30-year-old Sa­cred Hill tar­gets US

NZ Business - - BRIEFCASE -

As Sa­cred Hill Vine­yards racks up 30 vin­tages with the release of its 2015 wines, MD and co-founder David Ma­son has the US mar­ket firmly in his sights.

Started in the mid 1980s by Ma­son, his brother Mark and wine­mak­ing friend Tony Bish on the Ma­son fam­ily farm in Hawke’s Bay picturesque Dart­moor Val­ley, Sa­cred Hill is now one of New Zealand’s largest pri­vately owned wine pro­duc­ers, making more than 350,000 cases per year. It is a favourite in the do­mes­tic mar­ket and ex­ports to more than 30 coun­tries. But all that be­lies its hum­ble beginnings.

Af­ter David’s fa­ther Ian be­came one of the first Hawke’s Bay farm­ers to di­ver­sify from tra­di­tional sheep and cat­tle farming and planted grapes on his property in the early 1980s, the Ma­son broth­ers and Bish – self de­scribed “wine geeks” – set out with the idea of making more wine than they could drink and sell­ing the rest to fund their pas­sion for fine wine.

“Our first vin­tage was 350 cases of 1986 Fume Blanc, a pop­u­lar style of oak aged sauvi­gnon blanc at the time. It sold out. So did the next vin­tage of 700 cases and we thought we might be on to some­thing.”

Fast-for­ward 30 years and Ma­son has led Sa­cred Hill from its rus­tic beginnings through re­mark­able growth with his hands on in­volve­ment in all facets of the busi­ness in­clud­ing mar­ket­ing, brand man­age­ment and sales.

With Ma­son helm­ing the busi­ness and Bish lead­ing the wine­mak­ing op­er­a­tion, Sa­cred Hill be­came in­no­va­tors in the 90s, pi­o­neer­ing the use of in­dige­nous yeasts and be­ing among the first to in­tro­duce new oak and chilled bar­rel fer­ments. Their drive into pre­mium wines in­cluded the plant­ing of Ri­fle­man’s Vine­yard, now one of the coun­try’s most revered Chardon­nay vine­yards, on the orig­i­nal fam­ily farm. Sa­cred Hill also in­vested in the renowned Gim­blett Grav­els sub-re­gion of Hawke’s Bay, from where they have pro­duced red wines that have more than held their own with Bordeaux’s finest in blind tast­ings.

The ex­port mar­ket was what prompted per­haps Sa­cred Hill’s big­gest busi­ness de­ci­sion, to move be­yond its Hawke’s Bay home and in­vest in Marl­bor­ough, in­clud­ing the pur­chase of Hell’s Gate, Ham­mond Es­tate and Singing Bridge vine­yards.

“Our heart is in Hawke’s Bay but as a busi­ness our fu­ture in­vest­ment will be in Marl­bor­ough,” Ma­son says. “The po­ten­tial growth is in ex­port, es­pe­cially the US mar­ket, which has a taste for Marl­bor­ough wines, with Sauvi­gnon Blanc lead­ing the charge.”

David Ma­son.

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