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University’s iconic wine estate

"The University of Auckland is on the cusp of creating one of the greatest schools of wine learning in the world," says pioneering Waiheke winemaker, Kim Goldwater.

Kim and Jeanette Goldwater
Kim and Jeanette Goldwater

Kim Goldwater and his wife Jeanette have made a unique $4 million gift to the University as part of a development that will see their iconic vineyard and winemaking operation become a new centre for the University’s Wine Science programme. The gift will allow students and researchers to be immersed in a world-class commercial winemaking environment.

“We can be happy that the Waiheke estate we created is now going to be looked after by the University and we can do other things,” Kim told a special gathering of University staff, wine buffs and extended Goldwater family members at the recent signing of the deal.

In 2009 the Goldwater family sold its world-famous brand which had grown to include operations in Hawke’s Bay and Marlborough, to a US wine investor. At the same time the family, which has strong ties to the University – three generations have studied (and taught) here, with the fourth generation now in his first year at the Faculty of Engineering – was looking to the future. Having retained their original Waiheke vineyard, and with the University in mind, daughter Gretchen and her husband Ken Christie set up a small commercial wine company called Goldie Wines.

“We wanted to preserve the vineyard’s history and do something that would work for the local community,” says Kim, who graduated from the University in 1961 with a BE in Civil Engineering. “We thought about the University and felt the vineyard would be the perfect size for its wine science operation.

<p>Aeriel view of the vineyard. Courtesy of Bob Campbell.</p>

“Our hope now is that this will become the premium wine education facility in the whole of the southern hemisphere.”

“This is an unprecedented and extremely generous donation that will benefit both the University and the wine industry,” says Vice-Chancellor, Professor Stuart McCutcheon.

“We believe that winemakers will benefit from the supply of high quality graduates as well as the University’s ongoing research on everything from native wine yeasts to the aroma profiles of New Zealand wines.”

The University has acquired the Waiheke property, partly through a commercial transaction, and partly through the $4m philanthropic gift. The total land area being transferred is 13.9 hectares. This includes winery buildings, a café and function room, two residences and seven hectares of vine in Cabernet Sauvigon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Syrah, Chardonnay and Viognier. These are bottled in the premium Goldie, and more accessibly-priced, Island brands, producing a total of about 2,000 to 3,000 cases per year.

The vineyard and winery will operate two parallel streams. An established team will continue to produce wines commercially under the Goldie and Island brands while Wine Science students will keep producing their own wines for teaching purposes under the University’s Ingenio label. Students will also work as interns in the commercial operation, and have access to the fruit and data for research.

<p>Wine cellar on the Goldwater Estate</p>

“The new arrangement means that we will be hardwired into the industry and able to fine-tune our teaching to what the industry needs,” explains Wine Science Director, Mr Randy Weaver.

“Teaching for the first half of our year-long Diploma in Wine Science will be onsite at the Waiheke estate and students will continue to work there several days a week for the remainder of their studies. They will be exposed to everything from vineyard and winemaking operations to interacting with the public in the tasting room.

“We are expanding the curriculum for the course and anticipate that the number of students will double to around 30. The scale of the estate is perfect for teaching purposes and its proximity to the city, the historic value of the winery and the natural beauty of the site all will be major drawcards for local and international students.”

Kim and Jeanette Goldwater’s success as leading New Zealand vintners and founders of the Waiheke winemaking industry is the stuff of legend. It all began in the mid 1960s when they developed a love of wine while living in Spain where Kim worked as a civil engineer on Spain’s first motorway system from Burgos to Santander. Back in New Zealand, when attempts to persuade local vintners to produce European-style wine failed, they decided to do it themselves.

<p>Vines on the Goldwater Estate</p>

“I knew New Zealand lay geographically in the same latitudes as all of the wine- growing regions of the Northern Hemisphere so there was no reason why we couldn’t grow good wine here,” says Kim. “And I had a hunch that Waiheke would be a good place because I’d sailed around there so much. Often it’d be raining in Auckland and fine on the island. The Weather Office had quite good temperature and rainfall records and from those I deduced that the island’s summer rainfall was a lot less than Auckland’s and temperatures were higher.”

So the couple bought the sloping seaside property in Putiki Bay and began sailing back and forth at weekends on their 32-foot Townson sloop to prepare the soil and plant the first two acres of grapes.

No one else had tried to grow European grapes on the island at the time and all they had to go on initially was California writer A.J. Winker’s book General Viticulture and Kim’s meticulous research methodology. This included things like plotting heat summation curves to determine how well his grapes would ripen compared with those in Bordeaux.

In 1982 family and friends helped harvest their first Cabernet Sauvignon making two 300-litre puncheons of wine. In 1985 Goldwater Estate branding started and Merlot was introduced to the Cabernet Sauvignon blend.

The rest is history. Goldwater wine has since been sold in 26 countries around the world, won dozens of medals and the Bordeaux-style 2004 Goldie Cabernet Merlot Franc features in the newly released book 1001 wines you must try before you die: A global guide to the finest wines.

For Kim, the overall quality of New Zealand wine is now better than anywhere else in the world, “and that’s because our winemakers are properly educated,” he says.

“That’s why it’s my quiet dream that this vineyard becomes an important centre for wine education and research.”

Video of TV One's report on the Goldwaters' gift can be viewed on the TVNZ website.