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Steve Voysey’s career started more than 30 years ago, as a young winemaker in Marlborough with Montana. After a few years, he was promoted to the position of Gisborne winemaker, news he broke to his wife Eileen while she was in the Blenheim hospital having their second child (which he recalls went over about as well as might be expected). Nevertheless, they decided they’d ‘give it three years’ and moved north.

A few years after moving to Gisborne, Steve and Eileen decided to cement their future by purchasing their own piece of land. At first, the goal was just to boost the family’s income by growing grapes. “All the grapes were contracted to Montana,” Steve says. “I’d make wine in my ‘day job’ and then hop on the tractor when I came home.” In 1996, they bought the remaining half of the block, increasing their holdings to 17 hectares, and decided it was time to make their mark on the place. Spade Oak Vineyard was born.

Three years has turned into three decades and the Voysey family are still in Gisborne –which has very much become home. “Spade Oak has become our life, where we have brought up four children, and we have the luxury of living in the country with beautiful beaches minutes away. Gisborne is a place to escape to in an increasingly busy world, which we notice every time we travel,” Steve says. Spade Oak basks in the sunlit central valley known locally as ‘the flats’, the heart of Gisborne wine country, on land that has produced grapes for generations. The Voyseys’ vision was to unlock the region’s potential, creating wines of quality from a (some say brave and eclectic) selection of new and classic varieties.

Steven and Eileen live on the vineyard with their son, and their Wheaton terrier, Oakley. The family are all involved in the business, Steve still does a good proportion of the vineyard work, as well as all the wine making, sales, inventory and bottling. We caught up with him this month to find out a bit more about what makes his wines so special.

What makes Spade Oak wines unique?
The winemaking style and palate are what makes us unique. Spade Oak makes true winemaker-driven wines that use oak barrels and, where possible, we seek to be compared with the best examples of the offshore varieties’ origins. We seek layered, integrated, seamless flavour transitions; we like complexity, texture and a glass experience that rewards that extra swirl with a new aroma and fruit flavour. We offer more than just the immediacy
of pure fruit aroma. This comes from a passion to deliver more than just varietal purity. Most of all, we seek to deliver wines that are extremely drinkable and can be poured in complete confidence in any company.

How have people’s wine tastes changes over three decades?
The New Zealand market has changed from sherry, Riesling and cask wine to an oak-infused rich ripeness of Chardonnay, Shiraz and Merlot, to fruit-punchy and acid-fresh Sauvignon Blanc, Syrah and Pinot Noir. I’ve seen a definite change towards the dryer, purer, youthful, single-dimension wines… my word for them is ‘immediate wines’. I am very much more in the food-friendly and easy-drinking camp. Not in the old-school, over-oaky way, but in a balance-controlled, synergetic way. The main reason I started the brand is my belief that New Zealand wines can offer so much more than just varietal impact.

What does the unique Gisborne micro- climate bring to wine from the region?
Richness, ripeness, structure and texture from clay-based soils, maritime-influenced cooler days and warmer nights and frost-free consistency. Sustainability through the water-holding capacity of our soils allows non-irrigated vines. The wines have weight texture and balance – a great framework on which to interlace some age, oak and malo and unlock aromas with yeast.

Chardonnay is really your signature wine. Do you think it’s coming back in vogue?
Yes. It’s our strength and focus; we are seeing significant growth in the three Chardonnays we make. Once you get past the ‘I don’t like Chardonnay’ opinion, they realise the wines have drinkability and a depth of interest they have been missing. Consider a varietal stainless steel tank and yeast-made wine versus Chardonnay that has yeast, malo, barrels and time contributing to its character. Barrels mean more complexity of flavour as each vessel breathes in a slow, controlled way and allows differentiation in treatment as the wine breathes through its life in the Vineyard.