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Rod McDonald – Multi-Tier Winemaking

By November 6, 2014No Comments

Since leaving Vidal Estate, Rod McDonald seems to have been carried off on different waves of winemaking as he began his pursuit and ultimate dream of making definitive Hawke’s Bay Syrah. Establishing his own Rod McDonald Wines company, a number of brands have emerged, some of them his very own, and others in which he is part of. The ‘Quarter Acre’, ‘Te Awanga Estate’, ‘Blanket Hills’, ‘Two Gates’ and eclectic ‘One-Off’ labels are examples of the former, with the ‘Trademark’ Syrah his personal flagship (click here to see my report on the release of the inaugural 2011). ‘Frizzell Wines’ is a partnership between Dick Frizzell, business associate Mike Farrugia and Rod, under the ‘Massive Wines’ company. And Rod has many clients where he acts as a consultant or contract winemaker, such as Cypress and Osawa.

A whole new level of winemaking, far larger than originally planned, has begun for Rod with the creation of the Hawke’s Bay Wine Company. With the involvement of investors, Rod now manages one of Hawke’s Bays most significant wineries, at what was the former Corbans (or McWilliams for those with longer memories) premises in the industrial Pandora suburb of Napier. Rod previously conducted his winemaking at Matariki, but quickly found that the capacity of the plant was too small. The Pandora winery has a capability of handling 10,000 tonnes of fruit, and Rod sees this as the last move he’ll ever need to make to ensure he can manage all his winemaking. The Hawke’s Bay Wine Co. is a new entity, offering contract winemaking at all levels, and Rod’s own wine company is a client of this new facility.

Under Corbans and Pernod-Ricard, the Pandora winery was geared for large-scale winemaking with a number of tanks each holding the juice of 200 tonnes of fruit, or 146,000 Litres. In an innovative move, Rod brought the plant he purchased from Matariki into the Pandora winery so as to have his requirement of small batch winemaking. In essence, there’s a smaller 700 tonne winery within a 10,000 tonne winery, this providing the ability to vinify moderately small volumes. And within the smaller winery, there’s equipment to handle very small parcels, called the ‘Special Batch Cellar’ which deals with wines with a production of 200 cases or less. The ‘Russian Nesting Dolls’ analogy is apt!

The Hawke’s Bay Wine Co. office run-about

Operating the New Winery
The Hawke’s Bay Wine Co. moved into its site in August 2013, and wines from that vintage, initially processed at Matariki have continued their elevage there. Although already a working winery, Rod and his team have been adapting the winery and its plant to suit their needs. There’s been the inevitable cleaning, following a period of inactivity. Drainage is being up-graded. Systems and flow have been established, taking into account the smaller winery within. Part of the original 3,000 barrel cellar has been reduced to fit in the extra plant, so there’s space for 1,000 barrels now, with this to be extended to 1,500 barrels in the near future.

With such a large-scale and multi-tiered operation, one of the challenges will be to consistently fully utilise the tank capacity. The larger wine producers in Hawke’s Bay, especially those with interests in other regions have existing processing ability both locally and elsewhere. However, Rod notes there are a number of companies in growth, and require the ability to vinify fruit from outside regions such as Marlborough and Gisborne, as well as Hawke’s Bay grown fruit. In 2014, around 94% of the tank space was used, so already the word is out there!

Plenty of big winery plant here

Visiting the Hawke’s Bay Wine Co., I got a very positive feeling from the staff who shared Rod’s passion to “give the winery a heart”. Rod wants the winery to be recognised as a place where great wine is made, respecting the fruit, provenance and philosophies of his clients. There’s no desire to have the Hawke’s Bay Wine Co. to become publicly famous, rather it to have a reputation within the wine industry for doing a great job and offering the best service. The company runs with 9 people, including Rod. Three are full-time in the cellar. At harvest time, there are another 20 staff working. 2014 was the first vintage proper, and Rod and his staff are very pleased with how the winery ran, and are very excited with the wines they have made, some of them even better than wines made in the stellar 2013 vintage. The future for Rod McDonald looks very bright and busy.

Hawke’s Bay Wine Co. winemakers
Pieter Koopman and Rod McDonald

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