Academia and industry – when it really works! The University of Auckland and Goldie Wines

In July 2011 I read about the University of Auckland acquiring an established Waiheke Island vineyard and winery called Goldwater. The deal meant that the university has taken ownership and the vineyard and associated facilities are effectively now an extension of the university’s teaching and research facilities.

Working for Wine2030, the University of Adelaide wine-related research network, I saw similarities with the situation in Adelaide. The University of Adelaide’s Hickinbotham Roseworthy Wine Sciences Laboratory at the Waite campus has a state-of-the-art winery and research facility which is used for teaching, research and services for industry. Furthermore, both of these wineries have produced award-winning wines!

I was lucky enough to visit both the University of Auckland and Goldwater. Sincere thanks go to my hosts Jan Robertson, Maureen Benson-Rea and Randy Weaver who were immensely hospitable and informative.

A brief background

Kim and Jeanette Goldwater started the first Vinifera (i.e. wine grapes as we know them!) vineyard on Waiheke Island in 1978, with cabernet sauvignon, and the first vintage was in 1982. They subsequently planted merlot, cabernet franc, syrah, viognier and chardonnay. There are now more than 30 growers on the island and it is internationally recognised as a high quality wine-producing region.

In 2006 Goldwater Wines merged with Vavasour Wines – one of the early Marlborough (Awatere) wineries. While the business was sold to a US investor in 2009, the Goldwaters retained ownership of their original vineyards. The new brand Goldie Wines was created in 2010. In 2011 the Goldwater family finalised the transfer of the Goldie Vineyard and the Goldie Wines business to the University of Auckland. The Goldwaters attended the University of Auckland as did other members of their family, and wanted to ‘give something back’.

The setting is idyllic overlooking the picturesque Putiki Bay, with the winery, tasting room, conference centre, and facilities surrounded by rolling hills, vineyards, a variety of fruit trees, and all within a stone’s throw from the private beach! See photos below of how pretty this place is, in a truly maritime setting, with stunning views in all directions.

Teaching and research at Goldie Wines

The winery continues to make wine as it has always done. The key addition is the ongoing presence of University of Auckland students studying at various levels – Postgraduate Diploma, Masters, PhD – and going on to postgraduate research. Some are graduates from the School of Biological Sciences and the School of Chemical Sciences at The University of Auckland.

The research projects currently underway include investigating the relationship between soils and grape maturity; yeast breeding trials on chardonnay and merlot; and an interesting project looking at why fruit flies prefer certain strains of yeast fermentations and the evolutionary implications of why yeast produce compounds that attract fruit flies.

The facility can house up to 10 students in the old family home. The students make some wine and if it is acceptable, Goldie buys that wine back for commercial sale, maybe for blending. The Goldie Wines winemaker is Heinrich Storm.

While I was tasting the wines at the tasting room I met Anton Forde, who is a viticulture teacher at Waiheke High School. He says, “the way to get students interested is to get them in the vineyards”. So the school runs a three-year programme – the first year is based on horticulture, and the second and third years focus on viticulture. It is for students aged 15-18, and there are currently 45 kids in the programme. While the school does have 150 vines at the school, he says it is also important for the students to get experience in different vineyards around the island. There is an apprenticeship scheme where Waiheke winegrowers take some of the kids when they leave school. One had just been given a permanent job at Goldie Wines as an assistant vineyard manager. Anton says they are also hoping for a chemistry student to come over and do the winemaking. Before, at the school, they could only offer viticulture but with this new facility they are offering this now too.

The wines

The Goldie Wines fall into three categories: classic Bordeaux style wines, chardonnay and syrah. I tried some of all three!

Only French oak was used for all of the wines. The chardonnay was elegant and lightly oaked. The Island Red – a 50/50 blend of cabernet sauvignon and merlot, had lovely cassis and black cherry, with herbal notes like thyme, and subtle hints of vanilla. It was a relatively light and easy drinking red, yet still long and savoury with grippy ripe tannins.

The 2010 syrah was bolder, though still elegant and smooth, with plenty of pepper and spice, dark chocolate and coffee, really delicious.

The Goldie top label red ($60/bottle) is a blend of cabernet sauvignon, merlot and cabernet franc. It was well structured, delivering an intense nose overlaid with cedar, and a lovely complex palate of black fruits.

Elegance, complexity and regionality could be used to describe all of the wines I tried.

Upper North Island Wine Challenge

Jan Robertson and Randy Weaver started the Upper North Island Wine Challenge. It focuses on wines made north of Taupo. This is the warmer end of New Zealand with more sunshine so the style of wines these might be described as fruit driven and complex, and mostly small volumes. There are over 100 wines at the challenge.

The top University of Auckland Wine Science students can act as associate judges, and in 2011, four were lucky enough to do this, which is a great addition to anyone’s CV who is trying to get involved in the wine industry. Bob Campbell MW is chairman and they make sure they have an international judge or MWs . Not only are the wine judged, but the judges give feedback on the wines. As well as providing valuable industry involvement for students, this wine show has been highly constructive in heightening wine quality and providing information for the Upper North Island producers.

A last word from Tigs…

How wonderful to see such seamless integration between a high school, university, researchers and industry, and the flow-on effects benefitting everyone in this venture. Such cooperation is a great example of what can be achieved between academia and industry.

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About tigchandler

English-born, lived several years in Wellington, NZ, then in Adelaide, South Australia, and recently moved back to New Zealand. With an economics background, I have worked in researching wine consumption patterns, marketing, economics and social media at the University of Adelaide. I also worked a vintage and in wineries in McLaren Vale so have seen both the research/analytical side of the industry and the practical/hands-on side. I have retail experience and many ongoing industry links all around Australia and overseas. This blog reflects my ongoing passion for everything related to the wine industry.
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