New wineries and more vineyards
The processing capacity of Hawke’s Bay took off in the 1990s and has continued to increase rapidly into the twenty-first century. Twenty-two enterprises began producing in the 1990s. They included Alpha Domus, Gunn Estate, Kemblefield Estate Winery, Kim Crawford Wines, Craggy Range, Matariki Wines, Sileni Estates, Te Awa Farm and Trinity Hill. In the first decade of the new millennium a further 30 wineries were registered. One characteristic stands out from this clutch of new wineries. Entrepreneurs who have been highly successful in developing and profiting from other businesses have established some of the largest of them. Such enterprises have shown confidence in the Hawke’s Bay region and its wine industry by deciding to commit substantial capital. Two of them, Sileni and Craggy Range, are contrasting examples in the way they are organised and in their philosophies. Both are what New Zealand Winegrowers classifies as medium wineries because they produce over 200,000 litres of wine annually but less than 4,000,000.
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As CEO and owner of Sileni Estates Ltd, Graeme Avery is responsible for strategic planning and export market development. Because Sileni was established when New Zealand winegrowing was maturing, he was able to assemble an impressive list of technical staff with experience both here and internationally. Grant Edmonds, formerly chief winemaker for Villa Maria, who had also worked from their Esk Valley Estate in Hawke’s Bay, was Sileni’s first chief winemaker and had already developed his own Redmetal label when he joined Avery ‘to create Sileni Estates from the ground up’ in 1997. He has long experience of vinifying Merlot, while senior winemaker Rachel Garnham has a special interest in Chardonnay.
The qualifications and experience of the viticultural staff is equally impressive. Group viticulturist Stephen Bradley had previously worked for HortResearch (now Plant & Food Research) in Hawke’s Bay, Delegat’s in both Marlborough and Hawke’s Bay, and Constellation Brands in Marlborough. Although based in Marlborough, where he is able to ensure that the Sauvignon Blanc crop is up to standard, he also regularly visits Sileni’s three main Hawke’s Bay vineyards. This trio of vineyards – Plateau in Maraekakaho, Triangle around the winery, and Parkhill in Haumoana – are on some of the favoured free-draining soils of moderate fertility in Hawke’s Bay including the former beach gravels at Haumoana.
Even for an enterprise that, from the beginning, emphasised its vision to grow first-class grapes, make first-class wines and sell them internationally, the Sileni list of international distributors is impressive. Thirty countries are covered with the only continents lightly represented being Latin America (Brazil only) and Africa. Maintaining strong commercial relationships with this wide sweep of Asian, European and North American markets is no small task – even more so when they have to be built from scratch by a new and ambitious wine producer. In Roman mythology, the Sileni were the demigods of Bacchus the god of wine – and whether the company brand will become one of the strongest among New Zealand’s medium-sized wine enterprises is firmly in the lap of those gods.