Alice Rule is the face behind 3Sixty2, a boutique wine label producing small batch Marlborough wines. Along with Cooper, the dog, who has a big piece of Alice’s heart, Alice spends her free time paddle boarding, or catching up with friends.
Growing up as the oldest child in her split family, Alice knew no other life as a kid than to work hard, help her Dad around the dairy farm on which she was raised, and watch out for her younger sister. Born and raised in a rural area in the Bay of Islands, Alice and her sister would choose between who would feed the calves and who would make their lunches before racing to catch the bus to Kawakawa School. After school, she went straight back to work to help her Dad finish up anything that needed to be done on the farm. She was no where near wine then; it wasn’t a part of her upbringing.
School wasn’t a big priority to Alice as a teen, and she was kicked out of high school at the age of 17. Her parents finally had enough and told her she needed to get herself together and do something meaningful with her life. She decided that training as a chef sounded intriguing, so she enrolled in the course at the Culinary Institute of NZ. Part of her requirements was a 3 day per week job in a restaurant. As chance would have it, she came across a job at Marsden Estate, a small, family owned winery. Every day, the whole family (even Grandma, Alice notes) sat down for coffee together at 10.00am, and included the staff. One morning, a contractor called Hobo said to everyone at coffee, “why do you have Alice working in the kitchen? Do you know who her Dad is?” He recognized the farm skill and pure hard work ethic she had and moved her into the vineyard instead. Alice comments that “from there, there was no looking back. I knew wine was for me. They shipped me off to EIT to study wine.”
Once she graduated, she returned to Northland to work there; however, during her time at EIT, she worked part time for Hoggle, the Vineyard Manager of Moana Park. She asked if she could help after she was done school for the day, and he said, “I can’t pay you, but yeah.” Alice says about Hoggle that “he became a real mentor of mine, so I learned as much as I could. And he’d pay me in this wine called ‘Hog Snort’ he made himself. Hog Snort was a real luxury as a student and I had to work really hard for it cause I only got a few bottles!”
Alice has worked 10 vintages now, at a wide range of New Zealand wineries. She’s worked at some smaller places, like Marsden Estate, Omata and Fat Pig in Northland, Craggy Range and Church Road in Hawke’s Bay, as well as huge ones like Indivin and Corban’s. She’s even done 2 vintages in the same season, starting in Aussie, and finishing that same autumn at Moana Park in New Zealand. She was a Technical Viticulturist at Te Mata too, which was a great expression of her vineyard passions.
So why did she start her own label? In 2016, she realized that even with her experience and education, the vineyard she was at paid the bird scarer the same wage as they paid her.
She was over working for little to make someone else’s wine dreams come true; it was time for her to take the leap and start building towards her own dream. She called up her good friend, Phil, who is a winemaker in Marlborough to see if he would partner with her to produce the kinds of wines she wanted to make. Even as a small start up, she had her long term vision of being an international brand in mind, and knew that Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc was key. With a personal love for Chardonnay, she wanted to produce it as well. Phil agreed, and they were off.
With Phil and the winery Alice uses being in Marlborough, and her desire to make a Marlborough Sauv, it makes perfect sense that all her fruit comes from that region as well. She lives and works in Hawke’s Bay, because she feels it’s the place to be with its accessibility to Auckland and Wellington, the two main centres that distribute her brand. She travels to Marlborough monthly to personally check in on the wines, is there during harvest, and communicates daily with her winemaking partner, Phil.
Her day job is with a tech company out of Auckland, and she is currently working on a project for NZ Wine Growers on the Technical Advisory Committee for Sustainable Wine Growers. Sustainability is a huge passion of Alice’s, and she dedicates her heart and soul to not only the sustainability of her brand, but on creating ways to improve the sustainability of the industry across the country. She says about her job that her “hours are all over the place,” but it “gives flexibility to spend on the wine” and to work with her customers.
The 3Sixty2 name pays homage to the land where Alice is from, as well as the history of the industry in the country. She had won a Young Viticulture award when she was in EIT, and instead of a trophy she received a copy of “Chances and Visionaries” by Keith Stuart, who wrote about the history of New Zealand wine. Alice says she “always refers back to that book,” and there was the story of how James Busby brought cuttings into New Zealand and was teaching orphans to grow grapes. He had taken over 500 cuttings from Europe, but only 362 survived the journey. Alice explains that the name “pays homage to a visionary that I have great respect for.”
As well as sustainability, focusing on reducing carbon emissions, and going plastic free as much as possible, Alice’s company mandate revolves around “driving the circular economy.” She gives the example of glass to explain. “Glass is circular. It’s made out of natural products and the bottles I use are, on average, 67% recycled glass.”
She makes the point that often, conventional wines are criticized for not being as sustainable as organic ones, but with all of her research and experience in the industry, she has found that the best wines are grown with a mixture of the two. There have to be certain practices taken into account to make a wine sustainable. Alice explains, “the best vineyards I have worked in grow cover crops, reduce pesticide, use fewer chemicals, and do less passes through the vineyard. This is because the sprays are more efficient, support microbial activity in the soil, compost, and typically use less copper, which I quite firmly believe is the most toxic chemical to soil health and is less likely to cultivate.”
On the somewhat controversial topic of organics, she comments, “I think organics has taught conventional producers a great deal and is an important part of the wine-producing biosphere and how we treat our land. But I challenge the common perception that organic grape production is kinder on the soil.” She wants to bring greater awareness to sustainability in all schools of winemaking.
Many producers focus on making wine as naturally as possible, but Alice feels “the packaging the wine comes in should be as natural as the wine itself,” and therefore pays lots of attention to hers. As well as advocating for low weight bottles, she uses no cellotape, only FSA, New Zealand made boxes, and Environmark Gold certified labels from a specific producer. She has also created “362 Trees for Bees” and partners with an initiative supporting New Zealand native plantings.
Similarly, in taking responsibility and care for her environmental impact, she wants to care for those that she contracts with, and says that if she can make her wines better, she can pay her staff better. “I never want to pay anyone as little as I was paid. There’s got to be a better way.” She points out that “it’s an element of sustainability we often forget about.”
As of 2016, you’ll be able to find 3Sixty2 Sauvignon Blanc, and Chardonnay. Most recently, in 2019, Alice added a red to her label, Pinot Noir. She describes it as “not delicate or floral,” and because of the smaller berries she got, she was able to give it “more concentrated skin contact.” Like Alice’s other wines, it’s unique in that it’s a “kick you in the face Pinot Noir.”
She does partial wild ferment on all of her wines, which contribute to more complex and interesting flavours. Even her Marlborough Sauv is 25% wild fermented. She “loves the character of what it brings and how it expresses the terroir.” For the rest, she prefers to inoculate with a 5-in-1 yeast that brings out more complexity.
She doesn’t like too much reduction in Chardonnay, and prefers a restrained version, similar to the styles she was helping make in Northland. She uses hand harvested fruit, presses it in whole bunches and ferments it in old oak barrels for a subtle flinty character. She has been experimenting with oak marbles from Tony Bish too. She loves some oak in a Chardonnay, but as sustainability is key, she poses the question of, “what am I going to do with all these barrels after I’m done with them?” If she can find a way to impart similar character, that’s more sustainable, that’s her number one goal.
She produced just over 3000 bottles in 2016. 2017 was around the same, but she faced the same challenges as many did in 2018 with a less than desirable vintage and decided not to produce that year. She’s had other challenges as well, like her original brand not standing out on the shelves. She was in a difficult relationship that was taking its toll when she released her first label, and admits that it didn’t get the thought it should have. She has completely rebranded since and is proud of her new branding.
Her labels showcase the honour she pays to the history of New Zealand wine. On the Chardonnay label you’ll see the pattern that was on the original, hand written treatise that Busby documented. The circle represents the official stamp on the original documents, a symbol of authority. Alice loves that her labels represent not only where wine began for her, in Northland, but where it began for the country.
In addition to overcoming the rebrand challenge, Alice explains how difficult it can be as a solo, woman founder. She is supporting herself and her brand in a region away from her family. “We work our guts off in this industry and the days are hard and expensive.” Is it worth it? Alice joked that “if you’d asked me last week, I’d have sold it to you! But this week, yeah, it’s worth it.” Her jestful response shows how difficult and emotional this industry can be. Despite that, she says, “I love 3Sixty2. I love making wines. I love being in the industry and I love making blends.” She clearly has a lot of love for what she does, and also realizes it’s her art. “I’m a creative person. I love talking with my winemaker and looking at interesting components, and next steps.” Both wines have done her proud, with the Sauv getting a Silver Medal through Bob Campbell’s Real Review, and the Chardonnay getting Bronze.
When I asked her what she’s learned being in this industry, she responded with the word “grit.” She’s realized the biggest lesson is that “you’ve just got to take the punches and carry on going.” She comments that “the business part is intimidating and sales are hard,” but she’s proactive in facing the challenge head on; she’s enrolled in a weekly business course to help her grow in those areas. Alice is determined and when she faces challenges, she chooses to “find the motivation to carry on. You’ve got to sink or swim.”
She is grateful to see that “there are good people in the industry fighting tooth and nail for their dream and it is not easy.” Alice comments that “the most magical thing” is the “good people that support your dream,” and seeing customers love her wine. “There’s nothing more exciting than seeing your wines loved. There’s nothing more satisfying than that.” She comments about industry people and customers alike, that “the people have made all of the challenges totally worth their while.”
You can find 3Sixty2 wines at boutique wine stores in Auckland and Wellington, as well as Milk and Honey in Hawke’s Bay. If you want to enjoy them at home, find her on Instagram @3sixty2 or order online at http://www.3sixty2.com.