Winemaker Jane Cooper and co-owner Lesley Reidy selling wine from their new cellar door in Greytown. PHOTO/TOM TAYLOR
The ceiling had just gone on, and power and water had been connected. Jane Cooper and Lesley Reidy were busy sweeping inside their new Greytown winery the day before they were scheduled to pick their first batch of grapes. Then came the lockdown announcement.
“If you don’t pick grapes when they’re ready, you lose them,” Cooper said.
However, classed as a food product manufacturer along with other wineries, ‘Alexia Wines’ was regarded as an essential service and allowed to continue its operation.
The lockdown put pressure on the business, which was wholly funded by Cooper and Reidy.
Overcoming financial strain, mechanical issues, and the loss of extra workers during the lockdown – all while minding their two children – Cooper and Reidy opened their ‘urban winery’ on West St in Greytown last Friday.
Cooper, a winemaker for 28 years, had first seen the site in 2017 when riding down West St while completing the Greytown cycle trail.
“It was terrible – a big derelict shed.”
That shed was dismantled and went on to provide timber framing for a house, steel for a bridge, and corrugated iron for a film set.
Cooper said that – as usual – construction of the new building took longer than expected, meaning that builders were just moving out while the first grapes were coming in.
Cooper sourced these grapes from Julie Collins and Simon Dawson’s Manuka Flats vineyard in West Taratahi. This year, they picked 20 tonnes of grapes, equating to 1600 cases of wine – placing Alexia among the smallest wineries in New Zealand.
The grapes included several experimental varieties: a Chenin Blanc from the Loire Valley, western France; a Gamay from Burgundy, central France; and a Lagrein from South Tyrol, northern Italy.
“It’s pretty exciting as a winemaker to get your hands on that sort of stuff,” Cooper said.
She bought second-hand equipment for the winery, the only new item being a two-tonne concrete egg, the shape of which kept sauvignon blanc constantly moving during fermentation.
“I like keeping things as simple as possible,” Cooper said. “We don’t add anything to the wine. We don’t pump it around or filter it, or do anything to the wine unless we absolutely have to. We’re very low-tech.”
However, within the first few weeks of lockdown, the winery’s grape press had broken down, and Cooper had to call in an engineer. As he was supporting the manufacture of a food product, the engineer was also deemed an essential worker, and the press could be fixed.
The cellar door will only be open until March, at which point Cooper and Reidy will close their doors and start the winemaking process all over again.