“Nature is not always tidy and does not necessarily mean straight lines and bare soil.”Geoff Wright
Wrights Vineyard and Winery is based in Gisborne and produces certified organic, biodynamic wines. Based in Ormond Valley and Manutuke areas, the husband-and-wife team of Geoff and Nicola Wright are passionate about creating wines in an ethical and environmentally friendly way.
Their approach is a holistic one, applying natural farming principles to their vineyard. They believe in promoting biodiversity, from animals, insects, sward of grass, plants, and soil micro-organisms.
Geoff has many great initiatives to help make keep his vineyard and the people who work in it healthy. But he’s reluctant to be label their business as sustainable.
“Sustainability is a term which has been plagiarized so much lately and been used as a marketing tool for businesses to add value to their products… with no third-party confirmation and no real quantitative benchmarks.”
Instead, they are committed to organic certification through AsureQuality New Zealand. They have had certification ever since they began the business, “even during the establishment phases”.
Geoff explains the journey began when he arrived in Gisborne in 2000 as a chartered accountant, “with a dream of one day owning our own organic vineyard/winery and building our own straw bale winery.” Back then it was just him and Nicola, but now they have 5 boys, ranging from 4 to 13 years old.
Twenty years on, Geoff says they have made a few mistakes, but have learned from the experience. “Strangely enough we are still making mistakes, luckily not as frequently and implementing new practices every year as we grow with our understanding of taking a more holistic approach.”
Today, they are supported by a team that plays an important role in performing the day-to-day tasks and providing ideas in the vineyard and winery. Patrick Ferry looks after the vineyard operations and Lawrence Jiang is their winemaker.
Their initiatives include using their cows and sheep in the vines during winter to graze and rejuvenate the soil with their natural fertiliser. They use chickens and ducks to help manage grass grub, although they have to keep them away from the grapes once they start to ripen.
In Autumn, they plant faba beans and other plants in between the vine rows to add more nutrients and organic matter to the vineyards.
In areas they don’t harvest, they have planted native trees and flaxes. They help increase the biodiversity on the property, attracting beneficial insects, such as lacewings and parasite wasps. “Around cap fall we have millions of native bees flying in our canopy. This is an amazing sight; we are privileged to have them on our vineyards.”
They also apply biodynamic preparations which increase the life of the soil and micro-organisms. “Our soil every year is enhanced through practising biodynamics and adding organic matter back to the vineyards.” It keeps the plants healthy, with “a better fruit, nutritionally and taste-wise.”
Outside of the vineyard, Wrights Vineyard and Winery formed a partnership with a local community group, The Women’s Native Tree Project. The group grows native trees and donate these to community spaces like schools, marae and council reserves. Their relationship developed organically, they were looking for a local community group to partner with and had attended some of WNTP events in the past.
Wrights Vineyard and Winery have sponsored the organisation on projects and also support them through donations via wine sales. They believe it’s a great “opportunity to give back to the community in a positive way.”
One of the ways they are working together now is by regenerating a native area around a tidal estuary on their coastal vineyard in Manutuke, which is special to them. “Last year was the first year where we cleared the scrub and planted 400 native trees. This year we are extending the native area and open the planting project up to the community in conjunction with WNTP, it’s a great day with families coming out and then we put on lunch and wines for everyone to say thanks.”
Although it is a sponsorship, they don’t make a big deal about the partnership, just briefly mentioning it on their bottle labels.
“To be honest we probably need to do better with letting people know,” Geoff says. “But on the other hand, we do it more out of what is right rather than a marketing tool for our business.”