Wairau River: Rooted in Heritage, Rooted in Family Wine Enthusiast
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Wairau River: Rooted in Heritage, Rooted in Family

With origins dating back to 1870, the Rose family’s legacy is intrinsically tied to the Rapaura district of Marlborough, New Zealand. Roughly a century later, they changed the course of the region’s wine history.

What started as a standard agricultural operation has turned into one of the most dynamic and innovative wineries in the Wairau Valley. Today, this family-owned and -run estate continues to set the national standard for quality Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris. 

A Family Affair

Phil and Chris Rose started off farming alfalfa for export to Japan. But when it became an economically unsustainable crop, they decided to plant grapes instead. In 1978, they rooted the first vines into what is now known as the Home Block Vineyard. In the early days, they supplemented production with fruit sourced from other local growers and sold wine under the name Rose Family Estate. Fast forward to 1991, the first wines under the label Wairau River were released. To this day, the estate remains a true family affair: All five Rose children are involved in the industry, with four (plus their partners) firmly at the helm of Wairau River. Wairau River (which translates to “many waters” in Māori) is now one of the largest family-owned wineries in New Zealand.

David James Photography (copyright)

Pioneers in New Zealand Wine

Wairau River’s fruit comes solely from the 14 estate vineyards owned by the family. Located mainly along the banks of the eponymous waterway, these shallow and nutrient-poor soils yield a small number of grapes with intensely concentrated flavor. The region’s warm days and cool nights further benefit the fruit, which fully matures on the vine while developing bright acidity. This unique terroir and the family’s farming techniques enable Wairau River to craft wines of the highest quality.

These world-class selections include their Sauvignon Blanc. The family was a pioneer in this popular white wine decades before the greater Marlborough region achieved international acclaim for its expression of the varietal. The aromatic fruit comes from five different sites on the northern side of Wairau Valley: Home Block, Cravens, The Angler, Rapaura and Burnside. Planted in 1983, these 40-year-old vines produce grapes with stunning complexity and weight. The wine is fermented and aged in stainless steel to highlight its tropical fruit character and mineral quality.

The operation’s Pinot Noir also comes from five distinct blocks on the northern side of the valley. The family harvests these delicate grapes in the cool morning hours, gently destems bunches and hand plunges the grapes to extract color and tannins, all of which lend vibrant acidity and focus to the juice. Once fermentation is complete, wines rest for nine months in French oak barriques, which give the tannins a supple, rounded mouthfeel.

Another varietal that holds a special place in the family’s heart is Pinot Gris. Sourced exclusively from the Home Block—the Rose’s very first vineyard—these are some of the oldest Pinot Gris vines in the region. They produce highly nuanced wines with lively freshness and weight. But the family coaxes out even more texture from the varietal by resting it on the lees for extended periods to achieve the signature style of Wairau River Pinot Gris.

A Focus On Sustainability

From the outset, Phil and Chris knew conventional farming wouldn’t result in the terroir-driven style of wines they sought, nor would it aid in creating the legacy estate the family envisioned. Sustainability drives the family’s work.

Wairau River aligns itself with 11 of the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, with a particular focus on environmental, social and governance initiatives. The winery is also a Sustainable Winegrowing New Zealand member. By 2030, the family aims to send zero waste to landfills, reduce carbon emissions and increase their use of renewable energy. They also emphasize employee well-being and strive to lead with transparency when communicating with stakeholders. 

Click here to learn more about the Rose family, Wairau River and their wines.