Maori tribe releases award-winning wines into UK

A Maori tribe that has farmed the same land for 800 years has launched a range of wines into the UK market after scooping a bunch of medals in New Zealand.

Haysley MacDonald, who can trace his Rangitane tribal ancestry back to the 13th century, started growing grapes on the family’s 160ha land in 2003.

The te Pā estate straddles the Marlborough coast on the Wairau Bar, which is New Zealand’s earliest known settlement.

Archaeologists regularly dig up the land to find the MacDonalds’ ancestors’ bones and fill in gaps in New Zealand’s history.

Alongside them the family grows Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris on 150ha of planted vines.

Until 2009, MacDonald worked as a contract grower for many wineries around New Zealand, but then the family decided to start making its own wines five years ago. 

MacDonald teamed up with winemaker Liam McElhinney, who was responsible for The Ned at Marisco and worked at Saint Clair before that, to start crafting Sauvignon Blanc under the te Pā brand.

McElhinney steered the winery’s first wine to immediate success in 2011 when it was awarded Top Sauvignon Blanc by Cuisine, New Zealand’s influential food and wine magazine.   

The wines have since won a clutch of medals in domestic competitions and MacDonald feels the time is ripe to start exporting.

“The UK is a great market and it’s where everyone wants to be,” he said. “We are in talks with various UK companies right now.”

He has worked with the Wine Fusion team to promote the wines in the UK, and they were poured at the annual New Zealand tasting this week in London.

MacDonald said he has the scope to produce wine on a large scale for multiples, but is particularly targeting independent wine merchants that can hand-sell the products. 

The 2013 Sauvignon Blanc retails at £9.99 and the 2012 Oke Sauvignon Blanc sells for £12.99. The MacDonald family – whose name comes from a Scottish migrant marrying the Rangitane chief’s daughter in the 1800s – also offers a 2013 Pinot Gris at £9.99, a 2011 Pinot Noir at £12.99 and a 2013 te Pā Rosé at £9.99.

Head winemaker McElhinney said: “The secret to our success is good soil and its diversity. We have the beach, the shingle, the sand, rich top soil, fine alluvial gravels, and I blend these wines from 30 different parcels. It gives me the ability to experiment and have plenty of options.”

The te Pā winery is bordered by the Wairau river and the ocean, and MacDonald said the wines are perfect with seafood.

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