handpicked the best bunches and quick-freezed them to -20C. Fermentation took 3-4 weeks, then we stopped it to keep the sweetness," Hermann told me.
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Disclosure: Peter F May paid to attend the tasting and when he visited New Zealand he did it at his own expense.
Siefried Estate is located near Nelson on New Zealand's South Island