Winepress November 2017

Page 26

The Block Kevin and Tracy Johnston are plantings natives in lieu of vines SOPHIE PREECE

VINES ARE just a fraction of the story at Dayvinleigh in Marlborough’s upper Wairau Valley, with native seed propagation, wetland restoration, pastoral paddocks, a beautiful home and a collection of beloved pets all playing their part. And that’s just what Tracy and Kevin Johnston dreamed of when they bought a 22-hectare “doer upper” under the shadow of Mount Fishtail, despite busy corporate lives in Sydney. Tracy worked for Tourism New Zealand back then, so visited the country every few weeks and made it to her home province of Marlborough as often as she could. On one of those visits to her grandmother, she saw a real estate notice for a remote vineyard, and took a drive up the valley. Just before the tiny Wairau Valley township, she found 4ha of struggling Pinot Noir vines, a long swathe of land to the Wairau River, a close up view of the Richmond Range, and an empty “ark” just waiting for inhabitants. “Kevin and I had always said we wanted a piece of land of our own, and it was always nicknamed Noah’s Ark, because we wanted lots of animals.” Fast forward 13 years, and my car is greeted by dogs Jess and Cleo, while the kitten Pumpkin scampers for the house, Hugo the donkey looks on and chickens scratch somewhere nearby. Meanwhile, the vines are now postcard perfect in their stunning setting and provide fruit for the award winning Bird Marlborough ‘Big Barrel’ Pinot Noir, and the Clark Estate Dayvinleigh Rosé 2017, which took a trophy at this year’s Bragato Wine Awards. It’s quite the transformation, because back in 2004, when Tracy

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travelled back up the valley with one of Marlborough’s pioneering grape growers to get some advice, he didn’t mince words. “He said, ‘oh Tracy, Kevin and Tracy Johnston with Hugo, Pumpkin, Cleo and Jess this is a young person’s vineyard. A real doer upper’.” slowly “transitioned” their move, Undeterred, she signed the with the defining turning point the contract, and three months later Kevin, moment Tigger the cat was transferred the doer for this doer upper, saw his to Marlborough, she says. “Then we challenge for the first time. The weeds commuted back to Wellington instead.” were higher than the fruiting wire, A few years later, they moved for the frost protection and irrigation was good, with Tracy taking on project sketchy and while 4ha was “technically work, before becoming General Manager at Destination Marlborough, and Kevin trading in his IT career for full-time vineyard management and maintenance. “Kevin is definitely chief in charge of the doing,” says Tracy, who is now a tourism consultant and the newest member of Wine Marlborough board. “Let’s just say I am chief in charge of strategy, communications and finance. And list writing.” Her catchphrase is, “I’ve been thinking”, she explains with a laugh, as the couple show me around a native seed propagation unit in their planted”, there were so many dead vegetable garden. plants that the couple decided to As vineyards around them consolidate, moving good vines to fill expand steadily to every boundary, gaps in a smaller 6.5ha space. Kevin and Tracy decided to expand Six months later Tracy got a their biodiversity instead. “Our vision transfer to Wellington and they moved is that this property will provide us to the capital and began commuting to with a fantastic lifestyle,” says Tracy. Marlborough every weekend, “camping “The grapes were a big component, out” in the property’s barn. Then they but this is our home as well.” They had

“Our vision is that this property will provide us with a fantastic lifestyle.” Tracy Johnston