Cuisine - - NZ PINOT NOIR -

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.

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