Rod, I Love Making Wine.
Rod McDonald, winemaker and general Te Awanga Estate overseer.
THE STORY: When I was a kid, I thought I’d be a farmer. All my family thought I’d be a farmer. When we sold our farm, I spent every school holiday I could on a farm. I loved getting up early, I loved the stock, the dark mornings and the sunrises. I loved the ritual and routine of farming life – early starts, back home for long breakfasts, feeding the dogs, feeding out hay from the back of a tractor…
My first memory of wine being on the radar was at my grandparents’ place, Christmas dinner, when I was ten. Papa always fancied a drink, his martinis and G&Ts were the stuff of legend. He also loved entertaining, big dinners, a bottle or two of special wine on the table. There was always a story that went with it. Great wine is all about that.
So, in 1993 I arrived in Hawke’s Bay with a love for making wine and everything I owned packed into the boot of a small car.
THE LOVE: In winemaking there are no absolutes. No two winemakers using the same grapes will ever make the same wine. I love that.
There’s different kinds of winemaking; There’s making a technically good wine that displays balance of acidity and sugar matching the wine’s natural extract and fruit concentration.
Then there’s making wine that shows the hand of the winemaker. It has a signature or fingerprint stamped all over it and running through it. It’s a house-style.
There’s also the kind of winemaking that reveals more about where the wine came from. It’s difficult to grow grapes like that. And it’s impossible to make wine if you haven’t managed to find a site to grow grapes that’s managed well for the purpose.
What I now know, having worked for a really successful well organised wine company like Villa Maria, is what it’s like to have the perfect winemaking job. Perfect in that most of the hard work has been done. The business has been developing for 50 years to get to a point where success is almost guaranteed. All the pieces are there to be assembled.
Much of the joy of winemaking for me is in the build. The intuition. The assembling of the natural resources, the chase of the perfect site, the best people and winemaking, the best facilities you can muster and the leaps of risk and faith to create something unexpected.
THE GUFF: I spent nine years as winemaker at Vidal Estate in Hawke’s Bay and was awarded New Zealand Winemaker of the year in 2006, glory days. I left later that year with a few ideas about what Hawke’s Bay wines could be like, where the great ones would come from, and started Rod McDonald Wines, now Te Awanga Estate.
The plan was to consult to a few leading producers and launch a family of wines, which now sits with Trademark, Quarter Acre, Te Awanga Estate, Mister and One Off. Our winemaking happens at The Hawkes Bay Wine Company in Pandora on the edge of Napier, but our cellar door and spiritual home is on the coast at Te Awanga.
Recently our Quarter Acre 2015 Syrah was awarded the trophy for Champion Red Wine of Show at the prestigious International Wine Challenge (IWC) in London, along with trophies for the best International Syrah, New Zealand Syrah, New Zealand Red and Hawke’s Bay Syrah.
I’m a Senior Judge at the New Zealand International Wineshow and spent six years as Chairman of the Hawke’s Bay Winegrowers Association, helping establish us as one of the great winegrowing regions of the world. Way back in history I grabbed a Post Grad Diploma in Viticulture at Lincoln University.