When we looked at a block of coastal land near New Plymouth nearly 20 years ago we knew it was – in Chris’ words – a “silly place” to try and grow grapes.
But wow, those views. We bought the property, with a vision of establishing a winery.
We’d bought the land but we’d done nothing with it and we were here one day. It was a howling gale and we were under a hedge and the view was phenomenal and we said ‘we’ve got to share this view.
“I often wish I hadn’t said that but the other part of me is so glad we did,” Chris laughs. Today the 50-acre block, just 10 minutes south of the city, is home to the Okurukuru Winery with its cellar door and wine tasting, a function and conference centre, luxury accommodation, two motorhome spots and The Vineyard Bistro restaurant.
Taranaki has very little history of vine growing and wine making.
The earliest record is of a monastery that existed briefly on Koru road in the late 1800's where vines were grown and wine produced.
2002 saw the first grapes being planted. Initial varieties tried were Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinotage. The site is very exposed to weather from the South and West resulting in most plantings failing.
Pinotage was the only variety that showed some resistance to our weather. Therefore subsequent plantings have been of Pinotage except for a small experiment with Gewürztraminer.
Of interest, the cuttings identified as Pinotage, were obtained from a retired Kiwifruit grower, Mr Vern Evans. Upon retiring he had experimented with a number of grape varieties in a well sheltered situation and had determined that this Pinotage, given to him from a very good friend of his who ran a nursery, was the most suitable variety for Taranaki that he had tried.
Our vineyard is, and probably will always be a compromise.
To share the spectacular views we can not shelter too much, however to achieve consistent harvests we require shelter from the October and November South Easterlies which roar down off the mountain just when the vines are getting going, vegetation is at its softest and flowering is initiating.
We also have the salt laden South Westerly and Westerly winds to contend with. These typically come later in the season, stripping foliage and the power house that feeds the developing berries.
So the compromise is we have started to develop more extensive shelter belts to protect from the Early South Easterly wind, this may mean we lose some of the view to the mountain from the upper car park. Below the Restaurant and Chalets the shelter that is being established will be much smaller in stature, so the view of our coastline is not lost.
However, when we do get a harvest, the wine produced has a unique and marvellous character to it, soft but with lots of fruit character.
The landscaping and gardens are a huge part of makes Okurukuru special.
An experienced gardener, Chris had a vision for the property from the outset. She continues to oversee the gardens, employing three part-time gardeners.
“I designed all the original planting so I knew what I was looking for. I’ve tried to keep the plantings low, tussocks and flaxes so you look out over them to the sea. It’s about the view.”
It’s clear Chris takes great pride in what she, Peter and their close-knit team have created at Okurukuru.
“It is a labour of love I would think.”
Words by Katie Holland, Live Magazine, December 2019.
Okurukuru Manager of Accommodation, Cellar Door and Functions