In the last in a series of interviews with new New Zealanders involved in the wine scene in New Zealand, Isabel Gilbert Palmer interviews Ichiyo Terauchi, sales and marketing executive of Te Mata Estate, New Zealand’s oldest wineries
Ichiyo, you are the last person I have chosen to interview in my series about new New Zealanders living and working in the Wine Industry in Hawkes
Bay but you are working in a different but important area and are passionate member of the New Guard Group there. What is your interest and involvement in the industry?
I am in Sales and Marketing Executive for Te Mata Estate. Its a family owned winery which was established in 1896 where the three original vineyards planted then are still in use and one of New Zealand’s oldest like Mission Estate.
What led you to come here?
I first came to New Zealand when I was 17 years old on a school exchange program to learn English because I was fascinated by it as a language. At the time we could chose to study in USA, Australia and New Zealand but I was undecided where to go. It was really a choice between hamburgers, koalas and sheep actually, but a friend said to me “New Zealand is for you.” So I chose it. I loved the experience, the homestay family, I cooked for them, we spoke in broken English, sign language and broken Japanese. I loved the outdoors, the openess, the blue skies and the simplicity of things. The program was for three months and when I returned to my home city after being here I was secretly determined to come back one day. In fact, this experience impacted my life.
What happened next?
I went to High School and University and then managed to convince my parents arm to let me come back and do another language course. This time it was a school with International students where we studied in the mornings and did every kind of adventure outdoor activity possible in the afternoon.
But after that amazing experience I knew I had to go home and begin a career path.
Which was ?
I worked for Suntory in Kobe as I already had an idea which way I wanted to go. I don’t think I need to explain who Suntory are as an enterprise and the famous Bill Murray line in the film Lost in Translation “Suntory Time “is a classic reminder!
Kobe is an International port and has always had a connection with Europe and wine importing so it wasn’t unusual for Suntory to have connections there and for me to be interested in wine. Suntory were clever, they ran their own wine appreciation and study training courses for sales staff with their own text books and internal examinations and had their own vineyards so I joined because I wanted to become knowledgable and build a career in wine. There, the focus was on all old world wines, predominantly French and we worked though all the regions including the top chateaus in France and then went through Germany, Italy and Spain. I tasted my first Matteus Rose in its distinctive bottle studying there which is a funny memory. Suntory got into matching Japanese food and wine, education and even promoted French red wine as being healthy health giving and they had television programs to spread the message.
From 1999 to 2002 there was a a massive wine boom and an explosion of small wine shops all over Japan. It was very trendy and boutiquey and the younger hip children of old established Japanese liquour store owners dragged their family name, traditions, grandfathers and fathers into opening them up . It also became a new career choice for young guys to go off to Europe to become sommeliers. This was a big change as the Japanese had always been known traditionally as Whiskey drinkers, Sake and Beer drinkers.
The young and increasingly internationally-focused were very much behind the change and move to wine drinking.
How did this affect your professionally ?
I had my own ideas and I was still determined to come back to New Zealand. I researched how I could combine my two interests or passions….wine, wine growing, the wine industry and living in New Zealand. At Suntory, I had extended my interests towards New World wines which led me right back to New Zealand.
That is an interesting development Ichiyo, what did you set in action then?
I went back to New Zealand and toured all over the country to every wine area and to as many vineyards I could find. I carried out research and tried to find distinctive and unique wines. I then enrolled at EIT and studied for a year and worked in vineyards all through the seasons at every job possible in my free time.
I eventually got my Diploma in Wine Marketing and Certificate in Grape Growing and found myself at Osawa Wines which was a good first step for me. Tokyo-ite Taizo Osawa knowing New Zealand was well thought of in Japan for its purity, adventure and amazing wines believed he couldn’t go wrong if he developed a vineyard of his own here and was sure his wines would appeal to Japanese wine drinkers.
He bought a pastoral farmland and turned it into a vineyard carrying 8 grape varieties chosen by his consultant, the prestigious New Zealand winemaker Rod McDonald. Osawa became an accredited member of NZ’s Sustainable Winegrowers group like Te Mata Estate where I am now.
Osawa produces Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir. Its now the third largest exporter of New Zealand wine to Japan. I was there in the very early days even before the first harvest and busied myself creating brochures, labels and a marketing buzz with trips to Japan. In the meantime, Rod crafted wines from grapes he bought elsewhere under the Flying Sheep (an animal that intrigues Japanese sensibilities and ideas of cuteness) and its Osawa labels.
After a while, I got rather bored with an isolated office and small staff and always in a Japanese skewered world so I accepted a position with a successful wine negociant, Vindico Wines and worked in a variety of positions there from Marketing and Sales to cellar door and even branching out with a foray into bottled water for the Asian market. During this time, I had regular sales trips for wine and water to Asia and Japan, which pleased my parents and gave me the opportunities to ransack Muji and Uniqlo department stores. I have just returned from marketing trip to Japan promoting artisan water for a company sourced from a private spring in the local countryside here. During my time at negociant’s, I became part of a very close knit group of winemakers mostly ex pat, and it was Daniel Brennan (see interview here) who brought us all together in a more cohesive and organised manner to share our views of what we were living, loving and hoping for in our work.
And now you are with Te Mata Estate, getting back to your story.
How long have you been there?
Almost five years and now I work in a more historical, iconic, and well established Estate although the day to day running of it it feels very much like a small family working side by side. The complex is built so the office, cellar door, meeting rooms ,reception are 20 steps away from the winery itself so there is a bright social life, conversation, humour, discussion amongst winemakers, packers, loaders, visitors and sales and marketing team, the CEO and so on. A situation which I really can’t say enough good things about. I see grapes coming in during Harvest, can pop over to the winemakers vats and cellars and stores rooms discuss what is going on with them.
I discuss and pour wines when it is my turn for tastings at the cellar on the weekends, meet and greet old and respected clients, welcome new ones … do a lot of tasting myself and the normal regular sales and marketing programmes and pitches.
I have travelled around New Zealand with the marketing team showcasing our premier vintages to our collectors which has been fun being on the road. What is special about Te Mata Estate besides its physical set up and its history are the Annual Vintage reports on the site. The news page is kept updated and there is a cellaring guide. I think all this helps build a perspective and a foundation for an understanding of Te Mata, its wines, their character and the people who make them. If you are just stepping into New Zealand wines, it is a helpful way to begin.
Besides wine making, they have a programme where the winery established a two year tenure Poet Laureate program and publish the Poets collection. The programme is representative of New Zealand’s contemporary poets plus its a wonderful combination of wine and words.
And on our Distribution page site theres even have an agent in Brugge if you look www.matthys-wines.be.
What do you do after work which seems very much part of your life?
Well in some ways I am never far away from it, so I don’t leave it at the gate. I am a wine amateur and collect wines. I talk them up or down to my friends and we share our finds and collections. I was given a bottle from the Baja Wine district in Mexico earlier this year carried home by a travelling friend and had great fun introducing it to our New Guard group.
We socialise and meet and cook and eat well together often, which sees a pretty cosmopolitan table laid each time, and interesting wine pairings.
I have been leading this kind of wine infused life for more than 20 years now and have friends all over the world because of it and many because we were students at EIT in Hawkes Bay together.
I have created a garden, around my new house with a small orchard of fruit trees ,vegetables, herbs, but I an not a flower gardener. I have a Rhodesian Ridge dog who keeps me busy ( a 3 km walk every morning before work). I enjoy rock climbing, have learnt to play lawn croquet and love being out on my boyfriend’s farm which is more of a lifestyle farm rather than typical New Zealand Sheep farm, he drives his VW Golf across the pastures helping out with seasonal work and riding a quad bike there ..and a tractor, while my dog sits in my car watching as I move sheep and cattle. I also have a gun license and love to go Target shooting .
What makes living in NZ away from your culture, family, food and wearing your kimono which I understand you used to do when the mood took you in the times past, at home ? Freedom is the biggest word that describes how I feel about living away from my original country. I don’t miss Japanese cuisine or its culture but I now respect these things more living here, than when I was there.
Anything distinctly Japanese you haven’t given up living Down Under ?
World news..I always read global news on Japanese sites. I get better coverage, understanding and conclusions from it.
Anything else to add?
Well if I hadn’t taken up wine it would have been New Zealand honey or New Zealand extra Virgin olive oil. I did some parallel research on both earlier on and had some work experience with an apriarist but wine was more appealing and encompassing. Although I don’t think anyone can go past manuka honey.