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Brookfields – Traditional and Charming

By November 6, 2014No Comments
In the early stages of my journey in learning about wine, the new Brookfields label of Hawke’s Bay was one of my benchmarks. My friend Peter Munslow of the Robbie Burns Shoppe in George Street in Dunedin had become very friendly with the proprietor Peter Robertson. Peter the winemaker made regular visits to Dunedin supporting Peter the retailer’s wine sales through the shop, and in doing so made many new acquaintances, of which I was one. Peter Robertson was positively charming in describing wine and Hawke’s Bay to the extent most of us wanted to relocate there! The Brookfields wines enjoyed good retail sales in Dunedin due not only the strong relationship between the two Peters, but also because of their quality. The Bordeaux varietal wines, based on Cabernet Sauvignon paralleled the quality and distinction that the likes of Te Mata Estate developed through the 1980s, and were go-to wines when one wanted something special.

While I was working for Glengarry in the mid-1990s, I became close to Peter Robertson and Brookfields again, as Brookfields was one of the premium New Zealand brands that the company represented. It was a pleasure to work on behalf of Peter and see the quality of the wines had grown and strengthened. A highlight I had was successfully bidding a record $9,200.00 for a 225 Litre barrique of the Brookfields ‘Auction’ Merlot/Cabernet 1992 at the Hawke’s Bay Charity Wine Auction, and following the wine as it was bottled and eventually sold through the stores.

The ageless Peter Robertson, Brookfields Vineyards

I’m ashamed to admit that in over 30 years I had never visited Brookfields, despite catching up with Peter and his wife Sharon on numerous occasions at trade tastings at roadshow events. At the last Hancocks Roadshow (click here to see my report), I met up with Peter and his daughter Rachael, and vowed I’d call into Brookfields the next time I was in The Bay. I fulfilled that promise on this trip.

Brookfields Vineyards has a history stretching back to 1937, when it was established by the Ellis family. Peter purchased the property in 1977, advised to do so by the late and legendary Tom McDonald when Peter worked as a 26 y.o. chemist at the then McWilliams winery. From that started Peter and Sharon’s hands-on involvement in fine Hawke’s Bay wine. When I visited, Peter was working on a tractor in the vineyard, following loading some wine onto a truck to send off for bottling. Sharon was with loyal clientele who had made the journey from Auckland to visit their favourite winery. Daughter Rachael has taken on responsibility for the restaurant and functions. Clearly, Peter and Sharon are still very much hands-on, and it is a family business.

Brookfields has grown with the times in how it manages the day-to-day operations. Over the three decades plus of working, Peter has installed systems and efficiencies to manage the annual intake of 200 tonnes of fruit from their four regional vineyard sources of the ‘Home’ block at Meeanee, the Ohiti vineyard, and from vineyards in the Tuki Tuki and their ‘Hillside’ vineyard. This is comfortable for Peter and his assistant Carl Nicolson, and Peter doesn’t want to increase the volumes he is handling. All of the vinification is handled on-site, as is the bottling of the ‘Reserve’ wines of which there are approximately 1,500 – 2,000 cases made yearly, this accounting for one-fifth or less of the total production. The bottling of the other wines is outsourced to ‘Wineworks’.

The wine range is textbook Hawke’s Bay, playing to the strengths of the region. In the whites, there is Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris, Viognier and Chardonnay, with variations on winemaker input, the ‘Marshall Bank’ Chardonnay seen as the flagship white. Peter also makes a rosé and dessert wine. The reds offer variations on Merlot, Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah, the ‘Hillside’ Syrah particularly notable, and the top wine being the ‘Gold Label’ Reserve Bordeaux Blend.

Peter and Sharon have always taken the quiet approach to promoting their wines, allowing the wines to ‘speak for themselves’. Quite often, it’s a matter of people discovering Brookfields and regaling in the find. It’s a pleasure visiting Brookfields, as it exudes tradition and charm, very much reflecting the personalities of the family that owns and runs the business. The cellar door and tasting room is part of the winery complex, and visitors know they are inside a working winery. The building was constructed in the 1930s from hand-made concrete blocks, and the sense of history is tangible. Everything is in order and in its place, as with the wines, and with the people. www.brookfieldsvineyards.co.nz

Barrel cellar – Brookfields Vineyards

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