April 13, 2021|In Winery Spotlight

De La Terre: Peak Perfection

Hawke's Bay wines hand-crafted with passion

De La Terre is a passion project worthy of mighty high praise. Talented Tony Prichard is a Hawke’s Bay winemaking legend, now doing his own thing crafting elegant and engaging wines under his De La Terre label. From the vineyard to the glass his personal touches are evident at this boutique winery that specialises in small volumes of hand-crafted wines from an incredibly quirky mix of grape varieties, such as Tannat, Barbera, Montepulciano, Tempranillo, and Viognier. These wines are very much a labour of love. De La Terre truly encapsulates the Dhall & Nash Wondermaker creed of respecting “those who create wonders by patiently loving, toiling and knowing their small piece of earth…”

“Own what’s in the glass, grow your own grapes, do it yourself. That’s really important to us.” – Tony Prichard, Owner/Winemaker

 

The unique winery name ‘de la terre’ literally means ‘of the earth’ and is a reference to both the all-important vineyard soils, their terroir, and to the earth brick construction used in the winery and cellar door, the only one of its kind in Hawke’s Bay.

This principle of using what is ‘from the earth’ (de la terre) is woven throughout the whole place. Tony took a highly active part in building their house and the winery, including leadlight windows and bespoke timber frames. As well as the all-important wine dispensing machine he uses to serve his tasting wines at the Cellar Door. Continuing the artisanal hands-on theme, Tony and his wife, Kaye, designed the logo and wine labels. The logo is based on a symbol for Earth – a circle with a cross through it. These are all rather remarkable achievements in a busy winemaker’s world.

The De La Terre Story:

Creating their business from scratch, Tony and Kaye Prichard, have been driven by their shared passion to produce exquisite, quality wines and to provide a personal touch in everything they do and to be able to offer something a little different to the norm. Undoubtedly, Tony and Kaye are a formidable team.

They met whilst both were studying Food Technology at Massey University in Palmerston North quite a few vintages ago! Kaye’s area of expertise continued in the food realm with almost 30 years working at Wattie’s-Heinz. Luckily for us, however, Tony branched out into winemaking. His first role was for Montana Wines in Gisborne, producing large volumes of wines for both NZ and export markets. In 1990, Tony moved to Hawke’s Bay to be winemaker at Church Road Winery, also part of Montana Wines, but producing smaller volumes and more specialist iconic wines. Whilst at Church Road, Tony worked with consultants from Deutz in Champagne and Domaine Cordier in Bordeaux. He learned French winemaking techniques which he still uses today for his De La Terre wines. The Domaine Cordier relationship also allowed Tony to learn Sauternes-style winemaking, on which his De La Terre Noble Viognier is based.

By 2005 the corporate life had lost its gloss, so Tony decided to set up his own business as a consultant winemaker. Tony still consults for several wine companies throughout New Zealand, enabling his clients to produce top notch, award-winning wines.

But it wasn’t too long before the yen, that deep passion to have his own label, meant it was time to find suitable land. Tony and Kaye definitely found the ‘right dirt’ of 5.3 hectares on the prized slopes of Te Mata Peak. So began their own boutique vineyard odyssey hand-crafting tiny amounts of vinous gems.

 

“De La Terre is a Hawke’s Bay gem” – Dr. Jamie Goode, Wine Anorak

 

Their first vintage at the winery was in 2009 and they opened the cellar door to the public early 2010. The winery was expanded in 2014 to enable them to process all their own fruit on site – thus having comprehensive control of every aspect of their winemaking craft. In 2013, Kaye left Heinz to work alongside Tony in the winery and open the café, finally realising her dream to create luscious tasty food to match Tony’s compelling fine wines.

De La Terre owner and winemaker, Tony Prichard

The Terroir:

The fruit for the wines is largely from a patchwork quilt of 8 unique vineyard blocks in Hawke’s Bay’s prestigious appellation Te Mata Peak Special Character Zone. They also took over the lease on their Hill Country Vineyard in 2013, which is 5.5 hectares in the Havelock North area, and they also lease a 0.5 hectare satellite vineyard down the road. All of their grapes come from these vineyards.

The soils are very lean and rocky with limestone content that lends a tremendous freshness and minerality to the wines. The main vineyard is a unique terroir of very steep limestone terraces that create an individualized minerality in the De La Terre wines. Tony explains that “it’s less obvious in the reds, but people can pick it in the whites”, and he purposely tries to highlight the land and its minerality in the wine. “What gives the difference is the variation in slope and contour”, explains Tony, “and, also the ratio of limestone to topsoil, and even the amount of limestone. These three factors have a huge influence on the flavour of the wine.” An example of that would be the De La Terre Viognier, which Tony thinks tastes more like Chenin Blanc than Viognier because of the soils.

Tony passionately believes, “the wine style is all about texture, balance and elegance, not so much varietal definition. It’s all about palate texture and having everything in balance.”

The De La Terre Philosophy:

Ultimately the De La Terre philosophy revolves around 3 cornerstones: texture, elegance, and balance. Tony is quite happy to sacrifice a degree of primary fruit and a mainstream style to achieve their aim and to ‘marry’ well with food. There is a great deal of thought and years of experience that goes into the making of these wines. They carry a sense of European tradition in the styling but are also modern and contemporary.

One of the key things Tony learned whilst working closely with French winemakers is to let the wine speak for itself – to show provenance. He believes that provenance, representing the land on which it was grown, is the most important aspect for wine, rather than trying to manipulate it into what that varietal is “supposed” to taste like.

Their passionate artisanal approach is also shown in many meticulous elements of the De La Terre methodology: they bottle all their wines on site, with every bottle being hand labelled and the Reserve wines are individually numbered, most often by Kaye. Now that’s commitment!

Winemaking:

Of course, their hand-crafted approach goes right through the winemaking process. Tony is an expert in traditional wine making and is a perfectionist! From hand-picking all the fruit, through gentle handling at the winery using traditional winemaking techniques – nothing is rushed and with the emphasis on minimal handling, every effort is made to retain the integrity and concentration of the fruit and accentuate their unique terroir. The De La Terre wines are a delicious fusion of high-tech winemaking knowledge with traditional hands-on winemaking methods in the cellar. Tony is ardent in steering clear of the increasing creep towards industrial winemaking by some in the industry.

Neither is Tony one to follow “fashion” in wine. Currently there is a trend toward use of wild yeast. It is believed that wild yeast imparts additional complexity and certainly assists the texture and mouthfeel. But from Tony’s experience, he sees that the results can be unpredictable – they are often notoriously poor fermenters and only dominate the fermentation in the early stages when alcohol is moderately low. Wild yeast can slow down and ‘stick’ in the latter stages of fermentation, so he always has a strong ‘rescue’ yeast on hand to finish the ferment through to dryness if necessary.

Tony still embraces many traditional winemaking techniques: With whites, Tony uses free-run juice from gentle pressing, and techniques such as hyperoxidation to produce wines with minerality, complexity, finesse, and longevity. With the red wines, he takes great care to achieve the correct balance between tannins and acidity. This is done during elevage, rather than adjustments after blending.

And he is of the opinion that most winemakers these days use too many fining ingredients. As of 2014, he also doesn’t filter any of his reds. He prefers to do the more natural process of racking his wines every few months, as it increases the intensity and mouthfeel of them. He’s even experimented with doing some unfiltered whites. Tony is entirely confident in what he puts into the bottle and pours into each glass. As Kaye quipped that the wines “don’t get into the bottle unless he’s completely happy with them.”

The Wines:

De La Terre wines have their own ‘signature’ – full-flavoured with elegant and balanced mouthfeel and that essential touch of complexity. In most cases, the wines are slightly outside what would be regarded as the mainstream style for the varieties. Rather uniquely for NZ, De La Terre focuses on food and wine matching as inspiration in creating their delectable liquid jewels.

One could say that there is an elegant European feel to the wines. De-emphasizing the varietal importance has become part of the distinctive style of De La Terre wines. Perhaps tracing back to Tony’s work with Deutz (Champagne) and Cordier (Bordeaux) whilst at Church Road. Needless to say, there is a fastidious attention to all details at De La Terre.

Tony believes there are enough Bordeaux blends and Pinots around the Hawke’s Bay and prides himself on producing unique red varietals. “The last thing we need is another Merlot,” he says. He produces some rare wines in New Zealand, like Tannat, Barbara, Tempranillo, and Montepulciano. Although you’ll find a few Viogniers in the Bay, Tony’s is quite different. He also makes exotically divine late harvest and Noble wines from Viognier grapes.

He’s most proud of his Reserve Viognier, for a reason most wouldn’t suspect. It doesn’t taste anything like Viognier, and to me, that’s a beautiful thing.”

His Montepulciano is a pride and joy because of its “brooding black fruit, black olive” character, and its tannin structure that “isn’t over-polished, but rough with coarseness”.

As expected from such an experienced winemaker, Tony Prichard has shown impressive mastery of all his usual and not-so-usual grape varieties, crafting bewitchingly balanced, graceful, and supple masterpieces. Indeed, the De La Terre wines are testimony to the creative nous and meticulous attention to detail of Tony’s winemaking and his vision. There is a deft touch here and intuition born of experience.

“The more you make wine, the easier you think it will get. Well, it doesn’t. We’re always fine-tuning techniques. I look at what’s happened in the past and if it’s not where I want to be, [I use] my best guess in my experience and push the odds.” – Tony Prichard, Owner/Winemaker