20 Minutes With Clive Jones

New Zealand Winegrowers, the national organisation for New Zealand’s grape and wine industry has elected Marlborough winemaker Clive Jones as its new Chair of the Winegrowers Board, Jones has over 28 years’ experience in the wine industry and previously served for six years with the Marlborough Winegrowers Board and five years with the New Zealand Winegrowers Board where he was elected deputy Chair in 2018.

Jones, a first-generation Kiwi, was born in Hamilton and grew up in Thames. He now calls Marlborough home where he has been based for the last 22 years at Nautilus Estate, currently in the role of winemaker and general manager.

“I initially studied Chemistry at University, but after a few years working in a laboratory, I got the wine bug,” explained Jones.

“I took the plunge and completed my first vintage in 1992 with Selaks Wines in West Auckland, where I served my winemaking apprenticeship.  In 1998 I moved to Marlborough to take up the position as winemaker for Nautilus Estate and I have been here ever since.”

It was the combination of creativity and science that attracted Jones to a career in winemaking. The process might be the same every year; growing, harvesting, bottling, selling, but Jones noted that each year is different and there is always something to learn.

“The mixture of rural living, indoor and outdoor tasks and the occasional promotional tour in New Zealand, or further afield, makes for an enjoyable lifestyle.  It is nice to travel to the bright lights and excitement of the big cities, but I am always happiest when I board the flight home to Marlborough.”

New Zealand Winegrowers (NZW) is a member-based organisation that looks after the interests of the approximately 700 wine companies and 700 independent grape growers in New Zealand.  NZW provides guidance to members on compliance, sustainability, access to markets and helps to shine a light on New Zealand wine around the world. The board is elected by members and provides governance to the organisation.

“I have been on the board for five years and was recently elected to the position of Chair.  The Chair is the spokesperson for the board and liaises closely with the NZW team to ensure the strategic objectives of the board are delivered.”

COVID-19 hit New Zealand right in the middle of this year’s harvest. Jones explained that as an agricultural industry, Kiwi winegrowers were very lucky to be considered essential and could continue to harvest.

“Our number one priority was the safety of our people and our community. NZW liaised between government and members to ensure the required operating protocols were understood and members responded quickly to ensure there was no community outbreak within the wine sector.”

The global pandemic has certainly caused an upheaval in the international markets where New Zealand wine is sold.  While there has been an increase in some sales in retail, there has been a dramatic drop in sales through restaurants, so some wineries have increased sales while others have seen a drop.

“With the international borders closed, we are not seeing the influx of international visitors to our cellar doors, so we are hoping that Kiwis who are travelling domestically will take the time to discover some new favourites when they visit wine country.  There is obviously a lot of uncertainty about the future, but at this stage, we remain positive, as we know it could have been a lot worse.”

Jones said he is excited about the future of New Zealand wine, with exports on track to reach $2 billion per year by the end of 2020 but added that it is imperative the industry continues to work together to ensure ongoing success.

“I believe the New Zealand wine industry needs diversity across region, variety and size of business to be strong. A cooperative and united approach, combined with an absolute focus on quality, has served us well in the past and must continue to ensure our success in the future.”

Winning champion wine of the show trophies for Nautilus Estate’s Chardonnay and sparkling wines, at two different competitions in 2013 was a career highlight for Jones, as well as being involved in the design and build of two separate wineries – one for Pinot Noir and the other for white wines. His experience overseas has also helped shape his winemaking philosophy.

“From a learning point of view, experiencing a vintage in Oregon and Burgundy were real revelations.  It was great to see the wine culture of two different countries and compare it to home. I enjoy the camaraderie of the wine industry and getting involved in governance at a regional and then national level has been very rewarding.”

Jones’ advice for anyone just starting their journey into the winemaking field is to learn as much as you can from your peers and those with more experience and to try to understand different viewpoints.

“If you want to fast track your career, then get involved in the young viticulturist or young winemaker competitions.  The competitions will challenge you but will be very rewarding and they provide a great seedbed for our future industry leaders.”

Of course, it’s hard for a winemaker with Jones’ experience to pick a preferred varietal, he explained that it’s hard to have favourites because you need to give all your wines the same level of care and attention.

“However, based on the empty bottles in the recycling bin, I clearly favour Riesling, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir when it comes to consumption.”