The Giesen Brothers

25 Oct 2019

To celebrate the bicentenary of vines being planted in New Zealand, we're sharing the stories behind the creation of the New Zealand wine industry we know today.

Some think the Giesen Wines story began when two brothers with itchy feet and a penchant for travelling set off from Germany and found themselves in New Zealand in 1979, buying land and planting a vineyard in 1981.

In fact, the Giesen Wines journey may have begun earlier when three teenage brothers set up a hobby vineyard in their native Germany. Or perhaps it started two generations before that, with their grandfather August (Aw-goost) who was a sommelier and restaurateur.

In any case, the three sons of a stonemason were planning to follow the family enterprise in Germany. However, on a whim (and because it reminded them of home) in 1981, while they were travelling the world, Theo and Alex Giesen purchased land and planted a vineyard just outside Christchurch. At the time it was the world’s southern-most vineyard.

Younger brother Marcel took himself to winemaking school and four years later joined Theo and Alex to start making wine from their vineyard.

From that first vintage in 1984, Giesen made Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc and it was an instant hit. At the time Marlborough was little known. However, drawing on their German heritage the three brothers recognised that cool-climate winegrowing created wines with flavour.

Buying their first Marlborough property, Dillon’s Point Vineyard in the Wairau Valley in 1993 was a natural step.

Since then, the Giesen brothers determination to make wines people love has driven international recognition for Marlborough and its Sauvignon Blanc. They are now receiving acclaim for their cool-climate Marlborough Pinot Noir and other classics such as Chardonnay and their German-style Estate Riesling, to name a few.

Not content to sit back, they continue to grow Giesen. In 2000 they built their winery in Marlborough and it has expanded every year since. With Marlborough as their winemaking base, they have been strategically acquiring vineyards throughout the highly sought after Wairau Valley. These vineyards allow Giesen to select fruit grown in a range of microclimates giving the winemaking team access to grapes with a range of flavour profiles, perfect for consistently creating great wines.

Giesen started their organic journey by ripping out the Ridge Vineyard in the Wairau Valley, leaving the land fallow for two vintages before replanting a wholly organic, close-planted Pinot Noir and Syrah vineyard.

Now 20% of Giesen vineyards are certified organic or in the transition to becoming certified. Organic vineyards allow Giesen to create a selection of flavour-filled award-winning, organic wines.

In 2015 after a long-term lease, Giesen purchased the prized organic Clayvin, Marlborough’s first significant hillside vineyard. This significant addition to Giesen’s vineyard holdings complements their winemaking innovation and premium wine portfolio. 

In 2009, at the same time as they began the organic journey, the three Giesen brothers challenged the winemaking team to start pushing the boundaries.

The winemaking team began by creating dozens of small-batch wines, trialling tame and wild yeasts, using different vineyard blocks, multiple viticultural practices and alternative maturation and winemaking techniques. 

Fittingly, given the three brothers’ respect for and love of their family, the first trial wine released was The August 1888. This super-premium traditionally fermented Sauvignon Blanc, which sold out within months of its inaugural release, paid homage to their grandfather German sommelier and restaurateur August Giesen.

It is not hard to remember Giesen, the three brothers are real people involved in their business every day delivering on their promise to make wines which people love. When not winemaking, the brothers take time out to appreciate family and friends, share a meal, enjoy a glass of wine and celebrate their journey. They invite you to do the same.

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