Young, talented and gifted with artistic flair, The Landing’s new head winemaker is looking forward to producing his first full vintage.
“You’ve got to be open and curious about the world, scientifically and in a sensory way,” says Ben Byrne, on what qualities make for a great winemaker. “Even though there’s a lot of science behind wine-making, it always comes back to the taste, so you’ve got to be in tune with that. It’s about having a passion for wine, enjoying it and thinking about it a lot.”
Late last year, Ben, a Northland native who has worked in new world wine-growing regions including Margaret River, California and Victoria, joined The Landing as head winemaker. His experience with The Landing’s fruit goes back nearly a decade, though – in his previous role at Marsden Estate winery, he assisted Rod McIvor in processing the fruit since The Landing’s first vintage. Even back then, he could see there was something special about this site.
“We were always super-excited about [The Landing] because it’s one of the first vineyards that got planted out on the coast and the fruit is always much riper than the fruit that we would get from sites around Kerikeri. We always knew it had a lot of potential, especially in a good season,” he remembers.
Ben came to The Landing in one such season. “Last season was an awesome year, really. You wouldn’t change too much about it.”
This year, with The Landing’s winery due for completion in less than a month, he looks forward to being able to manage the vintage from end to end. “We’ll have full control, which will be awesome,” he enthuses.
That’s a process that covers a vast range of activities, something that Ben – who graduated from Lincoln University with a degree in viticulture and oenology – is both trained for and passionate about. “I just love the variation of jobs that you get to do,” he says. “We’ve been out planting the vines today. Tomorrow might be tasting or topping barrels or out on a tractor. Over the year it’s really seasonal, with changes throughout the year. And now what I really like is that I’ll get to see the product right through from growing to bottling. It’s really satisfying to see something growing from a little bud, to flower and fruit, and eventually it’s a bottle of wine.”
As head winemaker, Ben aims to let the unique characteristics of The Landing’s terroir drive the final taste of the wines. “I like to be hands-off as much as possible, as I think it allows you to reflect the uniqueness of the land and the fruit. Our soil is quite a rich clay, and I think that’s reflected well in the wines. They’re quite full-bodied, generous flavours – savoury and quite brooding in the reds. They’re always going to be quite powerful wines within the context of the Northland climate.”