Dave Shepherd: The Fruits of Foley Wines
Nestled in the heart of South Wairarapa, Martinborough is home to some of the finest tasting wines – namely Pinot Noir. This quaint small town exudes comfort, featuring plenty of villa-styled houses, wholesome cafés and restaurants, and over 20 wineries. We had the pleasure of visiting two vineyard locations managed by Dave Shepherd and owned by Foley Wines: Martinborough Vineyard and Te Kairanga.
It was a windy, crisp morning when we showed up at Martinborough Vineyard, but Dave Shepherd, viticulturist and vineyard manager of Foley Wines, greeted us with a hot cup of coffee before showing us around the property. This vineyard boasts some of the oldest vines in the district and has been around since the 1980s. Foley Wines is carrying on the legacy that has been built at Martinborough Vineyard after purchasing the property in 2014.
“Martinborough Vineyard already had a strong heritage about the brand but [Foley Wines] have taken those wines to the next level, making great wine that people are enjoying around the world,” Dave Said.
We visited Dave Shepherd during the pruning stages of the vineyard process, which he said is one of their biggest jobs onsite. With it comes the art of knowing what to prune back and what to keep, and each vineyard has its distinct character and sculpting methods. While Dave talked us through this process, we caught a glimpse of a few workers pruning amongst the vines – one of them, a long-term team member, has been working there for around 25 years.
Martinborough Vineyard's 10-hectare property also houses Lighthouse Gin Distillery. Founded in 2005 by Neil Catherall, the distillery is run by Rachel Hall who produces small-batch gin, mixing a unique blend of botanicals and the purest spring water. Rachel mentioned that having clean, natural water gives the gin more soul and character as this element can affect the overall taste.
Te Kairanga has been around since 1979 and has had a very interesting history. John Martin, who founded Martinborough, farmed on the same piece of land in the 1880s, and today, it is gearing up to be one of Martinborough’s top winery destinations. Dave took us around Te Kairanga’s new barrel hall and The Runholder facility, which presented a strong scent of oak and a copious number of wine-filled barrels. Te Kairanga was purchased in 2011 by Foley Wines (just two years before they acquired Martinborough Vineyard) as a means of resurrecting the brand and making it a popular selection for consumers. Dave came on board that year and has helped with the project from the very beginning. Part of his job as vineyard manager was to improve the plant material that already existed and replant new clones of Pinot Noir to help make stronger wine.
Across the two locations, Martinborough Vineyard and Te Kairanga occupy 140 hectares, which is approximately half a million vines. Pinot Noir remains at the heart of their production, making up 60% of their wines – 20% is in Sauvignon Blanc and the other 20% includes Chardonnay, Riesling and Pinot Gris.
Originally from Marlborough, Dave grew up on a farm and had always thought of becoming a sheep and beef farmer. His dad ran a telecommunications company which his two brothers got involved in before branching out into other trades. It was only Dave that followed the winemaking path in his family. When he left school, the wine industry was booming so he decided to try his hand at winemaking for a year. In his words, he “caught the wine bug” and 25 years later he is managing the Foley Wines Wairarapa locations.
“I’ve been through 25 vintages that have all had their points of interest and challenges but wouldn’t change it for anything. It’s cool to be able to look at a bottle of wine at the end of the season and go, yeah, we nailed that. There are no bad wines, some are just better than others,” he said.
Dave and his wife Kirsty originally were tossing up between moving to Waiheke Island or Martinborough, but after visiting and hearing Dave talk about his love for the region’s wine festivals, we could tell why he was sold on this town. Kirsty works as a lawyer for the Ministry of Health, and the pair have two primary-aged children who are thoroughly into their sport. Dave mentioned that he’s a proud observer of their rugby and football games – and does a bit of coaching on the side.
The family aspect of Foley Wines remains evident when talking to Dave and the connection that he has with his team. Dave mentioned that 40 different families are working for Foley Wines in the Wairarapa alone. Across New Zealand (Martinborough, Marlborough and Central Otago), Foley Wines employs around 100-120 staff across production, including restaurant, bottling, warehouse and administration staff.
Bill and Carol Foley own a collection of 15 wine brands throughout New Zealand and the United States, including Martinborough Vineyard and Te Kairanga in the Wairarapa; Grove Mill and Vavasour in Marlborough; and Mt Difficulty in Central Otago. Bill’s strengths are acquiring wine brands and placing them in an even stronger position in the market. Dave acknowledged the huge support that he receives from Bill, Foley Wines CEO Mark Turnbull and the board.
“The great thing I enjoy about Foley Wines is having that leadership and vision for where we’re going with the company and the brand. I think it’s generous of Bill to be able to allow 600 other shareholders that are all New Zealanders to make a great New Zealand company. Having excellent vision of making great wine to be enjoyed throughout the world is a strong vision and statement but one that I’m keen to be involved in and build,” Dave Said.
“Having that collaboration between us winemaking and vineyard guys is a special and unique thing. I can't think of a better bunch of people to be working with. We're able to collaborate and make the wines that we do, across the different styles and varieties that we have – all at different price points. It’s special to be able to offer what we can for the consumer,” Dave added.
Bill and his family own Wharekauhau Lodge with the ethos of connecting Kiwis and people from overseas with a taste of the New Zealand experience. Located on a 3,000-acre property at Ocean Beach, this luxury farm stay offers an immersive experience of fine dining and outdoor activities. Just 40 minutes from Martinborough, it isn’t far to visit Te Kairanga and Martinborough Vineyard – where the magic happens. “It’s a great place to come and share the whole cuisine and wine experience that the Wairarapa has to offer,” Dave said.
Foley Wines offers its customers a rewards programme, Foley Wine Club, which lets you buy bundles of some of New Zealand’s finest wine brands whilst acquiring points on your orders. These points can give you opportunities to stay at Wharekauhau Lodge along with other accommodation, dining and shopping experiences.
Sustainability is paramount for Foley Wines, with its wine brands ensuring good environmental practices across their vineyards. Dave said one thing that he is conscious of is using less diesel and lowering carbon emissions significantly by upgrading their fleet. A couple of other practices Dave mentioned were around irrigation and improving soil health. “We're always mindful of irrigation and how much water we're using. Having drip irrigation is a big one for us and underground drip irrigation is another step for us in the long run.”
Dave added, “We make sure that the fertiliser that we use is working and then utilised by the microbes in the soil – feeding microbes in the soil by cover crops. We've been doing cover crops for the last six or seven years which has been a great success in building organic matter in our soil.”
Other sustainability practices for Foley Wines include using recycled New Zealand glass for their bottles, using solar power to decrease energy usage, recycling winery wastewater, promoting biodiversity and reducing their carbon footprint by integrating wineries into their vineyards.
Plans are underway for setting up the new Te Kairanga site in time for Toast Martinborough, a unique and popular one-day multi-site food and wine festival in November. This great new facility will also host a bigger distillery for Lighthouse Gin and a restaurant that can cater for 100 people. We’ll be excited to visit Martinborough once these renovations have been completed, and if you’re ever looking for a taste that’s true to Martinborough, Pinot Noir is your very own hug in a glass.
We visited Dave Shepherd, manager of Foley Wines in New Zealand, as he showed us around two South-Wairarapa based vineyards: Martinborough Vineyard and Te Kairanga.