Close

Where wine meets art: How a New York designer left his mark on Marlborough

Fly over the Wairau Plain in Marlborough and you’ll see the land below has been transformed over time into a grid of precisely grown grapevines. It’s a sight to behold in itself, but take a closer look and you’ll see that grid rise from the ground at Brancott Estate winery, where its new installation now sits.

Called Under/Standing, the eight-meter by eight-meter piece by New York-based designer Dror Benshetrit was unveiled last week on Brancott Estate, marking its presence among the approximately 180 wineries and vineyards in the Marlborough region.

It was those rows and rows of grapevines that inspired the piece as well as the layers of flavour in the wines that are produced.

The Dror design changes from simple to complex depending on where it is viewed.

Benshetrit explains that like the flavour of wine changes according to the context in which it’s tasted, the installation offers multiple perspectives based on the vantage point. From one angle, it’s a two-dimensional matrix that unfolds into a three-dimensional structure as you move around.

Similarly, as wine ages with time and develops a deeper flavour, the patina of the corten steel will rust and the installation will settle a deep orange colour.

Reflecting on how his relationship with Brancott Estate began, Benshetrit describes it as kind of a funny story. He received an email explaining that he and the winery had a lot in common and they should get together. Adding to the persuasion was a six-page attachment listing those similarities, including an interest in innovation, the marriage of art and science and both being experimental in their approach to their work.

It goes without saying Benshetrit’s interest was piqued and he headed to New Zealand.

“They wanted to create a unique piece that embodied the essence of who they are and I felt immediately the chemistry so travelled to New Zealand to see the place, feel the energy and meet the people.”

He describes what happened next as absolutely magical as he and chief winemaker Patrick Materman’s common interests immediately came to light.

He’d never thought he would share a vocabulary with a winemaker and as he learned about the process, he soon realised, and recognised, the detail that goes into a single bottle of wine.

From the cultivation of the vines and harvesting of the grapes through the fermentation, blending and bottling, he wanted to encapsulate the detailed process in a design that both responded to the landscape and symbolised the vineyard’s ongoing transformation.

“[In New York] we never step on real soil, we live in a concrete jungle and go from floor to floor. Even the ground is not real ground and here being in nature and surrounded by amazing beauty was the first inspiration behind the piece.”

With so much to take in, the idea came to him quickly and Materman and the team were just as quick to approve. He then a built small model of it in New York and got to work figuring out how to engineer it to scale.

The initial plan was to make it in Italy, but consideration to the logistical nightmare shipping over 13.5 tonnes steel would be, construction was moved to Auckland.

It took several months to bring the piece to life, with most of the time spent engineering it. From there, the metal was cut and welded before it was ready to be erected at Brancott Estate.

Patrick Materman and Dror Benshetrit at Brancott Vineyard.

“To go from a dream, to a sketch, to a render, to physical model to a scale model to final production it’s like giving birth—if I can say that as a male,” he explains while summing the magic of seeing it come to life.

But he hasn’t just seen the installation come to life. A commemorative range of wines means Benshetrit has been able to taste it.

Called Reflection, the Sauvignon Blanc/Sauvignon Gris and Pinot Noir by Brancott Estate are designed to reflect both the land and climate in which they’ve been made but also the decisions made throughout the winemaking process.

Benshetrit loved tasting the wines and appreciated the translation of the installation with the different layers of flavour.

“To see other forms of art be inspired by your art is beautiful,” he says. “It’s feeding people with inspiration.”

At the intersection of art and science where Benshetrit designs his installations, Materman makes wine, balancing the ancient craft of winemaking and regulations with, his own ideas.

He was inspired by Benshetrit’s design process and how multiple, interconnected parts worked together so created a wine with multiple individual parcels that all maintain their integrity while being combined in a balanced harmony.

“Wine has a signature, you can have two different winemakers, with exactly the same parcel of fruit and the wines won’t necessarily taste the same – that’s the artistic license,” Materman explains.

While the limited edition Reflection wine range is only available for purchase from the Brancott Estate Heritage Centre, via the Brancott Estate Wine Club and in New Zealand Travel Retail, the installation remains a permanent fixture.

It’s hoped the installation will attract visitors who Materman says get off the ferry in Picton and head south, failing to stop and take in Marlborough region.

“I think wine tourism is underdeveloped within this region and I think it’s partly because it has a small population and it is remote,” he says. I think the potential is enormous, but it’s little steps. Having the installation might be a reason to draw people in.”