The Naish family couldn’t have chosen a more challenging time to buy Black Estate vineyard in the Waipara Valley. The deal was settled on the first day of the global financial crisis, at a point when winemakers in New Zealand were struggling to cope with the country’s wine surplus.
The solution? “We didn’t give up our day jobs,” says former corporate lawyer Penelope Naish, who runs Black Estate with her husband, winemaker Nicholas Brown, and parents, Rod and Stacey Naish.
“We grew really slowly at first, and gave ourselves time to learn the business. My twin sister, Jo, helped out with sales and marketing, and for the first four years her husband, Alistair Blair, was our only full-time employee.”
Just as the family was about to build a restaurant at the vineyard, the Canterbury earthquakes struck.
“We weren’t certain whether we should take the risk of continuing with the project at such a devastating time, but we decided to go ahead,” says Penelope.
“A year later, we were able to offer Christchurch people an oasis where they could go to relax when so much of the city had been lost.”
Penelope developed her passion for wine after marrying Nicholas. Rod was a fourth-generation horticulturalist who had sold the family pot plant growing business and was looking for a new investment.
They were drawn to Black Estate by its clay and limestone soil, and by the tourism potential of a beautiful hillside vineyard right on State Highway One.
In their first two years at Black Estate, Penelope and Nicholas had two children, rebranded the home vineyard and converted to organic farming.
They also use biodynamic methods to help increase soil and vine health. Most of the work in the vineyard has to be done by hand, and close observation is needed to ensure the best quality fruit is harvested.
Penelope says finding a bank to support the growing business was important to her and the family. “It feels like we are partners and they understand us, which is essential for a growing company.”
While the business was tough going at first, Black Estate has flourished. Since the quakes, the family has bought two nearby hillside vineyards. Each wine is from a single vineyard, and the Naishes love telling guests in their tasting room the story of how the unique site of each vineyard affects the character of the wine they’re drinking.
Black Estate wine is being exported to Australia, Japan, the UK and Sweden. The Naishes are now launching a new label as well as joining forces with other local businesses to promote North Canterbury as a great destination for wine-growing, tourism and food.
Penelope says she has found it hugely rewarding to be able to work with her family and to share her passion for organic winemaking.
“I’m so happy to be in business. It’s incredibly creative and dynamic,” she says.
“There’s a lot of rule-following in the corporate world, which perhaps doesn’t suit my personality. Now I’m doing what I love, and I feel like anything is possible.”