Winemaker Toby Gillman discovered his passion for wine many years ago as a student, while pitching in voluntarily at a vineyard. In fact, he spent his first student allowance on a bottle of Matakana wine.
Toby soon fell in love with the idea of making wine himself. He and his father John volunteered their labour at New Zealand’s iconic Providence vineyard. For the next decade, they spent their weekends receiving practical experience by day and educating their palates by night, when the winemaker would repay their labour with excellent dinners and bottles of wine from his cellar of rare French wines.
In 1997, Toby traveled to Bordeaux where he spent a vintage working at premier grand cru Chateau Angelus to learn first hand how the finest Bordeaux wine is made. While he was there, he became known as “L’espion”, or ‘The Spy’, due to the amount of notes and photographs he took!
On his return in 1998, the Gillman family began to work towards their dream by establishing their vineyard in New Zealand’s Matakana region. Their aim is to make the finest wine in the country using Old World techniques perfected in the vineyards of Bordeaux to make small quantities of exceptional wine. “We make wine that we enjoy drinking – it must be good with food, yet also be approachable and pure pleasure to drink.”
Our wine tastes like no other New Zealand wine. The climate and soils of Matakana are ideally suited to producing the fruit-driven wines that New Zealand has become famous for, but we use Old World techniques to give our reds the structure of the great wines of Pomerol and St Emilion.
Although each bottle of Gillman wine should reflect the vintage it was made in, all our wines share the same characteristics – rich ripe fruit combined with a warm earthiness that comes from the soil our vines are grown in. The finish is long and satisfying, overlaying very soft tannins that will allow the wine to mature and evolve gracefully.
Our aim is to create a wine which is ideal with food – an elegant and approachable red which has attracted the attention and listings at a selection of New Zealand’s finest restaurants.
Every bottle is special. We create a single exceptional wine each year – a blend of cabernet franc, merlot and malbec.
Each vintage is unique and handled slightly differently, but the general techniques we use remain the same each year.
In April, we harvest the grapes by hand. After the grapes are inspected and under-ripe or damaged berries are removed, the bunches are de-stemmed and fermented in small open vats using natural yeasts. We hand-plunge the wine every four hours during fermentation and the wine remains on the skins for up to a total of 21 days before we press using a traditional basket press.
Malolactic fermentation takes place in new French Seguin Moreau oak barrels. While in the barrels, we rack frequently to develop and soften the tannins and clarify the wine in the second winter using fresh egg whites. The wine is then developed in oak for two years before we bottle and label.
As great wine can only be made from the highest quality grapes, we searched for two years to find the perfect place to establish our vineyard. We chose the Matakana region, an hour’s drive north of Auckland, New Zealand’s largest city. Matakana’s warm summers and low rainfall create ideal conditions for traditional Bordeaux varieties.
Eventually we found our ideal site - a steep north-facing slope of free-draining, iron-rich volcanic clay, which is sheltered from rain by a mountain range and warmed by the nearby Pacific Ocean. Planting began in 1998 and is closely modelled on the finest Bordeaux vineyards. Dense plantings of vines are set close to the ground so the grapes are warmed by heat rising from the clay. Two-thirds of the vineyard is planted in cabernet franc, which thrives in Matakana, producing a wine of great character. The rest is in merlot, with a small amount of malbec.
The vineyard now covers 1.5 acres – “Small enough that I know every vine,” Toby says. “Practically everything is done by hand.”