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Seifried Estate – A Lesson in Succession

By July 24, 2012No Comments

As a very new winegrowing country, New Zealand faces the acute issue of succession in winemaking businesses. The ‘old world’ with its history and sense of tradition living on the land for generations has not experienced this to the same degree, though the last five decades with a large proportion of populations shifting to urban centres has seen a less keen uptake of family agricultural operations. We don’t have the tie to the land here, and many vineyard and wineries don’t have anyone to continue the business.

A lesson in successful succession is the Seifried family in Nelson. Hermann and Agnes Seifried have seen their children step into their roles in the family business that they started in the early 1970s. Heidi, originally a dentist by profession, went back to university and retrained in viticulture and oenology, and now assists brother Chris who has responsibility for winemaking and running the daily operations at Seifried Estate. Other daughter Anna is the sales and marketing manager. As one can imagine, being a family business, the duties and work are interwoven, and with it comes the benefits of a unified force working in the same direction. Though Hermann and Agnes are less ‘hands-on’, they are still fully involved in the actual workings of Seifried Estate, Hermann out in the vineyards or in the workshop, and Agnes the first point of contact in exports and PR work. Anna tells me her parents are there at least five days, if not six, each week, her father being the first in the door in the morning and the last to leave at night!

It was a real pleasure to share lunch with the Seifrieds, with parents and children together, except Chris who was overseas. There’s a real ease and comfortable feeling among all of the family members, yet the focus on any and every aspect of the business was very strong to see. Their lives are truly integrated, and supportive of each other. There was considerable talk of the next generation of Seifrieds coming through, both Heidi and Chris with children born at the end of the 2011 harvest. I was impressed with the confidence of Anna and Heidi, and they certainly were directing and organising much of the activity. Although I can’t imagine Hermann and Agnes ever really retiring, I felt they could luxuriate in an extended holiday without any cause for concern about the running of Seifried Estate.
The Largest Estate in Nelson
Seifried Estate is of course a significant player in the New Zealand wine industry, and the largest in the Nelson district owning 200 ha of vines, which supplies around 2,000 tonnes of grapes. And then there’s the contract fruit they source to ensure supply for all their needs, especially for growing markets in the U.K. and the U.S. The pride of place goes to their six estate-owned vineyards, these being the ‘Redwood Valley’ vineyard established in 1980/1981, the home ‘Rabbit Island’ blocks, planted in 1989, which include the ‘Challies’ and ‘Corn Patch’. And the ‘Brightwater’ and ‘Edens Road’ vineyards. All have differing soils and aspects, and are planted to appropriate varieties. Hermann still manages the viticulture and Heidi heads the Sustainable Winegrowing programme.
Anna and Hermann took us on a drive for a view of the newer vineyards. The ‘Edens Road’ property was purchased around 10 years ago but developed into a vineyard only in 2006. Much of the 60 ha is planted to Sauvignon Blanc which is snapped up by the U.S. market. Surprisingly, the other variety that is proven here is Merlot. The site is very free draining and benefits the use of irrigation. Water supply was the key for the acquisition of the ‘Brightwater’ vineyard, which was purchased in 1998. In 2002, the Seifrieds constructed an earth dam with a 60,000 cubic metre capacity to ensure the survival and health of the 70+ ha of Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir, Riesling and Gewurztraminer. The dam blends in aesthetically with the landscape, but driving part way up, then walking to the top of the access track, one can see the impressive amount of water held for the vineyard, and experience the wonderful panorama of the vines spread out below. Heading back to the winery, Anna and Hermann stopped off at the Lord Rutherford memorial. Next to it is another 50 ha, acquired recently by the Seifrieds. It is yet to be planted, but it will need to be soon, considering the continued world-wide demand for their wines.
A Look at Three 2012 Aromatic Whites
I had the opportunity of tasting three 2012 aromatic whites, ‘fresh off the block’ or should I say bottling line. It is appropriate that the Seifrieds are working with Gruner Veltliner, the leading white variety of Hermann’s homeland. The Gruner Veltliner 2012 is marked by excellent aromatic lift which possesses exotic floral notes. This has an excellent, softness to the mouthfeel, and the peppery character will be sure to develop. The Gewurztraminer 2012 is redolent of rose-petals and Turkish Delight, with hints of ginger and fresh fermentation esters. Again the soft texture allied to weighty mouthfeel was a highlight. Then a classically varietal Pinot Gris 2012, with restrained and tightly bound white stonefruit and pear fruit flavours. All were clear-cut examples of what they should have been. However the surprise was their beautifully soft and fine textures and perfectly balanced acidities. No wonder the Seifrieds were very happy to show these. 2012 looks to be a very good year for them and Nelson in general. www.seifried.co.nz

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