Each month we take the opportunity to sit down with some wonderful women and ask them questions on life, fashion, their careers and what inspires them. A moment to listen and learn, over an aperitif, and an occasional boujee fry...
This month we had the pleasure of catching up with Olive Hill of The Winemaker's Wife - santé!
Location: Eliza’s Manor
We ate: The Cheese Platter
We drank: A French 75 cocktail
Fashion and wine have always gone well together. From Coco Chanel’s purchase of wineries in the Bordeaux region to Roberto Cavalli’s Tuscan vineyard, the design elite have taken their passion for creating beautiful garments into the world of winemaking.
Just like a varietal of wine, one dress may go down nicely whilst another may not be quite your taste. However, both bring pleasure and can work with any occasion.
Our first Ask & Aperitif for 2022, is with a woman who realised her background in fashion saw some similarities with her venture into the world of winemaking.
Let’s raise a glass to Olive Hill…The Winemaker’s Wife.
A&A: We know that you have a history and love affair with fashion – tell us a little about this backstory.
Ooh crikey where to begin!
I suppose it started when I was really young, I loved designing outfits for my dolls and my great aunt taught me how to smock when I was just eleven. I still really love dolls and actually if you look back at the history of fashion, in the late 1890s, in Paris, they would showcase current fashions by dressing dolls in the newest designs and then send them across to London. Such effort and talent!
Every year mum would make us a ‘concert dress’. One good dress that I would wear for the school concert and all the parties that would take place. There was no fast fashion in those days. I grew up on a farm but my mother instilled in me the importance of ‘dressing up’. She would always dress up and put makeup on whenever she left the farm and so good clothes marked a sense of occasion, something I recognised at a young age.
As a teenager I would go to Glassons. I still really admire them, they started making coats in Cheviot and now they have grown and grown. I do a lot of op shopping these days, learnt a lot from my sister, she is like a fox terrier and sniffs out all the good stuff! She always knows how to put things together too.
I have always loved fabrics and high-end fashion. I started working for Duty Free in my early 20s, and was exposed to luxury brands, perfumes, bags, Hermes…all I knew then was Charlie!!* And with my love of history, I always used to research the history of brands…did you know Hermes scarves are all hand rolled and hand stitched.
My sister, Ngaio Bell, and I ran our own exclusive womenswear boutique, Smith & Boston, for 14 years. We designed and manufactured every item of our limited edition special occasion wear range. We specialised in silks, linens, pure cottons and luxury laces.
I still work part-time in fashion now, and when I am dressing the mannequins I laugh, because it's like I am still dressing my dolls, years later!
*Charlie Red – IYKYK!
A&A: How do you think your connection with fashion has influenced your winemaking?
I wanted the brand to be all about fun, frivolity, celebrating with friends and for people to embrace the story and good feeling behind it. I think food and wine is a little bit about the ‘look’ too and the story behind how it got to be in your glass, is very much like clothing too.
With our wine, we wanted to make it an important part of an occasion and fashion is about that too. Wedding – what are you going to wear?! Excitement! Going out in the eve, what am I going to wear?! I love dressing up! I’m a bit sad that people have got so comfortable and don’t often dress up – really, everything is fashion!
A&A: Tell us, how did the label ‘The Winemakers Wife’ get conceived?
That one’s easy!
At the time, Simon was working for Waipara Hills as the winemaker and brand ambassador and really wanted to have more freedom of expression in the winemaking, be more experimental. So, we decided to have our own brand, he couldn’t trade under his own name though due to his job so we were always thinking about what to call the brand. So, pre-children, we used to watch this programme every Tuesday, this practice came to be known by us as ‘Faecal Coliform Tuesdays’ …
SIDEBAR: What?! Ok, you have my attention Olive, although not sure where this is going…she has to ring Simon to find out what the programme was called – doesn’t answer but googles – still no joy but essentially it was all about inspectors going around restaurants in NZ checking cleanliness and the like – ok so back to the story… (Update - The program was called Target!)
We used to have a couple of wines and every time they said ‘FC’ we would drink!! They were always so excited to report when restaurants weren’t clean enough!!
As we were doing this Tuesday drinking game, and as we were getting more silly, we thought; I wonder if the Winemaker’s Wife name is available? So, we checked on Facebook and it wasn’t taken so we registered a Facebook account and secured the website. So that was that! But then we needed the logo…we met with Graeme Robb at Phoenix PDP who went away to think about it…I couldn’t go on the day of the design presentation, but Simon went, and Graham had done about ten logo variations and Simon knew exactly which one he wanted from the start and the rest they say, is history!
People love the name and the logo, the eyes follow you around, quite 50s pop look and manga style too. It’s been really well received.
A&A: What has surprised you about the wine making industry?
When I got to know Simon and understand what a winemaker actually does, the thing that surprised me was the sheer hard work of it all. People have no idea how much effort it takes to make even a disappointing bottle of wine. It is time consuming and a total team effort. It is such a process. You are always wet, dragging hoses around, cleaning and washing…its like being a firefighter…you have to be very physically fit, turn your hand to everything. Its really hard work. I didn’t even know the distinction between the vineyard and winery. A winery is where the wine gets made and the vineyard is where the grapes are grown. Very separate and a massive operation!
People aren’t always prepared to pay the price that is reflective of the effort that goes into it. Another similarity to the world of fashion, both industries can be undervalued.
A&A: When you are testing a new wine – tell us how you know when you have it ‘just right’?
This is really where I am a bit lucky as Simon is an award-winning winemaker. He will bring home samples and we will test them. We want easy drinking wine but of course the taste can change over time, along with our own palate too, and so we have library stock to compare. Library Stock is a run of wine that you set aside, six or so bottles to try over time to see how they mature etc, each bottle is different. There is such a thing as a bad year or good year…so many things that can go wrong it’s a wonder we have any wine at all…if you are going to be a winemaker you do need to be good at science too, chemistry, always testing testing and figuring out what it needs, more oak, more time etc.
I love selling our wine at festivals. When people say things like, "oh no I only drink pinot gris" I dare them to try something new, because, well you had to start somewhere before you discovered that one wine you liked, and now you could be missing out if you only want to try or stick to one variety or wine style. I like to invite people to mix things up a little, that's the fun of wine festivals.
A&A: What is one thing you know now that you wish you knew when you first started The Winemaker’s Wife label?
So many things you wish you could go back and change!
I think when we first started we could probably have done some more market research. We produced a lot of Pinot Gris but that market was so saturated, so we couldn’t sell it! Then like three years later, everyone wanted it!
When starting a business, start small and don’t over capitalise.
A&A: What have been some of the main challenges that covid has bought to your business and how have you addressed them?
During covid we actually sold more than we have ever sold before. We sold way more direct, which meant more profit. People and friends found us online and bought direct. We were really worried to start with, but winemaking was considered an essential service, and so we could carry on working and producing. It taught us that we needed to be much better with our social media marketing!
It was stressful and hard work, at one point we thought all the grapes would be left to rot on the vines, so unknown and scary. So, thank you to everyone who has drunk our wine!
A&A: What is it that you love about your job?
I love going to the wine festivals as you meet people! I love people! I love being front line and encouraging people to try a new wine and tempt people to try something else, usually the Riesling, I love being able to change people’s minds with what they think they enjoy. Also, Simon and I get to do it together which is really great fun plus we get to visit so many quirky little bars when we are selling around the country and its so cool that people get to drink our wine and enjoy it!
A&A: Where can we expect to enjoy The Winemaker’s Wife wines in 2022?
Well, you can buy from our website and of course, ask at bars and restaurants if you’re out in Wellington, Auckland, Christchurch, Timaru. Also some dates for your diaries, come and see us at:
South Island Wine and Food Festival – Sat 5th Feb
North Canterbury Wine and Food Festival – Sun 6th March in the domain at Waipara, a family friendly, lovely event.
Thank you for supporting us, it’s so cool!
For all A&A readers, Olive has kindly provided a 15% discount when purchasing their wine online by entering the code WINELOVER at checkout.**
You can purchase The Wine Makers Wife wines at www.thewinemakerswife.co.nz and get familiar with that logo at IG & FB - @thewinemakerswifenz
**Code is valid until the 28th of February 2022, limited to one use per user. Does not include merchandise, just the wines.