Written by: Kathleen Willcox
Photo credit: Decibel Wines
Daniel Brennan couldn’t have found Hawke’s Bay on a map growing up Delran, New Jersey, but he made his way to this pocket of New Zealand after falling for Martinborough Pinot Noir at his family’s restaurant in Philly, and then moving there in 2007 to learn how to make the delicious stuff himself. Now, he’s producing about 4,000 cases of organically grown wine a year, within the strictures of the founding people of New Zealand’s nature-minded philosophy.
“The idea of ‘guardianship of the land’ has a long history in New Zealand,” Daniel says, referring to his growing acquaintance with kaitiakitanga over the years. “It’s the core of our philosophy now too, and why we work with organic growers and have our own biodynamic vineyard in development.”
He looks at the plants, insects and animals in the vineyard as a symbiotic symphony that he plays to, and in response, plays to him. Together, the music they make, becomes the wine. Even the “pests,” grape-munching birds, are managed by members of his animal team.
“Hawks and falcons help manage these, and we’re working with techniques like harmless lasers that can scare off the birds we don’t want,” he says. Despite some of the species’ thirst for grape juice, Daniel is all for the birds, looking at one particular as his vineyard sidekick. “I love the fantail, known as Pīwakawaka, they follow me around walking the vines, busy, friendly, funny, active,” he says.
Daniel explains that embracing the philosophy to him is a form of paying for the future of the land, the community, his children.
“Sure, we can make a nice wine, even make a profit (which is tough in this industry) but isn’t really the point to make life better? To make this place better? To improve your children’s lives and the lives of generations to come? Kaitiakitanga is really at the heart of going beyond the wine and the wine industry but at the foundation of whanaungatanga (community/extended family) and of course our version of ‘terroir’, tūrangawaewae (the place we stand),” he explains.