Poppy: Winemaker Par Excellence in Wairarapa, New Zealand

In the last twenty years New Zealand’s exceptional wines have gained recognition in the global wine markets. The sad thing is many of the best wines do not even make it out of New Zealand.

It was in 2001 on my second trip to New Zealand, after a guidebook pointed out a talented female winemaker in the Marlborough region, that I started to pay attention to the revolution in this male-dominated industry.

On my latest trip, my wife and I explored the Wairarapa wine region and were impressed by the number of female wine makers.

Coney Wines

When we stopped at Coney Wines, just south of Martinborough, we were waited on during our lunch by none other than owner Tim Coney.

One of the things Tim said stood out when talking about the winemaking process. He said he had turned over the winemaking to his daughter because, “She can taste more nuances of the wine than me and produce a better product.”

Tim’s words were backed up by the excellence of the wines we tasted at Coney Wines.

Poppies Vineyard

Of all the vineyard owners and winemakers whom I met on this latest trip, none impressed me more than Poppy of Poppies Vineyard.

Our first visit was to try the vineyard platter, for which Poppy and her husband Shayne are famous, in their restaurant attached to the vineyard tasting room.

But before we sat down to enjoy the platter, it made sense to try the wines at the tasting counter. 

We were sad that the Chardonnay was sold out, but we tried all the rest that were available. We went up and down the roller coaster of wine ecstasy from the awesome crisp rosé to the expectantly perfect Sauvignon Blanc. For the last taste we finished with a world-class deep and delicious Pinot Noir.

We sat down with a full glass each — my wife with a rosé and me a Sauvignon Blanc — and devoured the aforementioned famous tasting platter. We left duly impressed.

Shopping for wine

With a full five days in the Wairarapa, we did not want to commit to buying much wine until we had sampled most of the eighteen wineries in the Martinborough area.

By the last full day in the Wairarapa I made the rounds to buy the best wines on our “‘must buy list” — Poppies rosé was one of them. It was astoundingly luck for me that when I walked in, there was Poppy herself at the tasting counter pouring out her wine and charm.

Instead of just popping in to buy wine while my wife was back at the resort getting a massage; I decided to stay for the tasting too. It was a good thing I did because I got to meet and interview Poppy while she poured wine for the other customers and me, constantly chatting about the wines and casting a winery spell on all of us.

Poppy's story

During this impromptu interview and wine tasting I learned much about Poppy and her wines. She told me, “When we opened in 2012 Shayne and I thought we had enough wine, but ran out in just eight weeks!”

It was quite a surprise for them to be in a newly-opened winery without any of their own wines to serve or sell. Poppy and Shane made do selling wine from the area vineyards but had learned an important lesson. When you make great wine and serve it in a place where people feel happy and comfortable you can then sell way more wine than expected.

Poppy says her grandfather used to make elderflower wine at home, which created for her an interest in the winemaking process that eventually would pave the way to owning her own label.

This was of course after she and Shayne worked at Dry River for several years, learning the craft of winemaking.

Now firmly in control of their own destinies, Shayne manages the grape growing, buying, and the kitchen work while Poppy produces some of the best wines we have tasted on our tour of more than fifteen wineries. Her philosophy is posted on a chalkboard in the tasting area, “The joy of making wine is in the seeing and hearing of the occasion in which it is being served.” 

After all, if no one is enjoying your wine, what is the point in making it?

Enjoy I did as I bought more than two bottles of wine there during my last day in Martinborough. I bought Late Harvest Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, two bottles of rosé, and a bottle of Pinot Noir. It is kind of like going to the grocery store for milk and coming home with ice cream, yogurt, and butter too.

I am not complaining though. I would have been sad to have just the two bottles of rosé in our wine cellar after such memorable visits to this amazing woman’s world of wine.

It’s great to see women make their mark on the winemaking industry and, with such good results, I’d say they are welcomed.

New Zealand is a Colorado-size country with fifteen wine regions — according to Cuisine Wine Country Magazine 2015.

Poppie’s is one of the best wineries and an absolute must visit for your itinerary —that is if you get the chance to go to New Zealand and you love good wine and food. 

Story & photos by Kurt Jacobson

Kurt Jacobson is a semi-retired cook pursuing full-time travel writing. He travels wherever there is good food, wine and adventure. Favorite countries are New Zealand, Japan, and Spain. Favorite states are Colorado, Alaska, Washington and Oregon. His travel blog is www.TasteofTravel2.com and on Facebook at Tasteoftravel2.



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