Rod McDonald, founder and owner of Hawke's Bay based Rod McDonald Wines, started the business 11 years ago. McDonald talks about the industry, awards and perks that come with the job.

A brief description of the business
Rod McDonald Wines is a fully integrated wine business which means we own some vineyards and lease vineyards that grow grapes. We make wine, put it in to bottles and take it to the world. We produce under the Quarter Acre label about 3000 cases of wine a year, and under our other brand Te Awanga Estate, about 20,000. Jo Throp and I started the business in Hawke's Bay in 2006.

Why did you start the business?

I used to be the chief winemaker of Vidal Estate which is part of the Villa Maria Group so I lived in Hawke's Bay for about 15 years by that stage and so was right into the wine game, and I just thought that there was room for another good wine brand in terms of unlocking what Hawke's Bay does best. I thought there were places in Hawke's Bay that hadn't been planted and wine styles that hadn't been fully developed.


How big is your team?

We employ five people in the vineyard, eight in office and sales, and another nine in the wine making side of things.

Have you had to make many sacrifices to run and own a wine business?

Everyday. The wine game is not easy, at the heart of it you're a farmer, you've got to deal with Mother Nature. Living in New Zealand means the climate is great, but our weather is changeable, so you live and breathe the weather throughout the year. It's been a fantastic ride in terms of the people we get to mix with and the places we go, but it's not easy.

There's risk in the vineyards, risk in the winery and risks in the international market with exchange rates and distribution, but when it all lines up it is a great industry to be in and its full of enthusiastic, smart and interesting people.

Tell me about your most recent wine accolade?

A big one was with our Quarter Acre Syrah 2015 which we produce about only 1000 cases of that per year, currently. That wine won a gold medal over in London at the International Wine Challenge (IWC). We got chosen from all gold medals as the best Syrah from the Hawke's Bay and then the best New Zealand Syrah and the best New Zealand red wine and the best international Syrah, which means we were the best Syrah that was entered into the show.

They put all of the red wines that won a trophy; Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, etc, in a lineup and choose the Champion Red wine of the Show - the best of the best - and that was us.


We make plenty of wines that we think are worthy of higher honours but you don't always get what you deserve, thankfully, we certainly celebrate the wins but we recognise that there's an element of how the wine tastes on the day and how everybody is feeling, without taking anything away from the award.

Rod McDonald, founder of Rod McDonald Wines.
Rod McDonald, founder of Rod McDonald Wines.

What countries do you export to?

We export to Australia, a little to US, Singapore, Thailand, China, Japan, and in Europe we're in Ireland, the UK, Sweden, Finland, Germany, and as of last month, Russia.

How have you found exporting to Russia?

We confirmed everything via email and through a contact we have in the UK. We sold a few hundred cases of chardonnay, sauvignon blanc and Syrah into Russia and I'll be following up with a trip later in the year. We'll get the wine out there first, and then we'll offer wine tastings and meet some people - I can't wait.

What's the best thing about your job and business?

Like any business that goes from primary industries to finished goods, it's the breadth that goes on in the business annually. The best thing about it is there's a real seasonality to what goes on in the business, and I never get bored of it.

I get to meet a lot of people that love what they do, from all around the world, and get to learn about society, people and culture through the eyes of like-minded people. Wine is the catalyst, and I drink a lot of amazing wine.

A selection of Rod McDonald Wines.
A selection of Rod McDonald Wines.

What are your long term plans for the business?

We've got some capacity to grow within the vineyards we have and then once we've use all of our fruit for our branded wines then we've got to start looking for more vineyards and more places to plant grapes.

We've got two or three little blocks that we've planted up specifically to make more Syrah already and they'll be coming along in the next few years, so just continuing to develop our own story and our root to market.

What advice do you have for others wanting to start a business?

It is as hard as everyone says - be prepared for the lows and celebrate the hell out of the wins. It is, at the same time, the best of times and the worst of times, in any one day.