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. This month we spoke with Hans and Therese Herzog.
Where are your vineyard and winery located?
Hans Herzog is just off Rapaura Road, also known as 'the golden mile'. It is a hot spot of the valley. Our vineyard (and winery, restaurant and cellar door) are located alongside the Wairau River on sandy, gravelly soils with amazing drainage.
Where do you come from, and what drew you to Marlborough?
The Herzogs have grown wine on the steep hills above the Rhine River in Switzerland for more than 500 years. We discovered Marlborough in the early ’80s and realised the potential for winegrowing with its amazing climate and multiple terroirs. A winegrower’s dream with its sunshine hours, dry climate, wind, cool nights...
What are your roles in the business?
Hans is the viticulturist and winemaker, a true vigneron. Therese manages the administration, sales, marketing and hospitality side of the estate.
What varieties do you grow, and how much of each?
We grow 28 grape varieties on 11.5 ha, so not much of each wine. About 50% white, 50% reds.
Why do you grow so many different varieties?! And how did you choose which ones to grow?
Back in Switzerland, Hans was restricted to the grape varieties which the government allowed us to grow in a certain wine region. He always pushed the boundaries and planted Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay when they were ‘forbidden’. The law changed after we left.
You can imagine the possibilities Hans saw in 1994 with the freedom in New Zealand, owning a plot of land with a very varied terroir to plant on. He started with nine grape varieties, including the very late-ripening Montepulciano. When we asked the nursery how the Montepulciano performed, they had no idea, not even knowing what variety it was. Hans was curious if we could fully ripen this grape variety. If so, this would mean we could ripen many more. The first vintage of this Italian ‘stallion’ exceeded all our expectations. Now Hans knew no boundaries and planted everything he loved to drink.
It is important to know that Hans is a farmer’s son, used to working 24/7. Also, his love for wine has no boundaries and he loves challenges. Nothing is too much for him. It’s hard to keep up with his pace for everyone. It also helped being the chief winemaker for a winery and wine merchant in Zurich for 12 years. They imported a lot of unfinished bulk wines from different regions of Spain, Italy and France, and Hans handled and ‘finished’ the different varieties’ wine. On top of that, our holidays were and are still spent in wine regions around the world where Hans walks the vineyards and discusses issues around the grapes and wines with viticulturists and winemakers. He often comes back inspired and plants what he thinks will thrive in his vineyard, always trying to make the best out of it with low yield and lots of vineyard management.
In a Marlborough landscape dominated by Sauvignon Blanc, how do you educate consumers about some of the more unusual varieties you’re growing? What’s the reception been like?
Consumers love the diversity and quality of these varietals. It showcases that Marlborough is one of the world’s best wine regions, capable of producing many different varieties to perfect physiological ripeness with expressive and stunning flavour profiles. Consumers are often surprised that Sauvignon Blanc is a very late-ripening grape variety, and as the main white Bordeaux variety grows together with the equally late-ripening Cabernet family.
How long have your vineyard and winery been certified organic? Since 2011. We never used any additives except for small doses of sulphur for our wines. The vineyard was always managed naturally, but in 2007 we realised the need to be certified as the word ‘natural’ became a marketing slogan.
What inspired you to grow organically?
We would have loved to manage our vineyards in Switzerland organically, but the high humidity and frequent rainfalls threatened the quality of the grapes and unfortunately required systemic sprays. The dry climate with lots of wind and cool nights in Marlborough offers itself to organics, and we didn’t need convincing to go organic.
Are your consumers interested in your organic status? There maybe is a small group of consumers who are focused solely on organics, but that is a very small market. Most consumers like wines which offer a great drinking experience. The aim should be to offer great tasting wines organically, to have the best of both worlds. The whole ‘natural’ wine movement surely helps organic producers.
Give us an example of an interesting innovation you’ve tried in the winery.
In 2004 we were criticised by fellow colleagues for our ‘pink’ Pinot Gris which showed skin contact. Now 15 years later it’s all the vogue! Nothing really new for us as Hans has always been natural but very innovative (wild ferments, cold soaks, long pre and post fermentation macerations). A part of our Viognier has always been skin-fermented, but
Hans would just say ‘no big deal’. We do some special releases for Pinot Gris and Gewürztraminer with long skin fermentations – so-called orange wines but still ‘clean’.
What reflections do you notice in your vineyards and wines that you believe are related to your organic status? We live and breathe our vineyard and wines and are happy for us and our team to be able to work in a healthy environment. It is very satisfying to have a vineyard with a functional biodiversity and ecosystem. Plants are naturally stronger with less spray needed. We will leave this land healthier than we found it, ready for the next generation, and are happy to have done something good for our planet.
The wines are made naturally from low yields, and they are always naturally balanced and expressive. They show their terroir and also vintage variations. Unique wines with individual characters but always showing typicity.
What are your dreams for the future?
To continue for a long time and be an inspiration to the next generation of winegrowers.
To discover more about the Herzog family and their impressive portfolio of wine (from sparkling through to grappa!) visit their website by clicking here.
Hans Herzog's acclaimed bistro & restaurant reopens this summer.