It’s a bit of a task to find Babich Wines, one of the last bastions of winegrowing in Henderson, as housing developments take over the land that was once very rural. I like to make the analogy of Chateau Haut-Brion that was originally on the outskirts of Bordeaux, but is now engulfed by the city. The route to the cellar door was rather circuitous, there being no direct road from the main arterial Lincoln Road until the development of Universal Drive. The vineyard at the end of Babich Road is a green oasis amidst the residential properties, but it is now essentially a showpiece for cellar door visitors.
Established in 1916, Babich will soon be celebrating a century of winegrowing and winemaking and no doubt, plans for a big party are being considered right now. Babich is truly a venerable and highly successful business and it shows in the confidence and relaxed, but professional attitudes. It is clear that it is a family business too, with the values that come from such enterprises. The team is close-knit, all working in their assigned roles, but all aware of each other’s progress. I felt rather honoured to sit down with managing director Joe Babich, John Lang in charge of marketing and winemaker Adam Hazeldine before we had a tour of the winery and vineyard. The people at Babich are cognizant of the developments locally and globally and are integral with the wine community at all levels.
The home vineyard at Babich Road is approx. 10 ha, planted to Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinotage and the fruit is essentially blended away, though the Pinotage is the source for the good-value ‘Cheeky Little Red’ wine. Around one-fifth of the production is from Hawke’s Bay, the 500-600 tonnes trucked to Henderson for vinification there. The rest of the wine from the company’s Marlborough vineyards is made at Rapaura Vintners which Babich is a 50% shareholder. The ownership in the Marlborough plant has ensured the retention of the fruit quality.
The Henderson plant is set on a relatively compact footprint and the winery has seen a number of upgrades over the years, resulting in very efficient usage of space. It’s clearly a blend of the old and new, the latter in the latest and proven pieces of equipment. Adam Hazeldine directs the operations of a tight crew with efficiency. The 2012 harvest was a challenging one, the Hawke’s Bay fruit needing considerable attention. (The Marlborough vintage superior, with exciting fruit intensity.) Yet considering the potential and real difficulties, it was another vintage to rack up and work through, Adam’s 16 year tenure with Babich to date providing the experience to take it all in his stride. With Joe and Peter Babich’s enormous experience behind him, I’d suspect there’s not too much they haven’t seen before.
John Lang recapped the ranges, tiers and labels from the acquired Rongopai brand to Lone Tree, to the Classics. Of particular excitement are the Babich Family Estates ‘Individual Vineyard’ wines which allow the expression of small batches of distinct varieties and styles. The ‘Winemaker’s Reserve’, ‘Irongate’ and ‘The Patriarch’ are all well-established. The company has been consolidating and refreshing the packaging, and the result is very contemporary. Along with the new website and inroads into social media, Babich are certainly at the cutting edge.
The way this pioneering West Auckland wine producer has kept at the forefront of winemaking and marketing in the modern world is a model for the rest of the industry. Babich was recently listed as one of the World’s 50 Most Admired Wine Brands. (Click here to read more.) It is certain that the success of the company, an internationally recognised one, is based on its core of family values. As the company approaches 100 years, it isn’t hard to see another 100 years of good and profitable business ahead. www.babichwines.co.nz