When Gary and Valley Neale came back from working overseas in the early 1990s, they returned to Nelson, the town where they’d met, and considered whether to try growing grapes or apples.
“We met a grower who said whatever we went into there would be good years and bad, and if we weren’t passionate about what we were doing, the bad years would be hell,” explains Gary. “We realised our passion lies with wine — producing quality and focusing on purity and sustainability, and we were the first to grow grapes on the Waimea Plains.”
With a first vintage under their own label in 1999, followed by a purpose-built winery in 2003, Brightwater has cemented a strong reputation in the wine market over the last two decades both here and overseas, with a slew of awards and accolades to prove it.
Under the talented eye of winemaker Tony Southgate, the vineyard makes wine from multiple grape varieties, including Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris, Riesling, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Merlot, sending up to 10,000 cases a year all over the globe.
Their Lord Rutherford Reserve range, named after a local scientist you may have heard of, has been receiving attention in recent years, winning Champion Chardonnay and Champion Wine of the Show at Auckland’s 2012 Royal Easter Show, alongside Tony being named New Zealand Winemaker of the Year. Adding this to Small Business of the Year and then Supreme Business of the Year at the Nelson Business Awards means the Neales have come a long way from standing in Nelson, fresh off a plane, contemplating apples or grapes.
Sitting in the sun outside his vineyard’s cellar door with views across the rows of grapes and out to the Abel Tasman and Kahurangi national parks, nowhere near a desk or office, Gary explains that Brightwater’s philosophy comes down to the simple premises of purity and taste.
“We’re after a quality wine,” he says. “There should be a flow from the aroma to the taste in the mouth, the feel in the mouth, the roll-over to the aftertaste and finally the swallow.”
And, perhaps offering an inadvertent analogy for identifying your calling and then achieving it as he has done, he sums up Brightwater’s winemaking: “We take it from the taste and work backwards.”
The Lord Rutherford Reserve Chardonnay has intense aromas of peaches and butterscotch, with concentrated stone fruit, citrus flavours and a well-balanced palate.
These grapes were a special pick from Brightwater’s sustainably certified vineyard, with leaf and green fruit removal meaning only intensely flavoured fruit made it through to winemaking. French oak barrique fermentation resulted in the full-bodied, finely balanced complexity of an award-winning Chardonnay.