A SON’S DREAM
The triumphs of Wairarapa’s Lansdowne Estate are a tribute
to Derek and Margaret Hagar’s son, writes John Saker.
Derek trained as an engineer in Wellington and settled happily into his adopted land. One important matter saw him return to Tyneside after a few years: he went back to marry Margaret, the North Shields girl he’d courted when he was 16. Together they raised a family in New Zealand and Derek finished his engineering career in a managerial position with the Department of Labour in Wellington.
It was in the late 1990s that their son Derek junior, who was working as a sales rep, told his parents he’d found them the perfect retirement bolthole. It was a property in Lansdowne on the edge of Masterton with a roomy house sitting beside a large sunny terrace that ran to the edge of the Ruamahanga River. The Hagars bought it in 1998.
Almost immediately, Derek senior entertained the idea of growing grapes on the land. That whim grew into a firm resolve when a local viticulturist told him the conditions were perfect for vines, and even more so after the history of the land came to light. The Hagars’ patch, it transpired, occupied the site of the Wairarapa’s first vineyard, planted by William Beetham and his French wife Hermanze in the late 19th century.
The Beethams’ vineyard was one of New Zealand’s early wine success stories. We know it was planted with pinot noir and syrah, among other varieties, and that pinot particularly excelled on the site. In 1901, The Wairarapa Daily Times reported: “Beetham has tried other varieties… but the ‘pineau noir’, his first favourite, still surpasses all others.” Lord Ranfurly, the Governor of New Zealand and something of a wine connoisseur, tasted the Beethams’ wine at Lansdowne and said it equalled, if not surpassed, the best Australia could produce at that time. Sadly though, the Beetham wine venture didn’t last – it’s likely that phylloxera put an end to it. After years of declining yields, the vines were pulled out in 1907.
While there is no way of knowing the exact location of the Beetham vineyard, circumstantial evidence does point to at least part of it being on the Hagar property.
So, more than 100 years after the Beethams, the Hagars began planting vines. They followed the example of their predecessors by deciding to put in both pinot noir and syrah, along with some pinot gris. But just before they began, shocking news arrived from England. Their son Derek had been living in Southampton and late one night, after locking up the restaurant he was managing, he was assaulted; hit from behind on the head with an iron bar.