I talk to Philip Barber from Petane Station about starting a winery from scratch and how he is balancing managing the vineyard and making the wine with selling the wine. PLUS…. what Sir George Fistonich thought the first time he tried Petane Station!
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The Ryan Marketing Show
Philip Barber – Petane Station – EPISODE 10
Voice over: Ten, nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two, one, fire.
Ryan Jennings: This is The Ryan Marketing Show and you’re listening to episode ten of a hundred. I’m with Philip Barber from Petane Station out in sunny Eastdale. Thanks for having me, Phil.
Philip Barber: Yeah, you’re welcome, Ryan. Thanks for coming out.
RJ: Now, Phil, for those of you who don’t know, is one of Hawke’s Bay’s newest winemakers. Tell us a little bit about what got you into wine and why you’re making wine in Hawke’s Bay.
PB: Okay. I guess it all started way back in 2000 when I started working for Sails restaurant – kind of got me interested in it. I was in the bar making cocktails and serving wine, and being in the bar, I got to run the bar, so I got to drink all the wine and taste all the wine. So, I tried some real nice ones from Marlborough, some Gewürztraminers and all these wines that you’d never normally get to try being just a young fellow, and yeah, it kind of got me interested in it. And my dad was growing grapes in Huapai at the time as well, so I kind of, yeah, grew up with grapes, worked in a bar and thought, “This is fun, maybe I should go traveling and do some more bartending,” so I did that.
RJ: Right, so as you traveled the world, you used bartending as a way to find your way around.
RJ: Was that Europe-based or America…?
PB: Europe, London– yeah, mainly London and Canada I was bartending.
RJ: And did you go to many wineries along the way there, or was it more bartending focused?
PB: No, it was heaps of wineries and breweries as well, but all the work was always bartending. [? 0:02:03.5] buddy of mine, Dan, and we go traveling and surfing, and we’d always stop in a few breweries and wineries along the way, so yeah, it’s kind of a traveling thing that kind of got us into it. And then I got back to New Zealand and I thought maybe I should study for a little bit; might get a good job out of it. So, I went to Gisborne and spent a year there, and it was awesome, at Tairawhiti Polytech and studied viticulture and winemaking. It was brilliant. So, that was a lot of fun, and then after that I thought, “Well, this is brilliant – I’m going to go do some more traveling,” so I went over to Australia, Whara-Whara, worked there for a bit, and then we went to California. And I already got interested in– not so much in different wine styles, but more in fashion – why people liked certain wine styles, and what was taking off back then was Pinot Noir, was going crazy, and I thought, oh, I wonder why is Pinot Noir so awesome? So, I tried a whole bunch from New Zealand, didn’t really like them too much – I thought they were a bit barnyard-y, like, what’s this all about? So, I thought I’ll go to California, new world, and check out their Pinot Noir, and yeah, I really loved it. I tried an awesome one from the Carneros Valley, Paul Hobbs – that was where I was working, and it was just amazing – was quite ripe; different to what New Zealand was – clean, fresh, not barnyard-y at all, so I thought, oh, this is pretty interesting. So, yeah, that was Pinot Noir, thought that was cool, came back to New Zealand after that and worked at Nobilo’s for a year, and that was basically right back from where it all started in Huapai. So, that was really cool working there with Brett Fullerton, whole year, [? 0:03:44.1], then stayed around, did a little finishing of the wine. Yeah, and then after that, I did a bit more traveling, went to Germany [? 0:03:52.5], the style, which was amazing – up in the [Vinebergs? 0:03:57.9]
RJ: Did you see, as you were traveling around, different wine fashions or wine trends that were in, or were they more like global trends? How does a wine come in and out of fashion?
PB: Well, I think Pinot Noir, that was fashionable at all start– where it started in Burgundy, I suppose, but there was a movie camera that was called American Movie, and they kind of talked about Merlot as being kind of a– not such a fashionable grape. Someone said like, “If anyone orders Merlot, I’m leaving,” something like that, and it all kind of snowballed from there. That’s one fashion. Pinot Gris, I suppose, is a bit of an offshoot from Pinot Noir that’s become very fashionable in New Zealand and has been for the last, probably fifteen years. I mean, if you knew what the new fashionable wine was going to be, you’d go and plant it. Albarino might be the new thing – no one really knows. Who’s got the bull what’s going to plant it? Don’t know.
RJ: So, with your vineyard here in Eastdale, how did you decide what grapes were going to get planted, or was it already here and set up?
PB: Part of it was set up. We had three head [beers? 0:05:16.0] on the church side, which we call Church Block, and that was planted back in ’99 by the previous owner, Laurie Kay, and it did really well. Gordon Russell loves the Pinot Gris from here, because it raisins up– get a nice little breeze coming across. And so we dry farm, so we don’t use irrigation. Yeah, so from that, it was like, okay, we know Pinot Gris works. We also had Chardonnay planted – that worked really well. We never bring that out – the vines are pretty old and a bit [? 0:05:53.6]. So, we knew Pinot Gris was brilliant and I’ve always had a thing about Pinot Gris. I like the style. And he said, well, plant more Pinot Gris, get some Gewürtz, get some Viognier happening.
RJ: So, really keeping to the white side of the spectrum.
PB: Yeah. And that’s the Appalachian of Esk Valley – I think whites are really good. You can grow reds here – my neighbor grows Merlot, [? 0:06:21.6] down the road’s growing some really awesome Syrah, but he’s got a hillside block. I think we’re on the flats here and I think with the [? 0:06:30.0] breeze and close to the ocean, cool nights, hot days, we just grow really good whites.
RJ: How does those particular varieties like the Gewürtz and the Viognier, Pinot Gris, how does that fit into the overall ecosystem of Hawke’s Bay wineries given that there was a lot here before Petane Station turned up? Did you go out and look at other wineries to see what have they got I haven’t got or does we don’t have this and what I want to do?
PB: No, I didn’t really get out too much. We bought this place in 2007 and I’ve been out to the [? 0:07:03.8] and saw that they’re growing Syrah, Cabernet, Chardonnay, a little bit of Viognier, so no, I didn’t really look around there, I just realized that being close to the ocean, you got the cool nights, you can grow some good aromatics here, and also with what Laurie was doing with her Pinot Gris and what Gordon was able to do with it, he makes them that lovely style, that Esk Valley, and I thought, well, let’s carry on. No point in reinventing the wheel.
RJ: So, you knew the aromatics were going to grow here, made sense to have those varieties. And how many years are you into? What vintage are you in now?
PB: Well, I started in 2011 with the Petane Station, did a Sauvignon Blanc, but that wasn’t completely grown here – it was only a very small amount growing here. And then 2012 came along and it was very wet and I didn’t make any wine at all. 2011 was wet as well – 2012 I actually planted some grapes. 2013 we did a Pinot Gris, a Gewürztraminer, and a Viognier, but it was all blended in with other grapes, so my first single vineyard wine was 2014 off our vines that I’d grown. 2014-2015, so two years. I [often get? 0:08:22.7] for two years, good say, off this block here.
RJ: So, starting to get exciting – starting to get a couple under your belt.
PB: Getting a bit more vine age, yeah. Definitely getting bigger property, more tan-age. Yeah, every year’s different, so that’s a thing we do is vintage variation. We don’t want them to be the same every year; we try and get a style, and that style I’m going for is an Alsatian style – it’s got a little bit of residual sugar in it. It’s a rich style of Pinot Gris, big long hang time – you don’t harvest until late, keep it out all weather. Even a cyclone comes along, we stick it out there and then we pick it when we think it’s ready. And when it’s ready, you know: it starts raising up, get nice raisins, and yeah. You just know it’s time to pick.
RJ: Once you’ve done the work on the land, how have you gone about then getting what you’re doing here into the bottle and getting people to know about it? What’s your go-to-market strategy for wine?
PB: Well, pretty much handpicking the grapes; doing everything by hand. Taking a lot of care and attention in the vineyard, picking it, getting it over to [escurn? 0:09:41.1], where I’ve been lucky enough to team up with Ian Mackenzie, who’s awesome winemaker, and he’s been helping me out a lot with the making of it all, and once it’s made and we’re happy with it, then I’m just going to release it, coming up– actually, the release date for 2015 vintage is going to be [0:09:58.8] barbecue at [? 0:09:59.7] Brewery. It’s going to be a big release date for the new vintage. So, it’s kind of an organic way of doing it; we don’t have a big strategy, we just sell what we’ve– previous vintage. When that sells out, release the new stuff.
RJ: And is that mostly available then to Hawke’s Bay bars, restaurants?
PB: Yep, no, Hawke’s Bay bars, got some really great places who have been supporting Petane Station. Common Room, he’s been one of our first customers, Paul from Indigo, Off the Tracks did a big promotion the other day, so yeah, it’s like a handful of really good restaurants three doors up who’ve been taking on the Petane Station brand, and they’ve been– yeah. [All the church? 0:10:43.4], they’ve gone through heaps and heaps of my wine, and then there’s a few– Gourmet Direct, and there’s a few other places around. And then yeah, we’re looking at going down to Wellington, been down there a couple times and been into a couple new worlds, trying to get into more bars down there, but it’s been pretty difficult, because you gotta be in their face, pretty much.
RJ: So, do people buy as much about what the wine tastes like as they do for who’s selling it to me – who’s the winemaker?
PB: I think it’s taste, because I’ve sold all the wine pretty much myself, and I’ve done [?0:11:16.0] tastings with the– I don’t just drop a bottle off, I go and have a tasting with them and we talk through the wine, and their reaction is like, “This is really good.” I’m like, “Yeah, it’s not bad.” So yeah, from there, it’s like, “How many cases do you want to buy?” And they usually buy a case of every one – Viognier, Gewürz, Syrah, Pinot Gris. Yeah.
RJ: So, get them to taste it and then the job’s done because the magic’s in the bottle?
PB: Get them to taste it– no, job’s not done; then there’s the price. Price is a big thing and our prices are high, but they’re always happy with that. Sometimes I might offer them a little discount, 5% if I feel I need to, but more often than not, they realize it’s quality grapes, handpicked, dry farmed. Yeah, they just– they go with it.
RJ: How much of that gets then trained through to their staff so that that Petane Station story can be preserved through to the front of house or through to the people who are actually pouring your wine by the glass or offering it on the menu?
PB: Yeah, that’s a good one.
RJ: Because it’s a great story, right? You don’t want it to get lost at the very moment a consumer starts to drink it.
PB: Yeah, I mean, it’s up to them how they sell it. So long as they are selling it, that’s the main thing. The website’s there, Twitter account, Facebook page, I don’t know how many people actually get on and check it out. But as far as the staff are concerned, when I have talked to people like Off the Track, they’ve all been saying, “Brilliant, easy to sell, family business, small scale.” They kind of get into it.
RJ: So that boutique thing they get kind of straightaway?
PB: I think so, yeah.
RJ: You’re not one of the big wineries that have been here for decades and decades.
PB: Yeah, they get that. Seems to be what they’re getting, yeah. Well, they have to get it really, because we’ve only been here for six years. Well, more than that. Seven, eight… we’ll, we’ve been here nine years, but as a brand we’ve only been here since really 2013.
RJ: What was it like in those early days when you were making– you were tending to the vines and there is no product?
PB: Oh, mate, the early days– it was great.
RJ: Was it easier?
PB: It was easier. Course, I mean, you put in all the hard work, because you want to make the best wine you can for– you know, for Gordon, but yeah, I just found you had more time. You’d go out surfing, go mountain biking, switch off, but now we’ve not only got to look after Gordon’s wine Esk Valley, you’ve also got your own stuff and your own brand, so yeah, it’s like nonstop now. Yeah, it’s full on.
RJ: So, it’s become a different beast now that you have to do the sales and marketing as well as the winemaking and the vineyard.
PB: Everything, yeah. Yes. It’s really exciting, but you just don’t have time to do other things.
RJ: How do you then go about balancing that? Do you block out a particular amount of time to do the sales and marketing and see the customers?
PB: Well, a while ago– yeah, Christmastime we had an awesome– took on [a lady? 0:14:30.4], Helen, she’s great, and she was working on the vineyard and that was going to be great, had a [? 0:14:34.8] car accident, so she’s been out of action, but she’s going to come back, so hopefully if she comes back in wintertime, does some pruning, yeah. So, with her help– because you’ve got to get someone who you can trust into the vineyard, and she was great. So, if she can come back and make a full recovery, that’d be awesome.
RJ: That gives you someone to then delegate some of the work to that you can then–
PB: Yeah, she can then look after the whole team and they can– yeah, she can look after the team instead of me having to be out there the whole time and instead of me doing all the work. Yeah, she can jump on and get a little team happening and look after the vineyard.
RJ: And how much does weather play a part?
PB: Well, the big thing is spoil. Soil’s the big thing. The [? 0:15:15.6], the soil, weather’s big, but the main thing is soil: getting the soil right, looking out for the soil… We are [sustainable? 0:15:27.0], we do minimum weed spraying – I think I did one weed spray this year. Yeah, so we do sustainable wine [swens? 0:15:35.5]. So, your intervention is minimum, you’re just doing what you need to do. Obviously powdery mildew in Hawke’s Bay has been a problem the last couple years. I had no powdery mildew here at all this year. Last year we had a little bit here and there, so that was like, okay, we’ve got to do a hell of a lot more sulfur spraying. So, this year it was sulfur spraying every eight days. Last year I’d go three weeks, but then we got a bit of powdery mildew, it’s like all right, this year I’m not messing about; I’m spraying every eight days for sulfur, which is an organic compound, but it’s still a lot of spraying. A lot of tractor, a lot of diesel.
RJ: But usually you would avoid that unless you absolutely must?
PB: Normally yeah, exactly right. But you have to do it, because we go the powdery mildew last year and you’ve gotta…
RJ: How does that differ from some of the other wineries? Do they just run on a routine of spraying regardless? How does that differ?
PB: Not sure. Don’t know how– I don’t know. I don’t know. Good question. Should find out. Now that we’ve got [swens? 0:16:43.2], we’re doing some benchmarking, so now I can log onto my [swens 0:16:48.5] account and I can check out what other guys are doing, and we are actually right in the middle. We’re doing our spraying pretty much every eight days, and that was right in the middle of what most people in Hawke’s Bay were doing. But obviously there’s going to be outliers and only half the people actually submitted what they were doing in season. So, yeah, in season, 50% of people wrote down what they were doing and I am right in the middle, so you could say, perhaps everyone’s– or at least half the people are doing eight-day sprays for sulfur.
RJ: And if that gets reduced down, how does that then impact the wine or the taste for the consumer? Is it a health thing or is it a flavor profile thing or is it good for the environment or a bit of everything?
PB: Well, with sulfur spraying, pretty much now you can’t sulfur spray anymore, because you’ve got withholding periods, so you’ve got like thirty-five days before you’re housed. So, yeah, it shouldn’t impact at all, because you’ve got your pre-[habits? 0:17:50.6] interval. The rain will wash it off. Sulfur.
RJ: So, mid-February now, what happens between now and into March, end of April?
PB: Well, now I’ve been through and I’ve done my bunch thinning. I’m going to have go through and do another bunch thin, just for any of the bunches that haven’t [for raisined? 0:18:08.4] up in time; I’ll do a second bunch then. We’ll take our second set, our second set, because Pinot Gris is a classic variety of a [throwing? 0:18:16.0] second set, which is green berries up on top of the canopy. Take all them out, trimming, mowing, bird scaring, get out the shotgun, shoot some birds. Yeah, pretty much just maintaining the flow of the vineyard life. Making sure everything’s in balance.
RJ: Sounds like a lot of work.
PB: Yeah, it’s a lot of work, but it’s fun. It’s good work.
RJ: How much sleep do you get every night?
PB: I’d say about three or four hours.
RJ: No, really?
PB: No, I got sleep– ten hours.
PB: Yeah. I go to bed about seven o’clock.
RJ: As soon as it’s night here.
PB: No, I go to bed about ten o’clock, we get a good sleep, get up early, scare the birds. The birds are– we got a big bird pressure here. We got a lot of birds here. We got black birds, thrushes, starlings, mynas, sparrows, wax-eyes, so I’ve got to be out there early. I get the motorbike out; I got the gas cannons going. Well, not yet, but I’ll have them going the next couple weeks. Because you want to try and integrate everything slowly, because birds kind of get used to anything that’s– soon as anything’s been there for like a week, they won’t be scared of anymore, so I’m putting up the little hawks here and there and– yeah.
RJ: So, there’s a bit of a theatre going on out here for the birds in the next few weeks.
PB: For sure. Yep.
RJ: And if the birds are smart, they should head to the city.
PB: Yeah. Yeah, they should get the hell out of here. Yeah, I reckon.
RJ: So, what’s your top pick of your wines? If someone hasn’t tried your Petane Station, where’s a good place to start?
PB: Well, the Pinot Gris– you gotta start with the Pinot Gris. That is– it’s a beautiful Pinot Gris. That’s a good place to start. Once you do that, you might as well get over to the Gewürz, which is…
RJ: That’s my favorite.
PB: Yeah, I think it’s my favorite. Actually, the Viognier is my favorite. Yeah, 2014 Viognier is amazing. I’ve just bottled the ’15 – really happy with the ’15. I think it’s going to be great. It just needs a little more time in the bottle just to mellow out a bit. But yeah, I think the Viognier has been a bit of a revelation. We’ve been really impressed with the Viognier. Ian Mackenzie was so impressed with it, he actually took a bottle down to Marlborough, and George from Villa Maria– got a bottle to George.
RJ: Oh, Sir George Fistonich?
PB: Sir George, and he was like, “Damn, where the hell has this been growing?” And Ian’s like, “Yeah, it’s Philip. Petane Station.”
RJ: For someone like him, he would’ve tried most wines–
PB: Yeah, and he was like, “Yeah, this is really good,” so that was pretty cool. It’s nice to hear those sort of stories.
RJ: Well, he’s been around for some time, so that’s a great stamp of approval.
PB: Yeah, totally. Yep.
RJ: Good. Well, thanks very much for your time, Phil. This has been a very informative chat on wine in Eastdale and Petane Station. Now you can get back to your surfing.
PB: Okay. Thanks, man.
RJ: Or surf video watching.
RJ: Thanks, Phil.
PB: Thank you.
RJ: That was great.