The Terroir of the Individual
Which reigns supreme – Terrioir orWinemaker? Terroir is the combinationof soil, climate and grape variety that producesa sense of ‘place’ distinctive to where a givenwine is from. The fact that human beingsare involved, however, cannot be ignored.The smaller the producer, the more humancontact is ultimately involved, and if only oneor two people are involved in the processfrom cultivation of vines to putting thefermented grape juice into a bottle, thensurely the personality of those people mustcome through.
Q. How do you know if there is a winemakerin the room?
A. They’ll tell you.
Not so, the vivacious, self-sufficient, yethumble Katherine Jacobs of Big Sky Wines.She is more likely to be engaged in topics ofpolitics, women’s policy, exercise programmes,and marketing strategy, whilst sipping on afine glass of Pinot Noir, which – she may haveforgotten to mention – she made.
Katherine is a multi-talented woman of hertime. After earning her stripes with WellingtonNewspapers at the end of the 1970s, she spentthe 1980s in marketing and advertising inLondon. Back to University in the 1990s, sheswitched to women’s studies and public policy,eventually working with the New ZealandRed Cross. Had kids in the mid 90s, movedto France with husband Jeremy Corban, andgot into wine. Katherine took time to workin Bordeaux vintages, eventually returning toNew Zealand and studying winemaking andviticulture at Hawke’s Bay’s EIT.
In 2005 and in their mid forties Katherineand Jeremy bought a vineyard in Te MunaRoad of Martinborough, and turned a dreaminto reality.
This marks the beginning of the journey.Winemaking is a very marginal enterprisewhere mark-ups barely cover costs ofproduction, let alone provide a startup company with viticulturist, vineyardhands, winemaker, labeller, warehouser,office manager, accountant, marketer,distributor, etc.
In this two-person business, Jeremycommutes each day to Wellington, bringinghome the bread and butter. A bit of a darkhorse, Jeremy seldom lets it known that heis a Corban as in THE Corbans, founders ofNew Zealand’s wine industry since the earlyprohibition days of the 1900’s. He’s thebig picture person, constantly looking forbetter ways of doing things. Testament tothis is the new sparkling Pinot Noir they haveproduced, Stellar.
Katherine is the day-to-day face of thebusiness. She will be occupied in the vineyardpruning or tucking or bud rubbing; in thewinery, or checking on her barrels; cappingand labelling her bottles by hand or makingup cardboard cartons for those bottles;taking those bottles around restaurants andwine stores in a back-pack to sell; or at homerounding up and delegating jobs to the kids.Not to mention incidentals like designinga marketing plan, tweeting, warehousing,and advertising.
It looks utterly exhausting. How the helldoes she do it? For Katherine who admits, shegets bored and cynical very easily; winemakingis a very satisfying career move.
“To make the decision to make wine, youwant to make sure you have a lot of energy,are multi-talented and are an excellent multitasker”.And for the pure survival of nature’sforces (vintage-ruining frost, wind and hail)it pays to have some life experience underyour belt too. She enjoys being the face ofthe business. She feels that when peoplebuy her wine it is because they have formeda relationship with her. Business is aboutrelationships. Business is about personalities.
I’ve enjoyed a relationship with Big SkyWines since first trying them in 2008. Theydo have personality. They are easily enjoyed,charming and uncomplicated. Spend a bit moretime with the wines and they open up, multilayered,multi-faceted, complex and intelligentwith a finesse that’s not over-thought oranalytical. They show a maturity, harmonyand consistency to me, which speak of morethan Terroir.