Meet the Winemaker: Te Pa Wines

photo credit: Te Pa Wines

te Pā Family Vineyards is a Maori-owned and independently operated New Zealand wine company, with a unique history, premium Marlborough vineyards, and award-winning, sustainably-grown, vegan-friendly wines.

te Pā’s head winemaker, Sam Bennett, grew up in an environment where good food and wine and good company were appreciated. 

“My parents and their close friends have had a wine tasting group since 1975 and not only did they taste some pretty good wines, they appeared to have a great time doing so.

“Wine has always had a positive association for me, so it seemed like a good career choice.” 

Owner and founder Haysley MacDonald traces his lineage to some of the earliest known arrivals of the indigenous Maori to Aotearoa-New Zealand around 800 years ago. 

“The land has been in MacDonald’s family ever since then, from traditional uses to cattle grazing, potato farming, and then vineyards in 2003,” explained Bennett. 

The vineyards family brands include the flagship te Pā range, te Pā Reserve Collection, Koha, Pa Road and the newest range, Montford Estate. The range of wines include Sauvignon Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc Oke, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Rose, Pinot Noir, Riesling, luscious dessert wine, and a Hawke’s Bay Bordeaux style red blend. 

“We just celebrated our ten year anniversary since bottling our first te Pa wine. In addition that that exciting milestone, we have also won the Champion Chardonnay and the Champion White Wine for the New World Wine Awards for our 2020 Chardonnay, a gold medal and top 50 for the Montford Estate Chardonnay.” 

Bennett described his approach to winemaking as pragmatic. 

“As a winemaker, I think it’s my job to make the best wine I can for the customer. I don’t think wine should be a plaything for my intellectual meanderings or ego - it should be for people to enjoy.” 

The diversity of the job is what Bennett said made it so rewarding. 

“From grunt work in the cellar, tasting trials, walking rows in the vineyard, to travelling the world with the wines and telling their story. Every day is different, and when the seasonal cycle starts to repeat, every season is different as well.” 

te Pā has a comprehensive barrel programme and as part of that, it has a special selection of cigar-shaped barrels which impart unique and distinctive characteristics and mouthfeel to the wines. It also has a sustainability programme. 

“Developing our sustainability efforts in the vineyard, with inter-row planting, sub-soiling, mulching and grape marc spreading forms the basis of our expanding programme. 

“This demonstration of our role as kaitiaki (caretakers/guardians of the land) is hugely important to our team and the future of our industry and the environment.” 

Demand for te Pā’s wines has been steadily growing for the past few years, and it’s escalated since the pandemic, said Bennett. 

“Domestically, and internationally, people love our brands and our wines, so for us the impact of the pandemic has been huge. 

“Furthermore, export is critical to our business model. We are very strong here in New Zealand, and our international reach has expanded considerably over the years. Demand is booming internationally, but it is proving difficult to get product there due to shipping delays.”

If Bennett could do a bottle swap with any winery, he said he would choose a good bottle of white Burgundy. 

“I would feel bad swapping for a ridiculously expensive one - so perhaps a relatively humble Domain Roulot.” 

A piece of advice Bennett offered for young viticulturists was to enjoy your youth. 

“Work hard, play hard, and don’t be afraid to have an opinion. But not too big of an opinion - as I get older I see the wisdom in respecting our elders and their experiences.”