I’m sure many members will be familiar with the wines of New Zealander Ben Glover, the man behind Zephyr wines and previously winemaker at Wither Hills. His latest exciting project incorporates not only his undoubted skills in the winery but aims to take the notion of sustainability beyond the winery gates in a collaboration with Vineyard Productions – Liam Steevenson MW’s innovative, Bristol-based wine company.
Mark Pygott MW of Vineyard Productions visited the Glovers in New Zealand in September 2022 and told us a bit more about their shared vision and just how committed the Glovers are to giving something back. The New Zealand wine industry has always been ahead of the game in terms of its outlook on sustainability (they were the first in the industry to establish a world-leading sustainability programme in 1995), so what is it that sets Ben and his family apart?
Mark tells me that the Glover family’s desire to do good and to do the right thing runs deep. No doubt, the length of time that the family has been farming in Marlborough has had an impact. Ben represents the fourth generation here and can remember when there were virtually no vines planted in his region of birth and the valley floor and uplands were largely dedicated to raising cattle and sheep rather than the vines which now dominate.
In 1973, when the first vines were planted here, nobody could have predicted just how famous Marlborough would become as a wine region. Ben’s parents sold their dairy herd in 1985, planting their first vines the same year, a story typical of many of those brave early pioneers. Over the years, as the industry has grown into one of world renown, Ben and his family have remained at the forefront of the local community in Blenheim and the surrounding area.
Ben’s wife Susie is a teacher at the local school (as well as playing a key role in the family wine business). They have also built up strong relationships with local Maori community, employing generations of families on the estate over the years, and like them, see themselves as custodians of the land. They are passionate about leaving the place they work and live in in a fit state for future generations, ever conscious of the costs on the land of a monoculture like grape growing.
A shared vision
Just as Vineyard Productions choose to work with like-minded wine producers who have a real connection to their land, the Glovers also only work with growers who have a similar philosophy to them, one where organic farming is widely practiced by fellow custodians of the land.
When Mark visited, he witnessed growers busy re-wilding parts of their estate, replacing non-indigenous flora with native species to encourage more diversity of fauna and a more balanced and natural eco-system. He was taken to growers who were replacing broken wooden trellis posts in the vineyard with more expensive ones made from recycled plastic bottles in order to re-purpose what would otherwise be heading for land-fill or the ocean.
‘What we like about the Glovers,’ Mark told me, ‘is the way they think about every little thing, from details such as the careful sourcing of inks for their wine labels, to changing how they work in the winery to reduce water use, to digging lakes to improve biodiversity. They don’t just treat the place as a vehicle from which to gain a profit, they think differently.’
Another example of this came when one of the oldest organic vineyards in Marlborough needed grubbing up (as it was deemed too expensive to farm given the reduced yields). The Glovers decided to preserve the vineyard instead, excited by the more concentrated grapes it could yield rather than just reflecting on the bottom line.
Giving something back
Mark told me that while he and Liam don’t have Ben’s experience, they do share similar outlooks and sensibilities about how things should be done. The ethos behind Vineyard Productions is all about collaborative winemaking and, inspired by the work that the Glovers do, Liam and Mark felt they should try harder to do the ‘right thing’ back in Bristol where they are based. They decided to look carefully at their areas of expertise in the wine supply chain and to find ways to give something back in their milieu. As a former social worker and with a wife who teaches, Mark was all too aware of some of the challenges faced by those who have come from a less fortunate background, especially having access to meaningful work experience opportunities which can help get you started in a career.
‘What we have wanted to do for a while’, Mark told me, ‘is to create opportunities and widen our horizons to encompass more than simply those graduates, already rich in experience, looking for work at Vineyard Productions. What if we could create a pathway by which those students in local Further Education establishments in Bristol, could access, through internships or apprenticeships, the opportunity to do something different?’
Vineyard Productions felt it could be good for them and useful to these prospective candidates too and have set about putting this strategy into action. Mark continued, ‘Much of life is about access, who has it and who doesn’t. Most of us require experience to be able to progress but how do you get experience without knowledge, without contacts, without access? We want to be a small part in giving a couple of young people every year, the opportunity to experience working in a small but dynamic team involved in an industry that we love. This is how we intend to complete the circle that is the wheel in which SPOKE sits. A brand that from the beginning to end tries to do the right thing.’
As much as we love a good story, especially one with heart, it is the wines which have to speak for themselves too. The SPOKE collection, which includes classic sauvignon blanc, chardonnay and Central Otago pinot noir are more than capable of expressing their origins in the most eloquent way. We heartily recommend them.
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