Thu, Mar 16, 2023 7:16 AM
A couple who have devoted much of their lives to the region’s wine industry have been honoured for their contribution.
Hermann and Agnes Seifried were inducted into the Nelson Tasman Chamber of Commerce Hall of Fame at the Nelson Pine Industry Business Awards last month.
The couple were pioneers of the viticulture industry in the region when they first planted grapes in the Moutere more than 50 years ago.
Today their wines are exported to more than 25 countries around the world, and they employ a core staff of 50, growing to more than 100 during the harvest.
Agnes says, when they were told they were to be inducted their initial thought was to turn the award down.
“We always fly below the radar. We’re never really one to put ourselves up on a pedestal,” she says.
But after discussing it with their family they decided they would accept.
“The decision was made together that we should probably accept it because obviously we employ a lot of people in the area, we have sold a lot of wine in the area and we have a lot of very warm supporters in the area.”
Austria-born Hermann grew up on an apple orchard but was drawn to viticulture from a young age.
He arrived in New Zealand at the beginning of January 1971, and met Agnes not long after on Mt Robert at a work party.
It has always been a place they have returned to for skiing, including later hiking up there with their three children in back packs.
The pair dedicated their lives to the industry but say they are still learning every day.
“You never finish.”
They say their business grew day by day, season by season. Hermann says good support from both New Zealand and export markets helped.
“We probably had the right variety at the right time, that all helped.”
“We’ve grown really slowly as we could afford to and as we could see the market was there,” Agnes adds.
Hermann says there were a lot of negative attitudes towards viticulture when they first planted grapes 50 years ago.
“People thought you wouldn’t grow grapes here, because it hadn’t been done,” Agnes says. “So nobody had the confidence to say ‘we’ll go and do it’,‘we’ll lend you the money’ or ‘we’ll support your application’.”
Hermann says it wasn’t scary, it was what he knew, and he had the support of Agnes the entire way.
He says he has always enjoyed viticulture because you generally have contact with the end consumer.
Growing up on an apple orchard he found that wasn’t the same.
“You sell an apple on the market, and you don’t know where it goes, with wine you have contact which gives extra satisfaction.”
“When he first came to New Zealand he was making apple wine, but found that he wasn’t getting the satisfaction that he knew he had got previously from grapes,” Agnes says.
All three of the couple’s children have now made their way into the business.
“The kids started to study wine and they all came home one by one,” Agnes says.
Hermann says it’s satisfying working with his family.
“Someone is carrying on with the interest that we have started,” he says.
The pair still grow some of the original 14 varieties that were planted five decades ago.
While they grow mostly the same varieties each year, every season is different so the grapes ripen differently, have more flavour and provide a bigger or smaller crop.
Agnes says the climate is very different to what it was.
“Way back then we used to start our harvest at the very end of March, and we’d pick into April and early May. Today, the last two or three vintages we’ve been finished by the end of March, it’s coming forward, forward, forward.”
Hermann says they are still very much involved in the business and still take part in the first taste of wine when it’s ready.
“You have an expectation of what you expect to taste in each wine.”
During a harvest they estimate they would pick 3000 tonne of grapes across their 350 hectares of vineyards, which equates to roughly three million bottles of wine.
They say their journey has been filled with memorable moments but one that stands out is when they sent their first consignment of wine to the UK in the mid-80s.
“That was pretty exciting, then a few years later we got a trophy for best Sauvignon Blanc in the world at a UK competition, that was pretty special,” Agnes says.
“Then we got wine listed on Virgin Atlantic Airlines and British Airways, they’re significant ones.
“There’s some pretty special places that our wine sells, like The Ritz Hotel, but today we don’t get quite so excited because we’ve got so much to sell we are happy to see it go wherever.
“There’s some pretty obscure countries that are enjoying our wines, like Kazakhstan.
The couple now have six grandchildren aged between eight and 12 and Hermann hopes they will show an interest in the industry.
“It’s still early days.”