Andrew Brown, winemaker at Waipara Hills, has been amongst the land his entire life. Born in South Otago, his agricultural upbringing led him to study Parks, Recreation and Tourism management at Lincoln University, during which time he discovered his taste for wine. “I promised myself I’d return at a later date to pursue a career in winemaking,” he told Restaurant and Café, “and after four years travelling I did just that.”
He studied a Graduate Diploma in Viticulture and Oenology, again at Lincoln. He also worked various jobs and harvests in Central Otago, Marlborough, Oregon and Alsace, on the France/Germany border, before joining Framingham wines in 2009 as assistant winemaker. At Framingham, Brown worked under Dr Andrew Hedley, who he describes as “a true mentor and influencer, an absolute legend with his knowledge and leadership.”Under Hedley, Brown and his team were presented the opportunity to make every style of Riesling within the German Prädikat – “Getting all those wines painstakingly into the bottle was a mission, but a great project to be involved in.”Riesling has long been a favourite of Brown’s, due to its stylistic versatility. He held this position until late 2016 when he moved to Waipara Hills to take on the role of winemaker.
The Waipara Valley is nestled in the lee of the Teviotdale Hills, which provide protection from the cool ocean winds, but remains open to warm Nor’Westers. The north-facing, moderately sloping river terraces provide an ideal suntrap for grape ripening, and an abundance of sunshine throughout the summer combines with a cool, dry autumn to produce unique concentrated Rieslings and Pinot Gris – the regional specialities. The winery has also been a part of Sustainable Winegrowing New Zealand since 2001, and one of their key initiatives is to improve biodiversity, creating a natural environment where the vine is balanced with its surroundings.
For Brown, great wines come from picking good fruit from great sites, and at Waipara Hills the soil and environmental conditions are perfect for fabulous textural fruit. “I’m lucky enough to work alongside a great vinicultural team, led by Waipara Hills vineyard manager Jean-Luc Dufour who planted the vines and has been there for more than two decades.” The resulting wines are “honest wines, which express where they come from and boast textural qualities.”
2013 was the year that Brown found his winemaking mojo – “It helps that it was a great vintage, and some trials we were carrying out in the winery really came together,” he elaborated. “It all just seemed to click.” This was a contrast to the year before, when frosts meant a lower yield, but created great flavours in the winery. “When it comes to grapes, every harvest is different, depending on the season and weather,” he said. “Weather patterns are forever changing, and as a winemaker I have to adapt my styles and approach accordingly.”
Outside of wine, Brown spends as much time as possible with his wife and three young children at the beach and enjoying the outdoors. “I love to surf when I can find the time, and jamming on the guitar and singing with my bandmates is always a top way to spend some spare time.”
For young winemakers, Brown offers this simple advice: “Travel. Get as much vintage experience as life will allow. It’s great to have an opinion, but at the same time, keep your mind open.” Brown follows his own advice and is open to trying wines from the lesser-known wine regions. “Places like the Jura in France and the Südtirol in Italy have a lot to offer,” he exclaimed. “It’s a big bad wine world out there!”
Having been in the role for less than six months, Brown is in no hurry to move on, claiming that getting the winemaker role at Waipara Hills is his greatest achievement in wine. He is still familiarising himself with the vineyards and fruit at Waipara Hills and learning the lay of the land from Dufour and the viticultural team, but is looking forward to trialling new techniques, ferments and evolving his winemaking style along the way.
“From the vineyard to the winery, our team are hands-on in perfecting their craft, pouring a little of themselves into everything they do,” explained Brown. “For us, every harvest signals the beginning of a new adventure, the chance to create wine that is distinctly Waipara Hills.”