Meet the Winemaker: Constellation Brands

Brett Fullerton is a winemaker at Selaks winery in Hawkes Bay – a branch of the Constellation Brands family. 

“I’ve been in the industry since the late 80s,” said Brett Fullerton, the winemaker at Hawkes Bay’s Selaks winery.

“And full-time since starting at the Selaks winery in 1991.”

At the time, Selaks was a small, family-run business where the handful of staff did everything – from receiving the grapes to running the bottling line and dispatching orders. Constellation Brands integrated Selaks into its ranks and established a modern winery in Hawkes Bay in 2005, which Fullerton has been managing since then. 

Fullerton grew up in Huapai and worked during the holidays at the local vineyards and wineries. 

“We had wineries and vineyards nearby, and a number of my schoolmates and friends were the sons and daughters of the families who established the local industry,” said Fullerton. 

“After I’d studied economics and political studies at university, I realised my holiday job was more interesting and entered the wine industry full time,” he said. It was the multi-faceted aspect that attracted Fullerton – part profession, part trade, part art. 

The winery itself was built in 2005 and is in the middle of the largest planted area of grapes, so the grapes can be pressed within minutes of being harvested. 

“The wine you taste in the bottle is the culmination of many small steps and decisions made over one to two years, or even longer.” 

Some of these steps include crop level and irrigation, juice clarification and fermentation kinetics, bottling and warehousing. 

“Unless the winery is very small no one individual can control these steps – it takes a village! So, the most important thing in winemaking is the people – one team with the same goals and motivations,” said Fullerton. 

These goals and motivations include sustainability. 

“Constellation Brands, as is most of the New Zealand wine industry, is part of Sustainable Winegrowing NZ (SWNZ), and we play an active part in this programme.” 

The winery has recently shifted from treated timber posts to recyclable steel posts in the vineyard, native planting along streams (biodiversity), and engagement of the Plasback recycling service (soft plastic recycling). 

Fullerton loves wine that is a seamless and balanced integration of a number of elements. 

“To use barrel-fermented Chardonnay as an example, the elements of fruit character, oak, autolysis, and fermentation complexities are all present, but not one dominates the rest.”

For Fullerton, his favourite part of the job is seeing young people come into the business and develop a passion for viticulture and winemaking. It is also his greatest achievement, he says. 

“Young people coming into our business for a harvest or as part of our cadetship who may know very little about wine, then facilitating and mentoring their journey in learning about wine and establishing a career in the industry.”

For those young people just starting their viticulture journey, Fullerton advises they explore the whole industry first; there are many roles within winemaking and viticulture. 

Fullerton feels the wine industry is fairly conservative in how it produces and presents wine to the market. 

“It is vitally important we remain relevant to new consumers, So, a forward-looking industry that is open to new ideas is what I believe is important. 

“However, at the risk of contradicting myself, the New Zealand industry is forward-looking compared to other countries,” he continued, “and not so much burdened by the weight of tradition.” 

 For the future, Fullerton is focusing on setting up the winery team for success. 

“In our recruitment and training, we are looking to have great depth in the team and have a career pathway for our people to enable them to see a fulfilling future in the industry.”