The Sunday Business Post
Sunday, June 22, 2008 – By Tomás Clancy
In California and the Asia Pacific region a new, superwealthy set has been born – that of the environmental millionaire.
They have earned their money not in computer chips or oil fields but in the worlds’s largest environmentally-friendly business.
And we’re not talking hemp baskets or organic chutney but environmental action on a scale that has a huge effect on the planet.
We’re talking, of course, about wine production. The wine industry operates on renewable energy, sustainable production and environmentally-conscious waste management. Many have begun already to see the attractions of the business, which has blue-chip, sustainable, organic and green potential – along with a wonderful end product that is produced in beautiful surroundings.
Terry Peabody, chief executive of Transpacific Industries, was the world’s first environmental billionaire.
His multibillion-dollar company heads a multinational waste management operation. It deals in everything from green-truck manufacture to waste treatment and water harvesting to turning waste from power stations into an environmentally-friendly building material.
He also owns Craggy Range, a stunning, world class New Zealand winery that has abandoned any New World shyness about terroir and produces high-quality single-vineyard, fine wines in the French style. The vineyard is Peabody’s legacy to his children; he wanted to leave them something that was not just clean, but pristine.
To explore Craggy Range’s wine philosophy, we can go back to one of the oldest written texts that details not just taste, terroir, location, but also philosophy and ambition for wine and vineyards: that is, the Bible.
I am not talking about the water into wine miracle at the Feast of Cana but the detailed directions about how and where to plant vines, what to look for as they blossom, how to store them, and when to drink their produce.
At this point, I might add that I do not actually spend my time in deep contemplation of the Old Testament, but when you are studying wine and wine culture you can travel from Bob Dylan to the Bible and back, in under an hour. As with much of the subjects in the Bible, vineyards are used as a metaphor; for example, in the old testament they appear as a reference to the running of the Jewish nation. Today, the vineyard analogy is interchangeable with how our economy operates: leaders who fail to tend the vineyard, bring trouble to the nation, and so forth.
However, read without metaphor, the Bible contains lots of practical wine making advice. The Song of Solomon says ‘‘let us go forth into the field, let us lodge in the villages. Let us get up early to the vineyards, Let us see whether the vine has budded, And its blossom is open.”
It is practically a challenge from the lips of God’s messengers to engage in wine tourism and, more specifically, to see it all at first light.
I was reminded of this when I travelled to Craggy Range to meet its director, Terry Peabody’s son TJ.
‘‘Every single vine, every bunch of grapes on our vineyards is visited and handled. Our agriculturists and our winemakers really live in the vineyards,” says TJ Peabody.
‘‘They get up early to the vineyards.
‘‘Our wines are not just handmade and hand-harvested, they are also handraised. This is why we emphasise the idea of the human hand and the human footprint in the vineyards and on the landscape.
‘‘For us it is about trusting human beings; of course we have all the back-up, the laboratories and good science, but we make the final judgment on in the vines based on experience and human expertise,” says Peabody.
This extraordinary, terroir-oriented vineyard places much more emphasis on the outdoor parts of winemaking – the variable, natural elements rather than the actions of the winemaking process which are so often emphasised in the New World.
Craggy Range rejects the idea of making wines to a brand or label expectation. There is no cross-regional blending here. All its wines are single-estate wines, products of what this or that piece of soil and stone could create in any particular year.
It is an incredibly green business, and its emphasis on ‘muck and the dealing there with’ ties in with the greater Peabody empire of waste recycling.
‘‘How we got to be such a large corporation is a strange story in itself,” says Peabody.
‘‘It all began when my father invented a process that essentially allowed us to recycle waste from traditional power stations and turn it into a building material.
‘‘Because of the material’s particular properties we needed a particular type of truck – so we bought the trucks. Then the Australian company that made the trucks rang and said they were going out of business and we’d have to look for other trucks,” he says.
‘‘My father rang the company in Canada that manufactured the trucks and said, ‘listen we’ll buy the parts off you and we’ll assemble them here ourselves’. The next thing we knew we were the truck manufacturer for Australia.
‘‘A few years later, the Canadian company went out of business so we bought the Canadian manufacturer and are the worldwide manufacturer of environmentally-friendly trucks.”
Eventually, the company was floated and the trucking elements sold to MAN and Daimler Benz, for a tidy fortune. At this time, a large and vinous meal took place in the Peabody house.
‘‘My mother said to my father, ‘everything we do is full of dirt, these are big dirty businesses to leave to our children, isn’t there anything else we can do?’
‘‘In the environmental waste business, no matter how green, you spend all your time talking about waste, sludge, compost,” says Peabody.
‘‘Then it just kind of hit us all,” Peabody says, holding up an imaginary glass – ‘‘the wine, this is what we love.” The family began to search the world for the perfect vineyard or chateau to buy.
‘‘The wines we really loved were French, and specifically Sancerre, so that’s where we looked first. The hunt began in the Loire, but my father realised it wasn’t feasible. It would be like a holiday home we would never visit.
‘‘So we started to look closer to home in California, but it was the height of the dotcom boom and whatever else we are, we are not foolish about land or money. We were not going to pay stupid prices,” Peabody says.
‘‘We knew all the proverbs – ‘How do you make a small fortune in the wine business? Invest a large one!’ – and were determined to approach this not as a millionaire’s plaything but as a serious and long-term family business, a legacy.
‘‘Myself and my siblings have all signed a legacy lockin clause which says we cannot sell our shares in the vineyard for 100 years after our parents’ death. I am hoping to have my kids sign it too.”
Craggy Range Winery consists of two ranges of wines all based on the single vineyard concept. The first are varietal-driven wines, such as their sauvignon blanc from the TeMuna Road vineyard.
The second emphasise the vineyard and are produced in the manner of a grand cru wine. These are the Craggy Range Winery, Les Beaux Cailloux, Gimblett Gravels vineyard.
The concept is totally European. Les Beaux Cailloux is a 100 per cent chardonnay, but that’s not the point. Like a Meursault or a Nuits St Georges, the idea is that you buy the place, the appellation vineyards, the idea of what a Meursault is, not a chardonnay from Meursault, just a Meursault.
In time, Peabody believes the name Gimblett Gravels will simply become the byword for great chardonnay produced from this unique former river bed and its barren terrain.
The name Beaux Cailloux is French for beautiful gravels – which will strike a cord with Bordeaux lovers. Its Graves region is home of first-classed growth Chateau Haut Brion and Lochlan Quinn’s Chateau Fieuzal.
They make a highly regarded single-vineyard Bordeaux blend called Sophia – a classical blend of cabernet sauvignon, merlot, cabernet franc and malbec.
The ambition of the Craggy Range Winery, with its vineyards on both the north and south Islands in New Zealand, is breathtaking, but is based on a sound business model.
It is run in partnership with Steve Smith MW, a multi-award-winning winemaker who is also responsible for the cool climate wines and his own baby, the Sophia bottling.
‘‘We all bring our own particular expertise and a total commitment to making sustainable and organic produce,” says Peabody.
The Transpacific motto – Recover, Recycle, Reuse – is put into practice at Craggy Range too: ‘‘To make great wines and work as everything should be done, for the long term and in a conscientious way, in a sustainable way.”
Craggy Range Winery
* Craggy Range Te Kahu Merlot Cabernet Gimblett Gravels 2005, €28, (90)
* Craggy Range Te Muna Pinot Noir 2004, €35, (90)
* Craggy Range Te Muna Sauvignon Blanc 2007, €19, (89)
* Craggy Range Sophia 2004, €40, (92)