Haysley MacDonald, director and proprietor of te Pa- Wines, can justifiably claim to have a special connection with the land – one no other New Zealand winery owner could ever match. While te Pa- (‘our place’) is a relative newcomer to the local wine industry, its first vines being planted in 2003, the MacDonald family has ties to the land those vines grow on that stretch back centuries.
“The strength of the te Pa- brand comes from a combination of our heritage and family story and the quality of our wines,” explains Haysley. “The te Pa- estate sits on a special part of the Wairau Bar in the Marlborough region, and was home to the first known settlement in New Zealand.
“We are essentially the oldest family in the country; we can trace our roots back over 800 years. Being able to take that rich heritage to the world is pretty special – and not something many, if any, other Kiwi wine brands could lay claim to,” he says.
“We’ve had generations of farming and living off the land, which means we’re bringing decades of agricultural experience to the fore with our wines. The quality of our wines speaks to that experience and the care we take of the land.”
Haysley has lived his whole life at te Pa-. As did his parents and grandparents, and now his five children are growing up the same way. When it comes to his business background, he admits to being self-taught. Before the vineyards he was involved in general farming, dairying and growing potatoes. “With the potato business we diversified into making French fries and supplied them to buyers in the top of the South Island, and later the North Island. I was involved in marketing the potatoes as a young fella, and was always right in the middle of the growing operation.”
Te Pa-’s family-oriented business structure was particularly beneficial in the early days, Haysley recalls. “What was great and unique was being able to talk among ourselves, as a family and close team, to make decisions on anything and everything.
“Now that we are growing we need more external input, which is a positive development.
“To this day, we focus on the family and land as the main element of our business. There are several generations living on the estate, from grandparents to grandkids, cousins, and the te Pa- staff, who are like family too. In the busy harvest season, we put on a massive meal for the morning and evening shift, which is a great way to share a meal as a team,
rather than just clocking in and clocking out.”
Te Pa- is also one of Marlborough’s largest vineyard contracting businesses, which provides a broad range of expertise for and from its clients, explains Haysley. The work is shared. “We help them and they help us; it’s a useful tool to achieve the best results for our wine business, and our clients.”
Another key to te Pa-’s success has been the strong management team and special bond between Haysley, vineyard manager Garath Exton and chief winemaker Liam McElhinney.
“Gareth and I have known each other for a long time: we used to catch the same bus and play rugby together,” says Haysley. “He had his own successful business, and I was doing some of his work too. So I decided to tee up with him a few years ago and now he’s running the contract side of the business.
“We work well together because, like me, Gareth loves a challenge. He loves to watch something grow, and we think alike.”
Liam McElhinney and Haysley also go back to primary school. “Liam furthered his studies in wine making, honed his craft around the world, and then we reconnected through the wine industry,” says Haysley. “At one point, I was doing harvest contracting for the wine brand he was working for, and so we made our first lot of te Pa- wine together in 2011 when we were both at that facility. He joined te Pa- in 2012.
“It’s fitting that the winemaker who crafted our first vintage has gone on to oversee our second, third and now fourth vintages.”
Haysley says the biggest adjustment for him in establishing te Pa- was letting the day to day operational running of the farm go, and focusing more on the business side. He says their next big challenge is keeping up supply to meet demand – a fact not helped by all the awards the brand has been receiving overseas, and the great reception it’s had in the UK particularly.
Success in the UK is a result of te Pa-’s heritage, authenticity and brand substance, explains Haysley. Plus they’ve made a bit of noise up there, and wine reviewers have taken notice.
“In the UK, wine drinkers and distributors are ready for something different and we’re giving that to them.”
Opportunities in Asia and the US are also being explored – and there’s been a lot of positivity around the te Pa- story.
“The biggest lesson I’ve learned while building te Pa-, is to take your time,” says Haysley. “Explore your markets; understand them. It helps you make the right choices.
“There’ve been many opportunities for us to get out there and go very big, very quick. But to be honest, that would’ve been a race to the bottom. Instead, we chose to take a breath, stand back and focus on where we want to go. Right now we’re focused on delivering well on our plans.”
›› Glenn Baker is editor of NZBusiness.