Where do wine regions come from? The question might seem overly simplistic, yet every region has an origin story. While the Old World has several orders of monks—or perhaps Roman soldiers, or maybe Phoenician traders—to thank for the proliferation of vinifera, the New World is often just that: new. Although several non-European regions also celebrate centuries of wine heritage, others have only seen vines in the last generation or two. Often, those regions have a small handful of brave souls to thank for demonstrating the potential of a new place. Imagine breaking ground in uncharted terroir with no blueprint as to which grape varieties to grow, no nurseries in the immediate proximity, no winemaking precedent for typicity or style, and no region to type on labels or marketing body to help place bottles on shelves.
This interview article highlights four winegrowers and general managers whose projects were the first commercial ventures in their regions in the modern era. Two of these regions have gone on to become classic New World appellations. In 1979, Neil McCallum founded Dry River Wines in Martinborough, today an official subregion of Wairarapa GI and perhaps the greatest home for Pinot Noir on New Zealand’s North Island. The year prior, Gary Figgins harvested his first vintage for Leonetti Cellar. He carried the torch of his grandfather, a winegrowing immigrant from Calabria and a member of Walla Walla’s early industry before the area saw a several-decades viticultural hiatus following World War II. Figgins was the first to reintroduce vineyards to the Walla Walla Valley, a region traversing the Washington-Oregon border (Leonetti is on the Washington side) that in 1984 earned AVA status, nested within the larger Columbia Valley AVA.
The other two interview subjects, whose wineries were both established in the 21st century, are just beginning to witness the results of their efforts and the potential for nascent wine regions to emerge around them. Christian Wylie serves as general manager for Bodega Garzón—a remarkably ambitious venture, funded by Argentine billionaire Alejandro Bulgheroni, replete with LEED-certified facilities and a restaurant by acclaimed chef Francis Mallmann. Garzón sits on Uruguay’s Maldonado Coast, a maritime region far removed from the more established vineyard areas nearer to Montevideo, in a country that still strives to firmly place itself on the global wine map. Adamo Estate, where Shauna White is winemaker, finds itself similarly distanced from Canada’s wine hubs. While it’s planted on the Niagara Escarpment, the same geological formation that gives its name to the VQA regional appellation, Adamo is located in Hockley, Ontario—a two-hour drive from the Niagara Peninsula, further inland from Lake Ontario, and with a more marginal climate.
Some of these wineries started out with money as no object. Others required their owners to empty their savings. Some knew exactly which grapes they wanted to grow. Others have since grafted over their initial instincts. Each of these wineries faced unique challenges—ones that could have been more easily dodged in established regions. But in every case, it is impossible to imagine how their respective areas could have evolved without their trailblazing visions. Any vineyards or wineries that have or will follow in their paths are indebted to the risks and sacrifices, difficult decisions, and improbable triumphs that these pioneers have achieved.
Clockwise from top left: Shauna White, Gary Figgins, Neil McCallum, and Christian Wylie.
Bryce Wiatrak: How did you end up in your location? What else was in the area when you first arrived, and did you consider an established region instead?
Neil McCallum: There wasn't much truly established in a fairly wide area around Wellington. Marlborough had just started with the first vineyard from Montana. There was one guy playing around in Martinborough, but he hadn't done his homework. He planted on a floodplain, which was entirely the wrong place, and that vineyard was bulldozed some years later. I had a friend [Derek Milne] who was a research scientist at Soil Bureau, and he had researched the best places for starting a quality vineyard. The ones he came up [with], which were near to Wellington, were Marlborough and Martinborough, and I chose Martinborough. I could drive to Martinborough; I had to catch a plane to Marlborough.
Shauna White: In 2014, I was out west at Road 13 Vineyards [in British Columbia], working for a large company. I had previously worked for lots of smaller producers, and I missed that kind of atmosphere. My boyfriend still lived in Ontario, so I looked for work to come back. The Adamos had posted a job for a vineyard manager out here in Hockley, and I thought that was rather interesting. The whole idea of pioneering really appealed to me.
The Adamo family had owned Hockley Valley Resort. Mr. Mario Adamo, the father of the family, always looked at this piece of land they had and thought it reminded him of Calabria, where he was from, with the rolling hills. He always wanted to have vines here. Without anybody’s knowledge, he ordered up about 4,000 vines. They were hand-planted, and he just wanted to see if they would grow. They grew, and they survived the winter. So, the next year, he ordered another 4,000 vines. At this point, the children knew what was going on and thought, Oh no, Dad’s going to need help. We need someone who knows what they’re doing, so we can do this right. They hired me to manage the vineyard in 2014.
Christian Wylie: It is a result of Mr. Bulgheroni and his wife Bettina establishing themselves in a large agricultural way in the municipality of Garzón. It's where they come for holidays. They decided to grow their own their own crops and their own food. They actually started with olive groves for extra-virgin olive oil. The way Mr. Bulgheroni struck gold, or found this new terroir, is he bought this hill for clean energy, for windmills. It's a bit of a love story, because his wife found out, and she basically said, “You're not putting windmills on that hill—it's the view from the house.” So, he had to figure out what to do with the estate, and the agronomist of the olive trees said, "Sir, you know, it's a granite rock, it's facing the ocean, cool climate. Perhaps you could have vines grow here." It was absolutely unprecedented to have vineyards in the area.
Gary Figgins: Nobody was here, winemaking-wise. The wine industry was just getting a soft start with much anticipation and excitement in the state. Nothing was happening in Walla Walla. To precede that, my maternal grandfather was an immigrant from Calabria, Italy. The grape variety that the original immigrants settled on was Cinsaut, which they called Black Prince or Black Malvoisie. The early Italians liked it because it was immune to powdery mildew. It made a lighter, fruity, earlier-drinking wine. Around the 1890s, there were three wineries. You would bring your jug in and fill it out of a large cask. That's how things got rolling here.
That's my connection with the former pre-established industry, which was pretty small and variable. And then, after World War II there was nothing until I came along. Of course, Washington State was getting going. André Tchelistcheff was talking about some of the great wines he tasted out of Washington State, and George Carter and others were starting to work with vines at the experiment station in Prosser.
Bryce: How did you decide which grape varieties to plant? Have you since transitioned to any others?
Neil: Heat summation was the main thing for the type of grape variety. At that time, we would be classified as a cool-climate area with about 1,100 degree days [Celsius]. And that gave us something equivalent to Germany, and parts of Burgundy, too. Initially, I did Sauvignon Blanc, which had just arrived in New Zealand, and it was creating a little bit of a stir. Plus, I did Gewürztraminer and Pinot Gris. I finally took Sauvignon Blanc out because it became a commodity wine, and at the cropping levels and the effort we put in, it just wasn't worth doing. I planted rootstock with the aim of top-grafting. So, we top-grafted Pinot around 1988.
Shauna: Mr. A did a lot of experimenting, so he had Vidal, Riesling, Chardonnay, Pinot, Cab Franc, Merlot, L’Acadie Blanc—obviously, looking more at the cool-climate grapes. Once I came on board, we decided to focus on the Burgundy varieties, and Riesling as well. We have Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Riesling, Gamay Noir, and Vidal. More recently, we’re taking the Merlot out, and we will be replacing it with Grüner Veltliner.
Christian: Well, the main red variety, because of the survival of the fittest, was Tannat, the grape that was outperforming all others in Uruguay. And we felt that because it's quite hilly on the slopes facing north—exposure to the sun, protected from the wind, from the ocean—we could still ripen it properly in a cool climate. Because of the similarities to Rías Baixas and Galicia, we decided to plant Albariño. I think we have 80% of all of the Albariño planted in South America. We planted Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Pinot Noir, Marselan, Pinot Grigio, Viognier, Sauvignon Blanc, some Petit Manseng. In the process, we have realized that Cabernet Franc is actually kind of a sleeper. We planted more, and we uprooted some of the Petit Manseng. The other grape that is performing very well is Marselan, which is appealing to our Chinese importers.
Gary: Reds were really what I was interested in. When I started looking at picking up where my uncles and my grandfather left off, I started researching all the different varieties across the whole climatic spectrum. We deduced that all the heat growing units and length of days were about equivalent to Napa Valley. We started out straightaway with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and later on moved into the other Bordeaux varieties, like Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot. We even planted some Carménère. But primarily Cabernet was showing its strengths, both in the quality of the wine and the survivability of the vines with our cold winters. To this day, the strengths of our valley are still Cabernet-based wines.
Bryce: What were the other most important decisions you had to make when planting your vineyard?
Neil: Initially, the plantings were on our own roots, and phylloxera wasn't a problem. But we knew it would become a problem later, which is why I planted half in rootstock, awaiting results from others on which varieties were doing best. And, of course, the Pinot Noir was one of them, which did very well. It was a funny time. This was the classic time for Martinborough. We had records going back 30 years on climate, and everything seemed to be set in concrete, including the point that frosts were not an issue. By '91, we got a frost in very late November, which was quite out of the bag. And from that time on, the climate really did start to show changes. We installed frost protection, because immediately frost became a large issue. At about this time, it also seemed to me that you had to cater for warmer seasons, and this is when we put in Syrah, which I think has a huge future.
Shauna: Winter protection is critical for us, especially since we have such a high amount of vinifera vines planted. When I first started, they were burying the vines with soil, like Prince Edward County does. In 2015, I started a trial with Brock University to use geothermal, geotextile blankets rather than burying with soil. What that means is our fruiting zone is much lower than your average fruiting zone. We’re about 18 inches off the ground for the fruiting zone, so we have very short trunks. We can use the heat from the earth, and the blankets and snow, to insulate and protect the vines from dying throughout the winter. The results were amazing—just the health of the canes, and less damage from the mechanism from unburying. We were so pleased with the result that we’ve expanded that program, and as of last year, our entire vineyard now is under blanket. We don’t actually move any soil anymore.
Christian: In general, in Uruguay, it's mandatory to use rootstock because of phylloxera. We use more vigorous rootstocks depending on the variety. It's such extreme viticulture, super poor soil—it's either granite rock, or balasto, which is decomposed granite, or it's sand. There's incredible drainage, and we needed good rootstocks to have some kind of vigor. It's very different from the rest of the winegrowing regions in Uruguay, which are further west near the capital where there’s clay, it's heavy, it's warmer. One of the things that we took into consideration is that the rainfall is pretty high. On average, in Uruguay it rains a little bit more than in Bordeaux. It's not a desert climate. You have to be very careful with the grape varieties and their tolerance to humidity and to rainfall.
Gary: We always knew that hillsides were going to produce the best fruit. However, my grandfather's place, where we planted our first Cabernet, was hillside—but in the valley floor. That's how we got our start, and we knew that the hillsides were going to be the most prosperous for survival. That has proven true, especially during our marginal winters. In the early ’90s, we started investing in hillside land. The higher you go, the less fertile the soils. The more well-drained and thinner soils made for smaller crops and higher quality.
Bryce: What was the availability of plant material and equipment when you started? Were you able to access everything you needed or wanted?
Neil: It was all greatly difficult. I managed to get some material for my Sauvignon Blanc from a vineyard in Auckland. The Riesling, which was later, was a well-established German clone. The Pinot Gris was a very old clone brought into New Zealand in the 1890s. To this day, it is really the only one which has produced [high-]quality Pinot Gris in New Zealand. It produces big-flavored and rich wines, and most of the Pinot Gris in New Zealand is planted on other clones that really give a Pinot Grigio style, which doesn't really interest me very much. Good Pinot Noir material wasn't particularly available, and I had to wait for a little while for material to graft onto our rootstock.
Christian: Yes, pretty much. All the plants came from Europe. Everything except Albariño came from France, from very good nurseries. In the case of Albariño, Rías Baixas is a much more rustic wine appellation. There are no real scalable nurseries or clone selections. It’s more of a sélection massale. We went for the smaller bunches, thicker skin. We wanted quality and not volume. But in general, it was relatively easy to get the material to buy. It wasn't that easy to get it through customs.
Bryce: Did you encounter any challenges attracting talent or vineyard labor?
Christian: That is still today the biggest challenge. Most of the talent in Uruguay had this preconception that this was not a place for vines. It was actually a young agronomist and a young winemaker that decided to take the challenge and to go all-in to design the vineyard and start making the wines together with Alberto Antonini. It wasn't too hard to get people interested in working with Alberto, with his track record and experience.
But then, when it came to the actual labor, getting people to Garzón—it's an hour's drive on a bus from towns like Maldonado or Rocha, which are basically beach towns. People know how to serve at a restaurant, or how to build a house, but they've never worked the fields. So, we had to bring some people from Mendoza, some people from Canelones, to live at the farm, to come to the vineyards, and to grow the grapes. And that is today the biggest challenge. Transport is very expensive, and the pay is 50% higher than in the classic regions. We've had to train the staff and also mechanize as much as possible.
Gary: No question about it. We were small back then, and we pretty much did all the work ourselves. We were out in the vineyard pruning and planting. It was very small acreage at the time. And then over time, labor was and still is an issue. We happen to have a permanent crew year-round. But it's still tough. Mechanization is something on everybody's mind. But right now, we're all hand-picked and pruned. We have increased efficiency with machinery, so we've made the job easier for our hand labor. But eventually, everybody's going to have to face more mechanization.
Bryce: How did financial opportunities or limitations impact the decisions you made when starting the winery?
Neil: Budget was a big thing, because I didn't have a lot of capital backing. I worked as a research scientist until ’87. I was going to develop very slowly and at a minimum level, which is what we did.
Shauna: We’re very lucky, because the Adamo family did not want to sacrifice quality. From our tanks that we got from Italy, to the barrels that we purchase every year, to buying blankets for the vineyard, the input is much higher. But that was never an issue, because it’s reflected in the wines that we make.
Christian: It’s a very special project, because Mr. Bulgheroni is the wealthiest businessman in the region. He has an important fortune and business in the energy sector. Basically, there was really no limitation. Once the first harvest happened, and the first winemaking trials in 2010 and 2011, Antonini and the team told him, “We've struck oil”—in the sense of the quality that we're getting. It's an investment close to 100 million dollars when you consider bricks and mortar and equipment. And for South American standards, it's still a boutique winery.
Mr. Bulgheroni has been a pioneer for decades on clean energy, and he really wanted this to be a statement. All of the facilities today are LEED certified. He brought special architects and designers to insert the winery on the hillside without really affecting the landscape. We use things that are relatively normal—using gravity flow for the movement of the wines. But we also have the biggest green roof in South America. It's 7,000 square meters, and the plants on the roof are from a natural preserve. It was all designed to save as much energy as possible. I would say that no expenses were spared.
Gary: We did everything on a shoestring. I couldn't afford a whole lot, so I was building things—racking wands, an old pump I motorized, you name it. We did everything without having to pay much initial outlay for equipment. At the time, I was in the Army Reserves, and I spent all my money purchasing barrels, capsules, all of that stuff. And of course, as you go along, you start selling some wine and you start making some money. Pretty soon you're a bona fide winery and you're paying for everything that you use.
Bryce: Tell us about your first harvest. What did you learn?
Neil: The first harvest wasn't a commercial one. And the first thing I learned was, because I didn't want to irrigate, crop levels were going to come up only very slowly. We're only getting good crop levels at about six or seven years, and our first harvest was about half a ton, or something like that. So, it wasn't worth selling. Eighty-four was a fairly benign year. We got a moderate level of crop, but actually we weren't commercial cropping until about ’91. It was very difficult, and particularly after the '91 frost, which decimated our vines. And so ’91 and ’92 actually should have been good crops, but they got really hammered at that point.
Shauna: When I arrived in 2014, we harvested a little bit of Vidal, but that was the only thing from our estate that year, because the other vines were too young. It takes four years for vinifera up here to produce a proper first crop. Last year, 2019, was my first year where all of my vines were producing. The Pinot Noir from 2019 is really starting to come through and have balance and intensity and concentration. I also think that reflects what our blankets have been doing, because we had about half the vineyard blanketed from 2018 to 2019, and now the whole thing from 2019 to 2020. What I’ve found with the blankets is that we’re getting much better yields, because we’re not damaging any of the buds when we remove the soil.
Christian: The yields were much lower than expected. We found tremendous freshness because of the natural high acidity of this kind of weather, this kind of terroir. We were actually harvesting much later than we thought, versus the other appellations in Uruguay. We were able to see how healthy the bunches were, mostly thanks to the wind. We had to wait a couple of harvests to start getting varietal expression.
Gary: Our first harvest was 1978. It was a wonderful vintage. It was classically proportioned. It was very balanced between tannins and fruit and just delightful. It was a blend of Cabernet we produced out of my grandfather's place and Cabernet that we had purchased from Sagemoor Vineyards, north of Pasco. Back then, I considered it seat-of-our-pants winemaking, where we were still trying to figure out what to do with our fruit. And so we did the best we could with it. Once it settled down and was in the barrel, we thought, Well, oh my gosh. This is really pretty freaking amazing how good this is. Several other people came by to taste it. At the time, everybody was making big, brash reds. They didn't have any idea of how to manage the tannins. Back in the day, we were making pretty good wines off of high-tonnage fruit. But with that kind of a crop level, the tannin distribution is spread out over a bigger crop. From that vintage, we learned a lot. Then, we started to crank it back and do smaller crops. Of course, concentration of everything came to the forefront with those smaller crops.
Bryce: Did you hire any vineyard or winemaking consultants when launching your project? If so, what were their greatest contributions?
Shauna: Jonas Newman [from Hinterland Winery in Prince Edward County] was our first consultant. Jonas had the know-how of burying vines. I personally had never buried vines or worked with a trellis system this low. It was exceptional having all of that information so we could protect our vines properly. He also has a fantastic palate for making sparkling wine. I got to make my first sparkling wine with him, and learn from him how to do the traditional method in small-batch form.
Christian: We hired and we still have Alberto Antonini. He's been very instrumental in the style of the wines. He makes wines of place and expects the market to adapt to that place. He doesn't tailor-make wine for a market. There are five nos with Alberto: there's no chemicals or synthetics, there's no overripe fruit, there's no over-oak, there's no over-extraction, and there's no over-winemaking.
Bryce: How did your region inform your winemaking style, and has your approach changed since your first vintages?
Neil: I think the biggest thing is I prefer to handle or tackle the wine in the vineyard, rather than in the winery. Martinborough is a maritime climate, and the key point seems to be getting your phenolics ripe. You can get lovely flavors, but the phenolics can be a bit green. I really prefer Pinot Noir with neutral phenolics. The thing about ripening phenolics is it can be done by heat, or it can also be helped by UV. We got our maximum out of the heat, but it wasn't quite enough. So, I looked at ripening phenolics with sunlight. Very early on, I did a complete exposure of the bunches right from when they were very small, about two to three millimeters a berry, which created much better fruit, in that you got ripe phenolics. If you do your thinning very early in the season, you get tougher skins, you get better phenolics. And one of the keys is your phenolics ripening curve accelerates, but your flavor ripening curve stays the same. Most people, whether they realize it or not, they're picking on phenolics, not on flavor, because it simply tastes better when your phenolics are ripe. So, you are able to pick your fruit at lower alcohols.
Christian: In the first vintages, we learned how to make the whites crisper, more expressive, how to balance the acidity, which is pretty high. We don't do malolactic, but we keep the wine on the lees a bit longer. On the reds, we moved away from oak, from the small barrels and higher toast, because at the beginning we needed those tannins to balance the young vines. Now we don't. We're more about texture and drinkability than concentration and overwhelming, almost tiring, wines.
We continue to fine-tune the components, as there are 1,200 parcels. As we get to know the vineyard better, we are coming up with more layers. We used to only have varietals. Then, it was Estate wines and Reserva. And then, we finally started finding singularities and bottled single vineyards. We made a blend of the best parcels for Balasto, which is our icon wine. Now we're starting to identify individual parcels. We have a range called Petit Clos—and that is one parcel, one clone, one variety. We are making grappa now; we have a late harvest; we ventured into méthode champenoise with a beautiful Pinot Noir.
Gary: My style was predicated off of studying primarily California and Bordeaux-style wines, and also Italian wines. I was 10 years into my winemaking before developing my style, which is more like an international style, balanced, not overblown. Remember, in the early days we were buying from farmers who were getting tonnage prices for their grapes. Even though we were able to make considerable wines out of those early grapes, when we started doing our own vineyards, crop levels dropped off dramatically. That built in the composition of those grapes—sturdier, larger capacity of tannins, and also earlier maturing. We were able to pick them sooner, which gave the vines more opportunity to recover before the onset of much colder temperatures. Today, we have to throttle back our winemaking to make sure that these wines aren't over-the-top tannic. We still want balance. But I would say we're getting the concentration of fruit easier without manipulation once it's in the vat.
Bryce: What were your greatest challenges marketing your wine in the early years?
Neil: I didn't really market them. I knew some people, and I would email them every release. What I did do—I suppose you could call it marketing—is go to the various major centers, and I put on a tasting and emailed the people who were interested. They turned up, and they ordered what they wanted. So, that was roughly it. I also made sure that the wine was available to significant wine writers.
Shauna: Everyone said, “Where are you?” I think because we were the first, and being in an area that's not typical for growing vines, people either didn't believe you or didn't think it was going to be any good. Getting people out to the property, coming and having an experience here, was our biggest challenge. But now, since people know about us and the word has spread, that's no longer a challenge for us.
Christian: No one knew Uruguay. No one knew the country, very few people. And then, those that did thought of great soccer players, perhaps great meat, or maybe some of them had been to the beach, but none of them knew it for winegrowing. Then, you start talking about Tannat, and very few people know Tannat. And the people that knew Tannat had a very strong preconception that it was a beast, that it was huge, that it had to lie down for 10 years, such as in Madiran. So, we went to a gatekeeper or a leader. We would just say, “Hey, we've got this wine. What do you think?” He'd say, “Wow. It's amazing.” Then, “Can you guess the price?” He would say something much more expensive. So, all of a sudden, he was drinking a wine that he thought had great value.
We had to really rely on Mr. Bulgheroni and his contacts, on Francis Mallmann and his influence in gastronomy, and Alberto Antonini and his ability to relay the message in tastings with opinion leaders.
Gary: The biggest challenge was finding people who would buy our wine. In the early days when we were getting ready to sell our wine, we went to family, friends. And then we thought the docs and lawyers would probably buy our wine. It turned out that the docs were the biggest buyers of wine. They were more predicated toward beverages that were healthier for you.
But what really gave us our start—Wine & Spirits sent out a flyer saying that they were going to do this tasting competition, and they asked for some wines. The premise of the whole tasting was trying to find the best Cabernet in the nation. They got Cabernets from New York, California, Washington State. And we won the whole damn thing. That lit things off. The phone was ringing off the hook. We weren't prepared, but we just knuckled down. We made a little bit more, and sold that. The next year, we made a little more, and sold that. We didn't double, triple production, like some people can't resist doing. Instead, we just let demand far outstrip supply.
Bryce: Do you have a hospitality program?
Neil: We never did. I just didn't think it was worth it. I never went into the industry for the sake of being commercial. I just was really keen on great wine.
Shauna: We definitely have a hospitality program. We have a full kitchen here on-site. And, until COVID hit, we were offering up lunch and dinner. We have a special event every Friday called Wine and Unwind, where we bring in a local live band and have a raw seafood bar. On Sundays we're open for brunch.
Christian: Yes, we do. We always have 10 different activities that are rotating. They can be as simple as just walking in and buying wine in the shop and enjoying the view from the terrace, all the way to a premium experience of coming in on a helicopter, going to see the vineyards with a sommelier, doing a little treasure hunt, a picnic, or coming back to cook with the chefs. So, hospitality is one of the fundamental pillars of Garzón. We are up to about 25,000 visitors, which is very high. The average person would spend about $150 on a tour and lunch.
Gary: We have a tasting room that is used sparingly for private appointments, entertaining potential customers. It's primarily used for dealing with customers from our subscription lists, where we have a once-a-year release. Today, the wines are sold out prior to that. It's a thank you to all of our people.
Bryce: Have you attracted any neighbors? What have others learned from you, and what have you learned from them?
Neil: I think there are probably over 35 vineyards in the area now. There were three vineyards who followed in the following year [including Ata Rangi and Martinborough Vineyard]. Really, there wasn't much difference between them and me, except I just was technically a year earlier. We all went our different ways. I think a lot of the growers considered me as quite eccentric. But, I've noticed the vineyards have come to more and more look like Dry River as time goes on.
Shauna: The really cool thing was learning about all of these little hobby farmers around here. There are a lot of people that have beautiful large properties and have vines. Especially in the early days, I would have neighbors come visit all the time and just show them what we were doing and give them some advice on what they could do. Now we have Windrush Estate Winery, which opened up about 20 kilometers away from us. They have five acres of vines planted up at their site, as well as a tasting room.
Christian: Yes, we have. Today, there are about 15 other projects in the area. Some of them are more advanced than others. We have a great chef that lives in Uruguay who has an olive plantation. He invited the Nichelini family from Mendoza, and they're starting a project. We're working together on the varieties, and how to plant and what to expect. Paul Hobbs has come to Garzón to see how we make Albariño. There's another producer that's near Garzón who is working with Hans Vinding-Diers of Noemía. So, it’s starting to become quite the buzz.
Gary: We didn't think it was going to happen in my lifetime. All of a sudden, the industry just popped up all around us. It was mushrooms overnight, popping up in the wet grass. It went from 10, 11, 12 wineries to 60, 70 in just a few short years. And now it's over 120 wineries. The concept for me was that you have to push the guy ahead of you to pull the guy behind you. So, we would share information and how we even made the wine.
Bryce: If you could go back and give yourself advice when you were just starting your project, what would you say?
Neil: Well, I did start the whole deal methodically and worked through it as a scientist. So, in terms of the method, I think I tackled that about as well as I could have. If you asked me whether I'd do it again, I'd probably say no, because it required a huge obsessive effort which completely took over my life and my money, and we struggled for a long time. But thanks to Julian [Robertson, who acquired Dry River in 2003], we came out of it very well.
Shauna: The wind. When there's no wind here, that's when it's a strange day. We're at just under 500 feet elevation, and at the top of the escarpment, with the rolling hills and the valley down below us. So, being at the highest point, it's always windy. It's great for disease pressure. It's great for drying the vines off and the soil off to get in on the tractor. But the way we developed the crush pad area, it's a wind tunnel.
Christian: How difficult it was to market, and how difficult it was to get people—difficult in the sense of actually getting a head count, and then how much more expensive per person it would be. I think no one really got a good grasp on that.
Gary: I was a machinist and a winemaker, and it was awesome having my wife, who was a bookkeeper. But more knowledge on business would have given us a little better head's up. As it was, we did just fine because we had a lot of intuitive knowledge. It's wonderful having a great partner that was able to help along the way. Two heads are better than one. Over time, we've created this wonderful team. Everybody pulls their weight and does everything to a high degree of efficiency and correctness.
Interviews have been edited for length and clarity. Thanks to Neil, Shauna, Christian, and Gary for sharing their perspectives and experiences!
Thank you to all who participated and shared, and Bryce for another stellar piece of writing
Thanks, Kat ;)