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The Full Story

 

Guillaume Thomas - Winemaker

 

Origin and background

I grew up in a small village in France, 20km south of Nantes, in the Muscadet growing region which is part of the Loire Valley. Despite my family not having any winemaking background, my neighbour and best friend was the son of a vigneron and was going to succeed his father. I have indeed been introduced in the wine world from an early age.

After high school and trying to find my way, I decided I would follow the path of winemaking, since it was a field that was blending a lot of my passions: links to nature and open spaces, science, gastronomy, history, economy, people, without omitting the link to festivities and celebration.

I studied winemaking and viticulture in Bordeaux where I understood the strong links with the past, the grape varieties and the traditional winemaking techniques that inspired a lot of the modern industry. I then worked in the Loire Valley and in Pomerol, Bordeaux before starting to travel around the world. I had my first overseas vintage in Margaret River, Australia which opened my eyes to the New World winemaking and marketing philosophy. Inspired by this experience I went back to the south of France where I studied wine marketing in Montpellier and discovered deeply the wide Rhone Valley and their sumptuous Syrahs and Viogniers before flying to California near the Napa Valley in 2005 and then New Zealand in late February 2006.

    

 

 

The rise of a project

I met Esther during my first vintage in New Zealand, where it turns out something special was about to happen. Indeed I had to review my plans about travelling the rest of the winemaking world because love had struck and would make me stay in New Zealand thereafter! After working at Hatton Estate located on Gimblett Road and discovering the Hawkes Bay styles of Syrah, Bordeaux varieties and Chardonnay, I still went back a couple of time for vintages in the Loire, where I got to really appreciate the styles of Cabernet Franc, Chenin Blanc and Sauvignon Blanc as well as squeezing a vintage in Hungary in the prestigious Tokaj region. My eyes and my heart were in New Zealand though, so after working a vintage at Church Road Winery I started working in June 2007 at Alpha Domus Winery, where I stayed for 7 years.

During this time I seriously thought of making my own wine and found out what varieties and styles I thought were good for me to propose in order to complement the vast amount of great wines throughout the country.

In 2010 we made the first move and bought a magical little  plot of land on the Waimarama Road, with a sea view, surrounded by hills; we started planting with lots of native trees, shrubs and a small orchard. We also built a cottage to live in (including a small space for storing wine), then planned the space for our future projects.

This was followed by the birth of our daughter Lilly in 2012, the building of our main house in 2014 and the planting of our own vineyard in 2014 and 2015.

There is an incredible variety of micro climates in Hawkes Bay, and our own small 0.8ha vineyard on the Waimarama road, 15 minutes from Havelock North, 30 minutes from Napier and 7 minutes to either Ocean Beach or Waimarama beach, seemed perfect for our venture. The summers are long, hot and sunny with a refreshing sea breeze in the afternoon; the winters are relatively mild with the odd frost.

Syrah and Cabernet Franc were the first varieties planted, with a trial row of Cabernet Sauvignon, and finally Chenin blanc was added, all planted with the help of our friends and family.

These varieties all have a strong connection with my own past experiences and history, and I am willing to craft them into unique styles of wines.

New challenges

In early 2014 I started working at The Hawkes Bay Wine Company, a contract winemaking facility in Napier; it is also the place where I currently make my wines. This same year we established our brand Maison Noire. In 2015 we released our first Rosé wine, with four more wines added in 2016.

We live in a black house so it seemed appropriate that we labelled our wines Maison Noire, which  is French for Black House (and it rolls so beautifully off the tongue said Esther!); the font we used for the label is also French (‘Bifur' from the 1930s). We are very hands on, doing most of the vineyard work, design, marketing ourselves (with the help of friends and family). It is a truly boutique winery with wine batches not exceeding 200 cases at this stage. The grapes come from our own vineyard and are purchased from growers that I met over the past 10 years, and who can give me the quality and specifications I need to produce unique wines.

We are currently looking at exporting our wines and opening a cellar door.