This is the story of Seifried Estate, South Island New Zealand’s oldest family winery established over 40 years ago by industry pioneers – Hermann and Agnes Seifried.
The Seifried story began in 1973 when Austrian born Hermann Seifried and his New Zealand wife Agnes had a dream of making wines in New Zealand’s sunshine capital – Nelson. From very small and modest beginnings when Hermann and Agnes grafted the vines late into the night, to today when all three Seifried ‘children’ have returned home to play their part in growing the family business. Seifried Estate is a company devoted to sustainable wine.
Hermann Seifried came to New Zealand to take work with the New Zealand Apple and Pear Board in 1970. Growing up with five brothers on an apple orchard in Styria, Hermann always had an interest in viticulture and oenology and went on to study winemaking at Weinsberg in Germany. He gained experience working for the KWV in South Africa before heading to New Zealand. After meeting Agnes Wilkins, a Kiwi girl from a Southland farm who was teaching at the local high school in Nelson, Hermann decided New Zealand was where he wanted to stay. They married in 1971 and with little more than a dream, the young couple purchased land in the Moutere Valley between Nelson and Motueka and began the long process of hand grafting phylloxera resistant rootstock onto cuttings. In 1973 on the gently northward sloping clay loam the first vines were planted. With 14 Vinifera varieties, on two hectare of land, the South Island’s modern commercial wine industry began. In addition to planting their own vines, the Seifrieds sold cuttings to other new wine producers in neighbouring Marlborough.
Nelson is located at the top of New Zealand’s South Island and is surrounded by mountains to the east, west and south, while the Tasman Sea is to the north. The climate is mild with winter days being pleasant and warm but cool at night, bringing crisp ground frosts. In summer the daytime temperature reaches 30c degrees on a very warm day, with afternoon sea breezes giving a moderated and temperate climate to the region. Nelson is proudly New Zealand’s sunniest region, boasting an average of 2,700 sunshine hours a year. In the 1960’s and 70’s, Nelson was well-known for its horticulture, with hops, tobacco and apples being some of the main crops of the region. It was also a very creative region and is today still regarded as the art capital of New Zealand, with potters, jewellers, glass blowers and winemakers making the region their home.
The first Seifried vintage in 1976 made from Riesling, Sylvaner, Chardonnay, Refosco and Müller Thurgau was well received on the domestic market, and the wines received many accolades in local wine competitions.
By the late 1970’s with a new and rapidly growing business, the family had grown too – now there were three small children in tow – Heidi, Christopher and Anna slept on rugs or in carry cots beneath the vines, or in a cot in the quiet corner of the winery tucked behind some tanks while Hermann and Agnes worked.
In 1979 a further 16 hectares of assorted varieties were planted at the Redwood Valley vineyard. Ten kilometres from the original vineyard in Upper Moutere, the Redwood Valley site offered a different climate and aspect, but the soil type was still primarily Moutere clay. The grapes here ripened slightly earlier than in the Moutere Valley, hence spreading the vintage and adding new flavours, characters and structure to the wines.
A third vineyard was established in 1988 on the stony soils of Appleby,on the Waimea Plains. Just a few kilometres from the coast, this vineyard is less sheltered than the others but offers minerality to the fruit, as the vine roots burrow thought the sand and silt to find water.
In 1993, the magnificient vineyard restaurant and function centre located at the Rabbit Island Vineyard was opened. Since opening, it has hosted many weddings, seminars and other functions in a serene, rural atmosphere – the perfect ambience for wine and food to be enjoyed together! Now known as Petite Fleur at Seifried Estate, the restaurant is owned and managed by Horst Wellmeyer and Justine Robertson.
In 1996 the Seifrieds relocated from the original winery site in Upper Moutere to a brand new, purpose-built winery complex adjacent to the restaurant on the Rabbit Island Vineyard – a move essential to the continued growth of the family company.
In 1999, tucked beneath the Richmond Ranges, the Seifried Brightwater Vineyard was developed followed by the planting of Edens Road vineyard in 2006. Both of these vineyards are around 15K inland from the coast and offer shelter and greater climatic variation. Further vineyards were established at Clover Road and the magnificent Queen Victoria vineyard at Motueka which has allowed Seifried to offer single vineyard wines, such as Aotea Sauvignon Blanc.
The family today controls almost 300 hectares of vines in Nelson, spread across 8 different vineyard sites made up of Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris, Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Chardonnay, Grüner Veltliner, Pinot Noir and Syrah. In addition, Seifried farms a few hectares of Malbec, Zweigelt and Würzer.
50% of production is sold on the domestic market and the remainder sent overseas to 22 export markets across the globe. Seifried wines always perform well on the international wine competition circuit and icon wine, Winemaker’s Collection Sweet Agnes Riesling, a late harvested dessert wine, named in honour of Agnes, is the most awarded wine in New Zealand and the most awarded dessert wine in the world.
This is a family wine business and the Seifrieds are passionate about their work. After their university studies, Heidi, Chris and Anna Seifried returned home to Nelson to take up active roles in the business. Heidi combines a career as a dentist with wine-making, Chris is chief winemaker and Anna is responsible for sales and marketing aspects. The third generation of Seifrieds has now arrived, and Hermann and Agnes have six grandchildren…. Only time will tell if they too will eventually join the family business!
In 2014, Hermann and Agnes were welcomed in the New Zealand Winegrowers “Hall of Fame” and made Fellows of New Zealand Winegrowers – acknowledgement by their peers for the tremendous contribution to the New Zealand wine industry.