“de la terre:” from the earth.
Those three words sum up what Tony and Kaye Prichard of de la terre are all about: provenance.
“Own what’s in the glass, grow your own grapes, do it yourself. That’s really important to us.” – Tony
When you pull up to Tony and Kaye’s winery, after a relaxing, beautiful drive through the winding country-side of Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand, you’ll instantly notice you’re somewhere special.
You will feel like you’re a visitor to an old, French country cottage. Gracie, the friendly dog, will greet you as you begin walking the path to the solid cedar double doors. You will hear the gravel crunch underneath your feet, and as you survey the hilly landscape, you’ll take in the scent of freshly cut grass, blooming flowers, and clean air. You’ll also notice the aroma of a warm loaf of Kaye’s home made bread, or a from-scratch pizza baking in the clay oven, and take note to pop over to the cafe as soon as you’re finished your tasting.
As you set foot inside the earth brick winery, you will meet Tony himself, who will take you through your selected choices from 13 of his 16 wines, kept fresh in his personally designed and home-made wine dispensing machine. He’ll explain how he has made each of the unique and distinctive wines he produces, and you’ll be amazed at the exceptional quality, depth and complexity of each of them. When you purchase your wine, you’ll notice that each bottle has been hand numbered by Kaye, just one example of the incredible detail that goes into every single element of what de la terre does.
After your degustation, you will partake in a beautiful meal or platter of Kaye’s delicious, home made food, perfectly paired with the de la terre wines of your choice. While you eat, the three-tiered pergola water feature above you (that Tony built himself) or a crackling log fire in the pizza oven will bring calm serenity to relax you before you head off . . . until next time. You already know you’ll be back.
So how did Tony and Kaye create this incredibly special place for their customers to experience?
It all began when they met each other in their early 20’s as Food Tech students at Massey University in Palmerston North. Kaye was enrolled in the product development side of the programme and Tony was enrolled in the engineering side. On their first days of school, neither Tony or Kaye thought they’d graduate from a Food Tech programme and eventually own their own winery, but low and behold, that’s what happened.
Kaye had been raised visiting the vineyards of her father’s winemaker friends, and remembers really liking a popular, sweet, sparkling wine as a young girl. Tony had also tried a sparkling in his early years at his brother’s wedding, in an old-style goblet, and remembers not liking it, yet being mesmerized by it; he was curious as to how it was made.
They give the real credit though, for the spark of their wine journey, to an influential lecturer, Malcolm Reeves, co-founder of Crossroad Winery, who used to put on wine tastings for his students on Friday’s. As you can imagine, wine tastings on Friday afternoons were very well received by the students, so Tony and Kaye began attending. Tony recalls one afternoon where Malcolm poured a Chardonnay, a Sauvignon Blanc and a Riesling, then put them in bags to disguise them before pouring them again, blind. Tony guessed them correctly, and thought to himself, “this winemaking stuff is easy. I can do this!”
He couldn’t picture himself as a food tech engineer, wearing a white uniform in a dairy factory somewhere for the rest of his life. He knew in his soul that he was a “maker of things,” and wanted to make wine.
Upon graduating, Tony found an advertisement in the paper for an Assistant Winemaker position at the Montana Winery in Gisborne. Many people in his class applied, but Tony was chosen for the job. When I asked him why, he said he isn’t sure, but it could have been to do with his passion. Knowing how passionate and skilled he is today, I would agree that Montana made the right choice. Tony explains that in those days, there weren’t winemaking degrees like there are now. Two of the decision makers for Montana also had Food Tech degrees, like Tony, and perhaps wanted someone without any winemaking ideas of his own, who could be trained and moulded. His Food Tech course had indeed prepared him quite well for the science of winemaking; everything else he learned on the job.
The two were married in 1983.
Tony worked as Assistant Winemaker for Montana for 3 years, doing huge volumes (for example, 15,000 tonne vintages). He was promoted to Chief Winemaker in 1986. As Tony began working at Montana, Kaye completed a Cordon Bleu Certificate Course in Auckland.
In 1989, Montana bought Church Road Winery and re-opened it, making Tony the Chief Winemaker at both the Gisborne Winery, and Church Road. Running both places in two locations was exhausting. Tony and Kaye moved to Hawke’s Bay in 1990 so Tony could focus solely on Church Road, where he spent 15 years in total.
He remembers many of the early years at Church Road with fondness. “It was family and fun in the early days,” Tony says, but unfortunately, through a couple of ownership changes, Tony eventually tired of the increasing corporate reporting and compliance in those companies; he also tired of not being able to see the wines he made into the bottle, as the bottling plant was in Auckland.
Tony and Kaye remember a specific afternoon drive they took, where through the conversation, Tony realized that he was ready to move on. He had always told his staff, “if you’re driving to work and you’re not happy, and you don’t want to be going here, you should be looking for something else.” Tony realized he needed to take his own advice; they both already knew what to do.
They had visited Burgundy in 1995, and remember it vividly.
We would be “driving through little streets, and see a small house and underground cellars and there’s a press and some barrels and a few tanks, and you go along and there’s another one, and here were people living and breathing wine, and that was their livelihood and that struck a chord. Even before that we’ve always been makers of things. Having been trained in winemaking it seemed like a logical progression to make our own.”
Tony and Kaye had previously found their property in 1992, when it was just a green paddock with nothing on it. Being the makers of things that they are, they had built their house and workshop from scratch. After Tony left Church Road in 2005, he started a successful wine consulting business, and set about designing and building the winery. Ever since Tony can remember, he’s been building and making anything from furniture to beer; he wanted to make the winery too. It took them 4 years to get the winery up, and although Tony had begun producing some wines in the meantime with some of his consulting clients’ grapes, de la terre’s first vintage in the new winery was in 2009.
The name “de la terre” doesn’t just represent the way Tony makes his wine. The principle of using what is from the earth (de la terre) is weaved throughout the whole place. The winery is built with “earth bricks” that came from a local earth brick maker, who uses highly compressed soil to make them. Tony and Kaye’s house is built in the sustainable “rammed earth” style, and is made completely of raw, natural materials. Tony built both himself, along with the wine dispensing machine he uses to serve his tasting wines.
The couple believes in doing as much as they can themselves, by hand, and not relying on other people; they wanted the control to determine how the winery was shaped, as well as how the wine turns out. Tony’s currently just finished the three-tiered water feature pergola that sits above their cafe patio, and the pizza oven that acts as centrepiece. This time though, now that the recent projects are done, he said he’ll “never build again.” Kaye just laughed and said, “I’ve heard that before!”
As for the vineyards, they took over the lease on their Hill Country Vineyard in 2013, which is 5.5 hectares in the Havelock North area, and they also lease a 0.5 hectare satellite vineyard down the road. All of their grapes come from those vineyards, and they employ a Vineyard Manager and some part time staff to ensure premium grape quality. The main vineyard is a unique terroir of very steep limestone terraces that create an individualized minerality in de la terre wines. Tony explains that “it’s less obvious in the reds, but people can pick it in the whites,” and he purposely tries to highlight the land and its minerality in the wine.
Tony and Kaye stand out in Hawke’s Bay for more than just their sustainable earth brick buildings and their terrior. Tony believes there are enough Bordeaux blends and Pinots around, and prides himself on producing unique varietals. “The last thing we need is another Merlot,” he says. He produces some really rare wines in New Zealand, like Tannat, Barbara, Tempranillo, Montepulciano, and a Chablis-style Chardonnay. Although you’ll find a few Viogniers in the Bay, Tony’s is quite different. He also makes late harvest and Noble wines from Viognier grapes.
While at Church Road, Tony had the opportunity to work closely with some French winemakers, and one of the key things he learned from them is to let the wine speak for itself. He believes that provenance, representing the land on which it was grown, is the most important thing for wine, rather than trying to manipulate it into what that varietal is “supposed” to taste like. It is for that reason that Tony chooses not to enter wine shows.
Despite not entering shows, de la terre wines are still highly reviewed by the best in the business, and often receive points well into the 90’s, and 5 stars, by writers like Bob Campbell and Michael Cooper.
Tony’s also launched a relatively new series called “The Cloud Series,” that is particularly unique, and actually started as a joke in 2016, with Chardonnay. It’s made almost in complete opposition to most Chards in the Bay, being unfined, and unfiltered, with “its own personality.” To make it, he did a hard press on Reserve quality grapes, wild fermented the must, used huge amounts of fully toasted Hungarian oak from his favourite producer… and couldn’t keep it on the shelves! It was wildly popular with its rich butterscotch, and savoury burnt butter character. It reminded me of popcorn, and I loved it! He has now added a Viognier to the Cloud Series, and the name is there to remind people that if it looks a little cloudy, that’s okay.
Tony uses many traditional winemaking techniques, and he is of the opinion that most winemakers these days use too many fining ingredients. As of 2014, he also doesn’t filter any of his reds. He prefers to do the more natural process of racking his wines every few months, as it increases the intensity and mouthfeel of them. He’s even done some unfiltered whites. Tony is entirely confident in what he puts into the bottle, and pours into each glass in the Cellar Door. Kaye quipped that the wines “don’t get into the bottle unless he’s completely happy with them.”
He’s most proud of his Reserve Viognier, for a reason most wouldn’t suspect. “It doesn’t taste anything like Viognier, and to me, that’s a beautiful thing.” His Montepulciano is a pride and joy because of its “brooding black fruit, black olive” character, and its tannin structure that “isn’t over-polished, but rough with coarseness.” Bob Campbell also seemed to like it, as it was his wine of the week in early September.
Tony’s favourite wine to make though, is his Blanc de Blancs! He makes it old-school like they do in Champagne, right down to the traditional riddling racks, and even disgorges à la volée, or “on the fly,” as the French monks once did. When I asked him how long it took to get the hang of that process, he said there’s definitely a trick to it, and proceeded to show me how precise he has to be with the bottle and the tools.
Although Tony makes a wide range of wines, de la terre is still quite small in production. He makes about 2500 to 3000 cases (of 12) per year, and jokes that at Church Road, he “used to spill that much before lunch time.” Being small, Tony and Kaye find it can be a challenge to get the de la terre name out. They don’t want to sell in supermarkets, but they do have a distributor who arranges en premise, fine wine and liquor store contracts for them throughout the country. They have been known to export a few wines to China, the UK, America, and even Canada! The sales side of the business, and promoting themselves, has been one of the biggest challenges they’ve had to overcome. They never know when the next sale will be. There are other stresses that they face, like losing staff, or having people move on that they love. With such a small team, training new people, or finding those that have aligning philosophies can prove to be a challenge too.
They’ve learned some important lessons over the years, one being that despite experience, you can never be sure of exactly what’s going to happen. Tony phrased it so genuinely.
“You start as a beginner, learn some stuff, think you’re red hot…your ego goes through the roof. The lesson is on the other side. You can never know it all. There are always so many variables that you don’t know about. You can very easily convince yourselves that you’re smarter than you are. You’re not. The more you make wine, the easier you think it will get. Well it doesn’t. We’re always fine tuning techniques. I look at what’s happened in the past and if it’s not where I want to be, [I use] my best guess in my experience and push the odds. If you have a problem and you’re not sure what to do, you throw a swack of things to it and try to fix it.”
I was awed by his attitude to become humble, realize what he doesn’t know, yet stay determined and persistent, and continue to deal with what comes at him; he chooses to learn from his past experience and do the best he knows how, while never giving up. I find this to be great advice for all of us, no matter what stage of life or industry we may be in.
Tony remembers the first Monday after he resigned at Church Road, when he had a moment that so many of us have amidst a big life change: did I make a mistake? Despite any challenges, Tony and Kaye feel in their hearts that it’s all been completely worth it. “I can’t think of doing anything else,” Tony says. “We’d be a lot wealthier, but would we be happier? I can’t ever imagine going back… everything you have, every ounce, goes into it. It’s very passionate.” They are truly living their passion.
I believe it is that passion that makes visiting Tony and Kaye so much more than just any winery visit. As Tony explains, “once people drive into de la terre, it goes beyond what’s just in the glass. It’s about a winery experience.” He loves hosting people in the Cellar Door, and pouring his wines himself. It’s a beautiful, “rustic and artisan” space to be in, that he’s created with his own hands. Tony describes the Cellar Door and his winery as his “happy place.”
Tony and Kaye invite you to head out to de la terre this season to experience the many things they can offer you from the earth. They are open from 10:00am to 5:00pm, Friday’s through Sunday’s, and most public holidays, from the first weekend in October to the first weekend in June. Visit their website at delaterre.co.nz for more info on the winery, wines or special events. You can purchase wine on their website as well, or contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org.
So make the beautiful drive to experience de la terre for yourself. From the earth brick Cellar Door and restaurant, to Tony’s personalized tasting of his terroir driven wines, paired exceptionally at the cafe with Kaye’s fresh, home-made food . . . you really will experience de la terre.