To help our growing membership keep track of each other, we are enjoying sharing Q&A's with certified organic OWNZ members via our blog as well as our Organic Matters magazine.
Here is our interview with Nick Paulin of Aotearoa New Zealand Fine Wine Estates:
At the youthful age of 35, Nick Paulin has already put together an enviable CV. He began his career at Felton Road where he fostered a deep respect for organic and biodynamic viticulture. Nick then moved over to the Gibbston Valley and Peregrine Wines where he worked his way up the ranks before becoming their viticulturist. He was an integral member of the team committed to Peregrine's conversion to organics and saw them achieve 100% certification in 2017. Today, Nick is working with Aotearoa New Zealand Fine Wine Estates (AONZ), managing their Central Otago and North Canterbury vineyards.
What is your role at AONZ?
Estate Manager for Manata Estate and Organics/BD Manager for Pyramid Valley
You are very active in the greater wine industry, which organisations are you involved with?
COWA (Chair), OWNZ (Exec Board), and Young Viticulturist of the year (National Committee)
Why did you want to join the executive board at OWNZ?
To get involved with industry wide issues and the ability to make positive changes to our industry.
What inspired you personally to get involved in organic production?
I really enjoy the hands on aspect of viticulture, seeing results and not dealing with nasty chemicals. I think I was also fortunate to have my first job at Felton Road Wines where the passion for organics was just starting and I got on the wave at the right time with them.
You have earned some impressive accolades over the years including NZ Young Viticulturist of the Year. Most recently you were shortlisted for the auspicious WSET 'Future 50' award. How did this make you feel and do you credit any people in particular to guiding you on your career path?
The recognition is great, I guess it's motivation for me to keep working hard and challenging myself to step out of the comfort zone a little. I think my Grandad is the first one to thank, he always said you should challenge yourself to be constantly learning new things. Additionally, the three people who have influenced my career the most thus far are Gareth King, Mike Weersing and Lindsay Mclachlan.
You were quoted in Scoop Business saying that you see organic farming as normal. How did you come to this conclusion and how are you sharing this message with the greater industry?
I’ve been also lucky to work for companies early in my career where organic was normal. It was driven from the top, both Nigel Greening (Felton Road) and Lindsay Mclachlan (Peregrine) have a clear vision that organic should be normal, it’s easy to agree with them when the results prove it can be done.
I think seeing is believing, especially with BD it can be sometimes tricky to communicate the message, but when you do it and see and reflect on the results it becomes real. Talking to others dealing with the same challenges definitely helps to overcome some fears and provides solution to challenges, I think as growers we need to have that interaction with each other, talk about ideas and try and find solutions that don’t come in a bag or box.
Who is Aotearoa New Zealand Fine Wine Estates (AONZ)?
AONZ is a partnership between Steve Smith MW and Brian Sheth. They both have a passion for creating a fine wine business in New Zealand, proving we can compete on the world stage of fine wine while creating environments within our estates that regenerate the native flora and fauna.
Where are AONZ’s vineyards and what varieties do you grow?
Manata Estate, Lowburn Valley, Central Otago – Pinot noir and Chardonnay
Pyramid Valley, Waikari, North Canterbury – Pinot noir and Chardonnay
Omahu Estate, Gimblett Gravels, Hawkes Bay – Chardonnay, Syrah, Bordeaux reds
Tell us about AONZ’s vision for their organic & biodynamic operations?
Our vision is to create wines authentic to place and of the best possible quality. We see organics and biodynamics as the best way of farming to reflect the characteristics of our sites. There is also a desire to involve modern technology into those systems, not ignoring history but challenging the status quo, measuring results and thinking broadly why we do what we do?
What are the biggest challenges for your company around growing organically?
High density plantings. We have imported specialised narrow crawler tractors to help with this and are developing ideas around being more efficient with tractor passes. Cover cropping in narrow rows is something we are trying to get our heads around properly, having low fruiting wires means it doesn’t take long for a crop to grow up and create environmental challenges to the fruiting zone – frost risk, humidity etc.
What’s an interesting experiment or innovation AONZ has tried in producing organically, either in the vineyard or winery?
Sub-surface irrigation has been a big focus over the last two years, not exclusive to organics, but I believe applying water where it is needed rather than growing vegetation in a strip under the vines is going to be of great value – reduced weed growth, meaning reduced cultivation passes, more efficient use of water and resources.
What reflections do you see in your vineyards and wines that you believe are related to your organic status?
For the wines from Manata Estate it is hard to say after just 1 year of organic production , but we saw a much better balance return to the vines this season. We picked about 1 week earlier than would have been expected normally. It’s a hard thing to quantify exactly, but a better balance in growth is reflected in our picking decisions.
Do you have any key aspirations for the future of AONZ?
For me it is to reinforce the hard work and vision of the people who established the vineyards at Pyramid Valley and Lowburn Ferry. I feel a sense of responsibility to carry on that work and prove that NZ can produce wines of an exceptional quality that are true players in the world of fine wine.
For more information, visit the Pyramid Valley website.