Full circle

21 June by Tessa Nicholson

Back in 1996, Rhyan Wardman arrived back in New Zealand to a job overseeing the building of Seresin Estate’s new winery. Twenty-two years later, he now owns that winery with good friend and fellow winemaker Ben Glover.

Both men have recently purchased the Marlborough winery, along with 8ha of land, (three in vines) based just out of Renwick. The irony of purchasing a winery he helped oversee being built is not lost of Wardman – as he admits – he can’t complain about anything. 

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“That is the remarkable thing,” he says, “nothing has really changed. I walk through and it feels like a bit of a time warp. It makes me pause every so often, because it really is as I left it. It’s very functional and in a lovely setting. There are a few improvements we will want to make, and also some expansion, but this location is priceless.”

Glover is quick to quip that he will be letting him know if there are any winery shortcomings.

Both Glover and Wardman are graduates of the Lincoln Viticulture and Oenology course, graduating in 93 and 94. Both finished the course to undertake vintages overseas, and both came to Marlborough to follow their New Zealand careers. Glover firstly at Wither Hills where he was the assistant and then chief winemaker, over a 15-year period, followed by a stint as chief New Zealand winemaker for Mud House Wines. Wardman followed a slightly different path, heading to the UK in 1999 after working for Seresin for three years, to work as a flying winemaker. “For three years I lived out of a suitcase and did projects around the world.

He went on to be a co-founder of Origin Wine in South Africa and also held the position of Wine Director for Constellation Europe. 

But New Zealand beckoned to him, his wife and children, so in 2009 he came back to work for Indevin, firstly as chief winemaker and later as Chief Operations Officer. In 2015 he became the Marlborough General Manager for the Giesen Group.

It’s a big move to purchase a winery, an even greater one to make that winery a contract facility for organic, small-batch, single-site wines. It may well be the only contract facility in New Zealand gearing itself towards organic production. 

But as Glover says; “It is all about high quality wines, that express the Marlborough region. We hope our winery will be the place for like-minded producers to collaborate. We see it as a place to innovate, share ideas and push the style boundaries.”

As such the name of the winery has been changed to The Coterie.  The Merriam-Webster Dictionary describes Coterie as an intimate and often exclusive group of persons with a unifying common interest or purpose. Very fitting given what Glover and Wardman want to achieve.

“It is all about being cohesive and collaborative. What we want to achieve is to get people in to start talking, so their wines can be better, quicker,” Glover says.

“A lot of these smaller brands owned by couples or small families, are not always involved in a support network. As well as a facility that you walk in and out of, we want (the clients) to sit down at the kitchen table and talk about issues or whatever they are thinking.”

Since the news broke that the couple were purchasing Seresin to establish a contract winemaking facility, the pair have been inundated with enquiries, despite the fact they were not planning on taking on clients until vintage 2019. 

“I don’t think that is a surprise,” Wardman says, “because if you look at the contract facilities that exist, they are of a significant scale and some of the small batch winemaking is noise, that maybe they feel they can’t do justice to or have the flexibility to do well enough.”

 The Coterie’s foundation client will be Seresin Wines, and Wardman is more than excited about being involved with their wines again, albeit being 22 years later. 

“I am very excited about the next part of the journey and what it looks like. It is a privilege. In many ways I think it is important for the Seresin brand, that it’s home hasn’t moved.”

The other foundation client will be Zephyr Wines, a brand owned by Glover and family members. 

While that has been made in contract facilities since it was established in 2007, Glover is keen to have it back totally under the one roof, and his control.

“Essentially it makes us get back and get more real and more hands on with what we are doing (with those wines).”

The Coterie Winery has a current capacity for 1300 tonnes, but the ability to expand is already being considered.

“That 1300 tonne capacity has increased substantially since I was last here,” Wardman admits.

“The barrel hall wasn’t here when I worked here, and the production back at that stage was around 300 to 400 tonnes.” 

“We would like to double the capacity or take it up to 3000 tonnes in the future,” Glover says. “But it has to be a size where we are comfortable that we can run the floor. It will have to be based on demand. When we do grow, it will essentially be organic growth, with those same clients as they grow as well.”

For both men, their enthusiasm is palpable. Both can’t wait to get their hands dirty, especially Wardman who has been away from winemaking itself for a number of years.

“This is an amazing opportunity to get the boots back on and back into winemaking. I have missed that big time. I just feel very grateful and fortunate to be able to come full circle. But with that comes responsibility. We have to take it to the next level. One of the things that attracted Ben and then myself to this, was what Michael (Seresin) had started and the opportunity to continue on that vision – premium Marlborough wines.”

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