Sacred Hill celebrates its 30th vintage with the release of its 2015 wines – three decades which have seen it grow from a shoestring operation on a family farm into a premium producer, popular with consumers and gaining an increasing following internationally.
Started in the mid 1980s by current managing director David Mason, his brother Mark and their winemaking friend Tony Bish on the Mason family farm in Hawke’s Bay picturesque Dartmoor Valley, Sacred Hill is now one of New Zealand’s largest privately owned wine producers, making more than 350,000 cases per year exporting wine to more than 30 countries. But all that belies its humble beginnings.
After the Masons’ father Ian became one of the first Hawke’s Bay farmers to diversify from traditional sheep and cattle farming and planted grapes on his property in the early 1980s, the Mason brothers and Bish – self described “wine geeks” – set out with the idea of making more wine than they could drink and selling the rest to fund their passion for fine wine.
“Our first vintage was 350 cases of 1986 Fume Blanc, a popular style of oak aged Sauvignon Blanc at the time. It sold out. So did the next vintage of 700 cases and we thought we might be on to something,” Mason says.
With Mason helming the business and Bish leading the winemaking operation, Sacred Hill continued its innovation trend through the 90s, pioneering the use of indigenous yeasts and being among the first to introduce new oak and chilled barrel ferments. Their drive into premium wines included the planting of Rifleman’s Vineyard, now one of the country’s most revered Chardonnay vineyards, on the original family farm. It also invested in the renowned Gimblett Gravels sub-region of Hawke’s Bay, from where they have produced red wines such as Helmsman and Brokenstone and that have more than held their own with Bordeaux’s finest in blind tastings.
Packaging updates in the early 1990s had Sacred Hill well placed for the introduction of wine sales into the grocery sector, which fuelled further growth and awareness of the brand and consumers have stuck with it ever since.
The export market also became a focus and prompted Sacred Hill to expand beyond its Hawke’s Bay home and invest in Marlborough which is the source of its Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir wines. “Our heart is in Hawke’s Bay but as a business our future investment will be in Marlborough,” Mason says. “The potential growth is in export, especially the US market, which has a taste for Marlborough wines, with Sauvignon Blanc leading the charge.”
Sacred Hill has developed a knack for producing gold medal Marlborough Sauvignon Blancs and winemaker Bish rates the 2015 Marlborough wines as the region’s best Sauvignon Blancs in years – great news for Mason in his quest to conquer the US market.
Mason has steered Sacred Hill from its rustic beginnings through remarkable growth with his hands on involvement in all facets of the business including marketing, brand management and sales.
While he is focussed on continued innovation and growth, he has not lost sight of how it all began.
“The early days were precious times by the river with friends, family and food and Sacred Hill remains true to those roots today.”
“We have always been about making wines to share with family and friends and we always will be. Our brand campaign today takes a stance on the importance of these times of real connection in today’s high speed, always on, distraction-filled lives.”
As the brand reminds us “Some things should be kept sacred.”