Wine: Working with mum

By Rebecca Gibb

Fancy working with your mum? Rebecca Gibb talks to some Kiwi winemakers who are keeping it all in the family.

(From left) Tracy Haslam, Eileen Romain and Jan Haslam from Ti Point, Matakana. Photo / Supplied
(From left) Tracy Haslam, Eileen Romain and Jan Haslam from Ti Point, Matakana. Photo / Supplied

America has an annual "Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day" every April, and this year the White House welcomed its employees' offspring for the first time. It all sounds very quaint but what about taking your kids to work every day for the rest of your life? The thought may have you running for cover but it is a reality for many family-run wine producers from Auckland to Arrowtown. As much as we love her, could you work with your dear old mum? We ask two wine producers for the lowdown on how, and if, it really works.

Ti Point, Matakana
Eileen Romain and her daughter Jan Haslam and granddaughter Tracy Haslam

Eileen Romain, known to everyone as nan, is 86, and should be enjoying retirement. However, Eileen's granddaughter, Tracy Haslam, had other ideas, roping her mum and nan into setting up a vineyard on the Matakana property, where she was raised.

Since 1999, nan's been busy growing most of the veggies for the winery restaurant and babysitting her four great grandchildren, while Tracy works in the field with her mum.

Welcome to the crazy world of Ti Point.

Tracy was the first member of the family to become a winemaker. She started working in Hawke's Bay before flying around the world to make wine in France, Italy and California.

After seven years' globetrotting, Tracy realised her family's property, Ti Point, was actually a decent place to plant vines and managed to persuade the rest of the family that it was a good idea.

In 1999, the vineyard was planted. Tracy and her mum, Jan, toiled away in the vineyard for the first six years of the project. It was a baptism of fire for Jan, who had previously run a bus company and had no idea about growing grapes.

Soon after starting a vineyard, Tracy and her husband David Mason, the CEO of Sacred Hill wines, started a family. Nan cared for Bruno, now 10, while Tracy and Jan worked in the vineyard.

"She would wave a towel when Bruno needed me," says Tracy. "She ran the show and is an amazing matriarch, keeping us all in line."

By 2004, Tracy had to concentrate on making the wines and selling them in a crowded market. Poor old mum was left to look after the vineyard, and in 2007 they employed a vineyard manager to help her out. She now runs the winery restaurant.

So how do three generations of women work together so well? "It is tricky and there are times when there are tears. There's no sulking allowed so we get it off our chests and move on," admits Tracy.

"We are all strong personalities, all passionate and loud. I might be a bit of a control freak. I'm stubborn. I'm quite spontaneous too, which is not a good thing sometimes but my nan keeps us together."

There's a new generation of workers to help when nan finally decides to take a well-deserved retirement. Bruno now has three siblings - Ruby, 8, George, 7 and Tessa, 2 - and there are plenty of veges to be grown and wines to be made.

Terrace Edge, Waipara
Jill Chapman and son Pete Chapman

"A crazy holiday dream," became reality for the Chapman family 12 years ago. Jill Chapman was a social worker and her husband, Bruce, a health worker. They had no winemaking experience, but fell in love with the idea of owning a vineyard after visiting a winery in Marlborough. Within months they had bought a property in Waipara and started planting vines.

Terrace Edge started as a weekend hobby vineyard, but soon moved to "an out-of-control hobby", says the youngest of three sons, Pete. In 1999, he thought it was time he learned to grow grapes and enrolled at Lincoln University to study viticulture.

A decade later, Jill has given up social work to run the 13.5ha estate with Pete. She manages the administration and marketing, while Pete runs the viticultural side of things.

You'd think there must be times when things get hard working so closely with your family, but the pair can't think of any time they've thrown a tantrum. Surely there must be some dirt to dish? Alas, no. "I leave the vineyard to Pete and our nephew works in the vineyard as his assistant. Even Bruce's 90-year-old mum comes and does her bit mending nets," explains Jill. Pete chips in: "It works 99.9 per cent of the time, as we have very different skills and different roles.

"I also pretty much get free rein in the vineyard."

It seems it would be difficult to get Pete angry about much: he's a chilled-out surfer who gets to ride waves and then spend his days among the vines.

However, Jill admits: "The toughest thing is that you have both a business relationship and a personal relationship, too. It can be all-consuming, 24-hours a day, so we have to make family dinners a Terrace Edge-free zone."

Producing wine is a huge commitment, and there have been many challenges. Pete confesses: "We were a bit naive, but I think that's a good thing: if you knew how much of a challenge it was you might not do it."

Jill agrees: "I don't think any of us realised what a huge involvement it would be but are just starting to see the fruits of our labour.

"When we see people enjoying our wines and coming to visit us it makes it all worth it."

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