Can you tell me about your business?
We produce premium, low-allergen, organic wines. We're based in Gisborne and have been in the business now for 15 years. It's a family-run business - I'm the winemaker, viticulturist, stock boy and dishwasher, and my wife Nicola handles sales and marketing, and is our top chef. We have just one other full-time employee, who helps with the day-to-day operation in the vineyard, and we use casual staff to help with pruning, harvesting and at the cellar door.
We have two main wine brands - Wrights and The Natural Wine Co - and we manage about 90 per cent of our sales throughout New Zealand ourselves, with the remainder of sales handled through an Auckland distributor who sells to restaurants in that region. Internationally, we're working on distribution into Japan and Australia, and we also sell wines in to the Cook Islands.
What's the biggest change you noticed when you moved from the city to start running a rural business?
Community spirit. Gisborne has a tight-knit community, and it's a friendly and social place to live. And I don't have to drive 45 minutes to the beach anymore; it now takes me two minutes to get to the sea from the centre of town.
But in terms of business I think the real difference is the way that other rural enterprises can become an extension of your business in that they work closely with you on issues at certain times or on particular contracts.
What have been the biggest challenges for you running a rural business? Is connectivity an issue, for example?
It's funny you mention connectivity - we live in a straw bale house and using the cellphone in it is near impossible, so connection to the 4G network is not that great where we live. But while everyone says Gisborne is on the way to nowhere and we live on the edge of the East Coast, I still pay the same costs as any other New Zealand business to ship goods around the country.
Working on the vineyard, I tend to see a lot of grapes, so from time to time, a change of scenery would be nice, but this is a lovely time of year, with the spring shoots on the vines and fresh growth in the canopy.
We also run every facet of our business ourselves, so it's extremely hard to get away at this time of year when our cellar door/cafe is open seven days, and there are 18 hectares of grapes to keep an eye on. Up until Christmas we're working from 7am to 11pm - it's a busy time in a competitive market - so we really cherish the weekends we have together as a family. But even when we're working it's still a great place for the kids to have some fun, meet new people and to get a grasp of a good work ethic from a young age.
It looks as if you've diversified your business quite a bit over the years. What are some of the different things you've done to diversify?
Yes, we're definitely not afraid to try new our hand at making products. A few years ago, for example, we launched our Verjuice, which is a non-alcoholic drink that's great for drinking, or for using in salads or cooking. We also produce olive oil from our 500 trees, and we match that product with our dukkah - a mix of seeds and spice mix. Another new product we're working on is marinated olives.
Another example of something we've done is create Christmas gift packs. One year we sold more than 1,000 of them, and we were up until about 1am every night for about a week, wrapping them up and sending them all over New Zealand.
But really our main business goal is growing beautiful clean grapes and producing our wines.
What do you think it ultimately takes to earn a living off the land as you have?
Being a self-believer, risk taker and passionate pioneer, and being prepared for some hard work, sweat and tears. You also have to use a lot of Kiwi ingenuity, because you can be operating off the smell of an oily rag. And I think having a secondary income at the beginning helps a lot to pay the bills when you're funding a growing business.
Coming up in Your Business: What does it mean to start a business later in life? I'm keen to learn about what's motivated some laterpreneurs to set up their ventures, and the challenges and opportunities they've encountered along the way. If you've got a story to tell about being a laterpreneur, drop me a note: firstname.lastname@example.org