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The Locals: Building a boutique winery

28 May 2021
Ataahua Wines produce boutique wines in North Canterbury. PHOTO: Katherine Williams Tandem Photography

The Locals is a three-part feature celebrating those who put their heart and soul into handcrafted goods. Want to read the series now? Read it here or grab your copy of Style magazine out now

Ataahua Wine’s Stephanie Henderson-Grant once said she would never start her own wine label. Yet today, she has her very own boutique Waipara winery that she has built from the ground up.

"I really didn’t think I would start a wine label when I left my job as a winemaker. I was at home with three little children, and someone asked me, ‘So, are you going to do your own thing one day?’

I said, ‘Never.’ I’ve since learned never to say never!

I remember commenting that the industry needed another small wine brand like it needed a hole in the head. But three years later, I really missed winemaking because it is quite a fascinating process and I love the creativity of it.

I saw an ad for second-hand wine equipment and I went and had a look. I thought, ‘I could do something with that’. The next thing I knew I had some equipment. We had a sort of a barn, where we stored my sister’s gear while she travelled and where we had an old car. I cleared it all out and put in drainage and electricity, and insulated it. And, bit by bit, it grew into a little winery.

I’ve collected things, added a few bits and pieces and had the local engineering company modify things so I could do it on my own or with the help of one other person. It is a small setup, but it works nicely.

The first wine I made at the original Church Road winery [Waipara], was the 2010 Gewürztraminer. I started selling to local restaurants and small outlets. Little by little, it grew. I’d do a little more volume and started sending more to larger restaurants.

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Stephanie Henderson-Grant has built up her ‘little winery’ in Waipara, bit by bit. Photo: Katherine Williams Tandem Photography

Because I had small people at home, I wanted to keep the operation small. I wasn’t interested in exporting for the first 10 years, whereas I would like to export now – depending on how things go with Convid-19. This year is quite different because of that.

Fortunately, the Ministry for Primary Industries allowed the wine industry to harvest the crop during lockdown. It would have been nine to 10 months of work gone if we couldn’t bring the fruit in.
Normally we would hand-harvest, but that is not happening for obvious reasons. This year the fruit has been machine-picked and the wine made at a kind neighbour’s facility, because, in January, we shifted everything from Church Road, two kilometres away, to Mackenzies Road, and we’re still getting set up.

Normally, the harvest is really intensive; hand-harvesting during the day, then processing in the afternoon and in the evening. I would probably do 12-hour days at the peak of it.

I love what I do. I think it is because you produce something from scratch. You grow the vines, nurture the plants to produce the fruit, harvest the fruit and then make the wine. In the end, you come up with a product that people enjoy. It is very satisfying to produce something where you have had a part in every aspect; touching the bottle umpteen dozen times just to get it out the door.

It is truly a hand-crafted product.

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