16 Feb 2024

Ancestors roots run deep at Wairau Pā vineyard

From Country Life, 7:40 pm on 16 February 2024
te Pā Wines

Haysley MacDonald Photo: Supplied

Haysley MacDonald was born and bred on the family farm near Marlborough's Wairau Bar, or Te Pokohiwi o Kupe.

"As a kid growing up, we used to plant multiple acres of potatoes and cereal crops. We could grow them without the assistance of irrigation, and we never used fertilisers as the soil was so good here," he says.

The coastal land, that overlooks Cloudy Bay, is where his ancestors first landed over 800 years ago, and have lived there ever since those early migrations.

te Pā Wines

The home vineyard overlooking Cloudy Bay Photo: Supplied

te Pā Wines

Haysley's paternal grandfather James Nicholas MacDonald (known as Manny Mac) Photo: Supplied

te Pā Wines

A settlement was established on the Wairau Bar or Te Pokohiwi o Kupe Photo: Cosmo Kentish-Barnes

te Pā Wines

Photo: Cosmo Kentish-Barnes

"They landed at the Wairau Bar, walked up the beach and into paradise. So it's a pretty special place," he says.

The location of the original settlement, across the river mouth from Haysley's property, holds significant archaeological importance. It is one of the earliest known human settlements in New Zealand.

"They used to hunt moa over there… they ran them down off the hills and slaughtered them."

"Through some of the [archaeological] digs that were done, we've also found the remains, in a big hāngī pit, of the Haast eagle and there's a replica of it in Te Papa, to show how big those things really were," he says.

Haysley was driving trucks in the States in the early 2000's before he came home and got into the wine industry.

His Dad asked him to return to the farm, which was by then, a large dairy farming operation.

"I didn't want to be a dairy farmer for the rest of my life. And so we agreed to put in a few vineyards in 2003."

te Pā Wines

An early photo of the MacDonald Family Farm before it was converted into vineyards Photo: Supplied

Initially, some people they knew, were skeptical about the transition from cows to grapes.

But it proved to be a sage decision.

"Everyone then used to say you couldn't grow vineyards east of the railway line, but it's become the most sought-after land for vineyards that everyone wants today," he says.

Putting in the first 40 hectares of grapes was a labour of love.

te Pā Wines

One of the first vineyard posts going in at the farm Photo: Supplied

te Pā Wines

The seaside block overlooking Cloudy Bay in front, and towards the Wairau Bar and south towards Kaikoura Photo: Supplied

"We did the lot. We put the irrigation in the ground, put in every plant pot, every post, done it all, myself, my father and my brother and the family. It was what we did."

Within three years, they’d converted about 160 hectares of farmland into vines.

Initially, the grapes were contract-grown for other vineyards. Then Haysley bit the bullet and founded te Pā Wines.

“When I first was thinking of doing my own brand, as a family we’d sit around trying to come up with names, and then it just sort of clicked and we went, let’s name after home! This area is known as te Pā.”

Now, te Pā family vineyards cover close to 500 hectares in the province, and the wines, crafted by head winemaker Sam Bennett, are sold all over the world.

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Haysley and te Pa chief winemaker Sam Bennett hand harvesting grapes Photo: Supplied

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Inter-row cover crop planting Photo: Supplied

The viticulturist still likes to keep his finger in the agricultural pie though.

"We've still got our traditional farming practices going. Raising beef and making hay and growing various other crops, that go alongside our vineyard operation."

He is also one of the founding members of the TUKU Winemakers Collective.

“There are many winemaking collectives here, but this is a Māori version. And it's to showcase not only to our peers but to the world that we're here, indigenous are in with everyone else and yeah, come on and experience it."

te Pā Wines

A bottle of te Pā wine Photo: Supplied

te Pā Wines

Photo: Cosmo Kentish-Barnes

te Pā Wines

Haysley and partner Julie Taylor with their children Photo: Supplied