Since its opening in 2008, New Zealand winery Yealands has championed sustainability. Its wines are now stocked in Marks & Spencer, Waitrose and Majestic, among others. Speaking to Rachel Badham at the annual New Zealand trade tasting, Yealands chief winemaker Natalie Christensen shares her thoughts on the future for New Zealand wine  

How did you get into the wine industry?

It’s a bit of a long story. I initially planned to become a music therapist, so I studied music and psychology. After university, I worked in HR for about eight months and I hated it – I had what I called my quarter-life crisis.

I quit my job and ended up working at a winery during harvest season to save some money and I just fell in love with winemaking – that was in 2006. I did my first harvest at Yealands in 2014 and became chief winemaker in 2019.  

Having not initially planned to work in wine, what advice would you give to somebody who is new to the industry? 

If you’ve already studied wine then that’s great. If you’re completely new to the industry but are considering getting into winemaking, I would definitely recommend doing a harvest first to make sure you actually like it – it’s not just sipping wine every day. It’s a lot of manual work, but by doing a harvest you can get a sense for it and see if it’s something that you’d truly love.  

With 2023 well under way, what are Yealands’ plans for the rest of the year? 

Things are getting more exciting now the world’s back open again. During the pandemic, we had to dial back on small batch production because we didn’t really have an outlet for those wines. So we’re planning on bringing that back a bit and it’s really exciting to just show off what New Zealand has to offer with these unique expressions.

We’re also just about to launch an Albariño, which is a first for our portfolio. I’d actually say that the new Albariño is my favourite wine that I’ve made during my time at Yealands. It just felt like a really natural fit for our vineyard and I’m really excited for it to come out. 

What do you think consumers are looking for in New Zealand wines at the moment? 

A few New Zealand wineries are playing around with natural wines, and in general there are lots of very experimental winemakers in New Zealand. I think consumers seem to be becoming a bit more adventurous, so these less-traditional styles are great for wine drinkers who are looking for new things to try.

Sustainability is also big with consumers. We were one of the first wineries in the world to be certified carbon zero, and as part of our ongoing sustainability plans, we’ve just launched a 30-year biodiversity programme that will see us plant over a million native trees on the Yealands property to help preserve the land. We’re also about to add to our existing solar panel installation, which is due to make it one of the largest solar panel installations in New Zealand.  

What makes working in the New Zealand wine industry unique? 

What’s great about the New Zealand wine industry is that there are a large number of women in winemaking roles. I didn’t actually realise it might be considered ‘unusual’ to be a female winemaker because it’s quite a progressive country in that sense. I think a lot of women fought hard for their place prior to my existence and it’s great to see that reflected in today’s wine industry.