Named after the dramatic Palliser Bay on the Wairarapa coast and its namesake Admiral Hugh Palliser – colleague and patron of Captain James Cook, who was a brave visionary and great leader. The name references the special connection to the land, honoring the region, and reflecting the pioneering spirit New Zealand is founded on. The crest you see on their label is inspired by the Palliser’s family crest of the Griffin. Part eagle, part lion – it is a symbol of courage, boldness and intelligence.
Palliser Estate was established in 1984 by Managing Director and Co-Founder, the late Richard Riddiford. He was a descendant of Daniel Riddiford, who established several sheep and cattle stations throughout Southern Wairarapa, during the 1840s and 1850s. Another pioneering family name that runs very deeply through this area even today. Richard, however was a farmer of a different sort. He was a wine visionary who saw past the rich heritage of cattle farming to the future of the district, which showed great promise for viticulture.
It was a scientific report in the late 1970s identifying Martinborough’s fertile soils and its similar climate to Burgundy that peaked Richard’s interest, and alongside a bunch of fellow investors he set up Palliser Estate.
All of Palliser’s vineyards sit on the famed Martinborough Terrace appellation. This prime sub region has been given its own classification due to its unique character. Its fertile and free draining soils were created over 20,000 years ago as the Ruamahanga River and its various tributaries built up layers of alluvial river terraces and silty loam deposits.
It’s an easy enough mistake to make, to hear the term ‘free-draining’, and assume that’s great news – vines excel in those conditions. But it brings its own set of challenges too. It’s not just rainfall that drains through this soil…it takes a lot of nutrients with it. This means the vines will not produce as much. Couple that with the exposure to windy, wet, and cold weather that comes up directly from Antarctica into the Wairarapa Coast at flowering time, and you are talking about half the yield you would get in Marlborough for example. In a good season, that means expensive winemaking, but in a bad season it could be devastating.
For New Zealand’s smallest winegrowing region, the challenge has always been finding their own style, and marketing to a more niche audience. In many ways that has become easier with vine age and of course 30 years of experience brings a huge learning curve in predicting vintages and yields. But working with what they’ve got naturally due to the terroir, is the biggest factor. Pinot Noir grapes for example will fortify themselves after the cold flowering, when the 100 plus kilometre northerly winds hit. Their skins will thicken to protect themselves, but as a result will produce more tannin. This is why Martinborough Pinot is far more savoury in style. Thankfully, they also have a longer summer, to ripen those tannins fully. And that more Burgundian savoury style, has resonated with wine lovers the world over, establishing Palliser Estate Pinot Noir at the top of a very premium niche end of the market.
Likewise, their Sauvignon Blanc is unique in its ability to balance the classic tropical flavours with a vibrant acidity, to create a far more complex style. While the world has been awash with Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, Palliser has managed to carve out an Iconic reputation for its uniquely different Sauvignon offering.
While they believe these two varietals are where their strengths lie, they also grow smaller volumes of Chardonnay, Pinot Gris and Riesling – each with its own cult following here and abroad. With more than 30 vintages under their belt, they have built a global reputation for producing top quality niche wines, that reflect the unique place they come from. With a veritable treasure trove of trophies and accolades from critics world-wide, Palliser Estate has helped to put Martinborough and New Zealand firmly on the world wine map.
To preserve what has been handed onto them to protect, the team at Palliser have a firm eye on the future of this land. They have been committed to giving as much back to the land as it gives them, becoming one of the first wineries in the world to gain the sought after ISO-14001 sustainability accreditation back in 2004, and then the first winery in the world to be certified CEMARS ( carbonzero ) in 2009. But they realized that once you head down this track, you may as well commit 100% and now their focus has become Organics.
They bought on Guy McMaster to assist their journey to Organics back in 2015. Guy is a Viticulturist and Winemaker whose passion is the conversion to Organics. Before joining Palliser, Guy worked for Urlar - a small boutique Wairarapa vineyard where he oversaw the conversion to organics. Palliser is more than double that size with 72 hectares, over seven separate sustainably managed vineyards. Three of these have been certified organic, the remainder are under conversion, and will be certified by 2025.
There are huge benefits to having a winemaker who’s also the viticulturist, as the two are so closely linked. Most winemakers will say that good wines are made in the vineyard … it’s a symbiotic relationship that makes sense to be intrinsically linked by job title. For Guy, it goes one step further as he believes good soil is the key, which is why Organics is the only total solution in his mind. It’s all about the life under your feet. When you look after the bacteria and fungi in your soil, you’ll achieve a much truer expression of that site. And with everything well cared for at a soil level, then the winemaking process becomes a much more hands off approach.
The team at Palliser Estate are very committed to this approach, not only in the investment required to certify all their land as organic, but also with their plans to realise the potential within all their sites. A collection of smaller fermenters have been acquired, and now Guy and the team can pick each individual clone on each terrace separately to craft wines that truly express that unique terroir.
And with all of this going on, what are they most excited about for the future …. Chardonnay of course! And they’re not alone with this thought. They, and a couple of other Martinborough Pioneers are excited about the prospect that one day their small but perfectly formed region could be better known for its Chardonnay than its Pinot.
Once again, the Family Crest of the Griffin symbolizing courage, boldness and intelligence will be guiding Palliser Estate to lead from the front once more. And with the region’s similarities to Burgundy it makes a lot of sense, as their Chardonnay is textural, mineral and rich. We have no doubt that is will be as successful around the world, as their other award-winning wines have been.
Shop Palliser Estate Wines here and take a taste tour today!