Win­ery is a labour of love born in France

John Belsham has made wine his life’s work. Re­porter Emma Whittaker caught up with the wine­maker and critic to find out what keeps him in the busi­ness. DAILY GRIND

Auckland City Harbour News - - NEWS -

John Belsham still gets ner­vous about each new vin­tage.

‘‘I still get but­ter­flies when I present a wine to an im­por­tant critic or buyer. I’m on the edge of my seat, not only to hear what they say, but to watch their body lan­guage be­cause body lan­guage never lies.’’

The owner of the Foxes Is­land win­ery cut his teeth in the wine busi­ness in France in the 1970s.

In 1977 he was 19 and trav­el­ling around Europe work­ing as a waiter when he got the chance to pick grapes at a French vine­yard.

‘‘I jumped on the op­por­tu­nity be­cause that’s what my bud­dies were do­ing and I thought it was go­ing to be a bit of fun for three months.’’ It was 1981 be­fore he left. ‘‘It very quickly be­came what I wanted to do.’’

Foxes Is­land was born in Marl­bor­ough in 1992.

‘‘We made chardon­nay be­cause we love chardon­nay. The in­ter­est­ing thing about it is it’s not the most well-known va­ri­ety in Marl­bor­ough and not the most well-known va­ri­ety in New Zealand. From the start we were swim­ming a lit­tle against the tide.’’

Choos­ing to open Foxes Is­land’s cel­lar door in Pon­sonby when the vine­yard is in Marl­bor­ough was an­other trail­blaz­ing move. It opened last year un­der the guid­ance of Mr Belsham’s part­ner and com- pany di­rec­tor Kelly Brown. The cou­ple lives just up the road in Pon­sonby and they travel to Marl­bor­ough as needed.

‘‘It’s ac­tu­ally ex­tremely log­i­cal be­cause our mar­ket­place is pre- mium buy­ers. It is pri­vate cus­tomers, in­de­pen­dent re­tail­ers, and restau­rants. In this coun­try, [Pon­sonby] is where the great­est con­cen­tra­tion of those peo­ple are.’’

That’s not to say that wine must be ex­pen­sive to be in any good.

‘‘I think the anal­ogy is ar­chi­tec­ture. Ar­chi­tec­ture doesn’t have to be ex­pen­sive to be good, it just has to be done by a great ar­chi­tect.

‘‘You can have very bad ex­pen­sive wine and then you can have very good, good value wine.

‘‘That be­ing said, it’s very rare that you can go out and find an ab­so­lute bar­gain that is out­stand­ingly good and very good value. Peo­ple that try to do that don’t stay in busi­ness very long.’’

Some of the high­lights of his CV in­clude be­ing the wine panel chair­man for Cui­sine magazine and a con­sul­tant to Air New Zealand. But it’s not all been plain sail­ing. ‘‘Try vin­tage 1995 when we didn’t pick a sin­gle berry be­cause a week be­fore we were sup­posed to start har­vest­ing the heav­ens opened and it rained and rained and rained and the grapes rot­ted in front of us.

‘‘Try 2002 on November 17 when we had a mi­nus-4 de­gree frost overnight and the shoots turned brown and crispy within a few hours.

‘‘Try walk­ing around your vine­yard watch­ing that hap­pen be­fore your eyes.’’

In 2008 the global fi­nan­cial cri­sis af­fected peo­ple’s perceptions of wines all around the world, Ms Brown says.

‘‘It was an in­ter­est­ing pe­riod of time be­cause con­sump­tion didn’t ac­tu­ally wane but the qual­ity of wine peo­ple were drink­ing changed. If you had $20 in your pocket you bought two bot­tles in­stead of one and that was the real chal­lenge.’’

The cou­ple’s next move will be de­vel­op­ing ex­port mar­kets.


Fine wine: Kelly Brown and John Belsham of Foxes Is­land.

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