Kate was the only female in her graduating year at Roseworthy Agricultural College, and had no direct links to any winery, so applied for all jobs. When Villa Maria founder Sir George Fistonich visited the university, Kate was offered the job of Assistant Winemaker at Vidal in Hawke’s Bay.
The next few years were to throw curve balls at the young winemaker. First, there was 1985, when a tsunami of fruit coincided with days of torrential rain, almost wiping the vintage out.
Then came the Government vine pull that saw hundreds of hectares of grapes removed throughout New Zealand. Coinciding with that, Villa Maria went into receivership, although it was to recover the following year.
Kate sees it all as a glass half full: “The vine pull meant that we ended up with the right varieties and the right sites. Also, with Villa Maria’s receivership, that absolutely embedded in me that we had to focus on quality."
"We are small and remote in New Zealand - it absolutely has to be about quality. With those experiences, I think I have been very lucky.”
After seven years with Vidal, Kate moved to CJ Pask as Head Winemaker. Within two years, she was a part-owner of the Gimblett Gravels’ company, and by 1999 she was Managing Director. During her time with Pask, Kate represented Hawke’s Bay on the board of New Zealand Wine for 14 years, chaired Sustainable Winegrowing New Zealand (SWNZ) for more than five years, and was instrumental in rolling out the SWNZ programme for wineries.
Integrated Winegrape Production (the forerunner of SWNZ) had begun as a pilot programme in 1995 and Pask was one of the vineyards involved. But Kate could see that more was needed. “I remember thinking that this is just crazy. If we are doing it in the vineyard, we need to be able to follow it through and show that we are doing it in the winery.”
Pask, Vidal, Palliser Estate and Martinborough Vineyards joined together to gain ISO 14001 accreditation for their wineries. The processes undertaken by the collective were eventually refined and developed into the SWNZ winery programme.
When the NZW Women in Wine Initiative was launched in 2017, Kate immediately put her hand up. She was one of the first mentors involved, and is currently the Chair of Women in Wine.
In the same year, after 26 years at Pask, she ventured out to establish Radburnd Cellars in Hawke’s Bay, and is now exactly where she wants to be as a winemaker.
“With this new business I am only involved in the winemaking, which I love. I am in the lab and the cellar every day and that is what I enjoy doing.”
Kate’s mantra has always been “the best wines are ahead of me”, and at Radburnd Cellars she works with small parcels from throughout Hawke’s Bay. That diversity has impacted her winemaking style, she admits. “Everything is a completely different approach. All the fruit is handpicked, chilled and hand sorted. I am not making big extracted wines - it’s all about restraint and elegance and it is exactly what I want to do; small parcels of ultra-premium wine. It has been really exhilarating.”