Hotel Magazine spoke to Paul Tietjen, one half of the successful duo behind TW Wines in Gisborne’s very own ‘Côte d'Or’ region, to talk about his love of wine and the secret behind growing quality vines for quality wines.

The concept of TW Wines was born on a fishing trip to Waikarimoana in 1997. Two good friends from the group, Geordie Witters and Paul Tietjen, travelled to Lake Waikarimoana together. They talked along the way about grapes, wine, and a few other things, and realised they both had ideas of producing top quality wines. Both their respective vineyards had accumulated several awards for wines produced, so they decided to start research into prospective winemakers and wineries that could blend the flavours from the two vineyards into a quality wine. With encouragement and advice from local winemakers Geoff Sinnott and James Millton, and a few ideas from friends, they set about forming a company and finding winery space.

The area along the Hexton-Waiharere foothills in Gisborne had been likened to the Côte d’Or region in France by an avid Burgundy fan, and hence the name The Golden Slope was born. Similarities are due to the medium to heavy clay base material overlaid with 20-30cm of light black soil, the limestone foothills and the slight elevation and slope. The Côte d’Ors’ main white grape is also the Chardonnay variety.

TW Wines are grown and hand-crafted along the narrow, five-kilometre strip from Ormond to Hexton, which has given rise to most of Gisborne's Gold Medal winning Chardonnays.
Both Witters and Tietjen were keen to make a start in the coming vintage, 1998, with it being a strong El-Nino. They secured a wine consultant, winery space and some new French oak barrels and were under way. Since that first year, the winemaking has moved to Kirkpatrick Estate Winery in Gisborne.

TW Wines, which are grown on these slopes, combine the best hand-picked grapes from the vineyards of the two respected grape growers. They have a unique character with forward fruit flavours, arising from the terrior. The small team at TW is made up of winemaker Anita Ewart-Croy, Geordie Witters, and Tietjen, plus their “lovely wives.” Paul and his wife Jenny’s vineyard is nestled against the Hexton hills on the northwestern outskirts of Gisborne on the east coast of New Zealand. The 30 hectare vineyard, progressively planted since 1983, has produced top quality wines for half a dozen wine companies. Since the 1989 vintage, it has won numerous national and international medals. Planted mainly in Chardonnay, the vineyard also has Viognier, Verdelho, Merlot, Malbec, and Carmenere.

Geordie and his wife Caroline’s Woodlands vineyard lies among the foothills of The Golden Slope near Waihirere, where Gisborne first made its mark in the viticulture industry. With the aim of growing quality vines for quality wines, they phased out the original plantings established in the mid 70s, in favour of 15 hectares of chardonnay. The Woodlands Chardonnay made from these grapes has received numerous accolades. More recently, there have been plantings of Viognier and Merlot.

Wines made by several wineries, both large and small, have been sourcing their fruit from the Woodlands vineyard since 1974. “Our customers are on premise, off premise, and cellar door,” Tietjen said.

Gisborne is well known as New Zealand's Chardonnay Capital and TW wines epitomise what Tietjen said the world has come to expect of New Zealand wine, “power, complexity, elegance and excellent cellaring potential.”

What brought Tietjen to become a winemaker was the love of wine. His approach to wine is “it’s got to be worth drinking to produce it.”

“To make a good wine, it all starts in the vineyard, so generally vintages with a dryish autumn are what turn into vintage years.”

TW has won numerous gold, silver and bronze awards at New Zealand wine competitions. The toughest season for TW was 2003, and what Tietjen describes as “a cooler than average” year.

“The eruption of Mount Pinatubo created a difficult year to produce wines,” he said.

TW is focused both on the retail market and the foodservice sector. “Wine is best served with food, if the wine is matched and enjoyed, generally the people will go out and buy more of that wine.”

The current offering includes TW Reserve Chardonnay, TW Gold Chardonnay, TW Estate Chardonnay, TW Pinot Gris, TW Verdelho, TW Viognier, TW CV (Chardonnay/Viognier), TW Merlot, TW Malbec, TW Malbec/Merlot (Makauri), TW Lilly (Rose), and TW Carmenere. The vineyard practices sustainable winegrowing projects, and TW are also members of Sustainable Winegrowing New Zealand. “In Gisborne, generally we are a dry land grape industry, or in other words no irrigation. Also, composting and recycling are practiced, encouraging vineyard biodiversity so as to encourage predatory insects so we don’t use insecticides.”

While TW wines is currently only touring New Zealand wine and beverages exhibitions, Witters and Tietjen have both visited international exhibitions in the past. This has lent itself to previous export activity that the pair hopes to grow in the future. It’s not all about wine however, with Tietjen confessing he enjoys other hobbies including fishing, exploring and good company.