Westbrook Winery originated in the 1890s in Croatia, where the renowned winemaking Ivicevich family planted their first grapevines and started to create a name for themselves. It was then that the winemaking tradition was passed down through the family – with the first son, Mick, to take over and made the first trip to New Zealand. Now, nestled in the beautiful Ararimu Valley, just a short and pretty drive through the forrest, Westbrook is one of New Zealand’s oldest and most respected boutique wineries. As they grew in New Zealand, the family had established the Sunnyvale vineyard in West Auckland, and the Waimauku property in 1999.
James, a Westbrook vet of 14 years with a background of viticulture, first started out digging vineyards in Marlborough. James’ passion for winemaking was apparent to us from the get-go. He spoke with wit and ease when describing the breakdown of the winemaking process in Westbrooks’ backyard – “picky picky, squishy squishy… wine”. His passion isn’t for the gold medal… but the gold medals can’t leave his wines alone – this being a testament to his knowledge and devotion to produce the best tasting wines, whatever they may be.
Renee, the assistant winemaker for Westbrook, has been in the industry for over fifteen years (with seven years working on her Moi Wine side hustle), with international experience under her belt – she lived and worked in our own wine region, Napa, California! She entered the wine industry after having an interest in food and “yummy wine”, followed by a passion for travel. As a young winemaker, still relatively fresh in the industry, Renee mentions that her knowledge grows as she works hands-on in the winemaking process. Although she still catches herself, “regurgitating” university taught textbook knowledge in her everyday life as a winemaker. Renee has a passion for Auckland region wines and steals any chance she can to make it, appreciate it, and share it.
What makes your vineyard special?
The Westbrook vineyard is centered in such an environment where the weather can be unpredictable, 365 days of the year. The way its winemaking team adapts to the changes and still manages to produce a great-tasting bottle is something that is not always a walk in the park.
What is your general winemaking philosophy?
“Our job – make a nice, clean wine that reflects the vintage” – James Rowan.
What is the most popular bottle that you produce?
James spoke about their Riesling, mentioning that it is an interesting part of their contracted wine business sector. The Riesling they produce is sought after by other companies wanting to put their label on it – and that is what they do.
Chardonnay – Renee mentions her desire to make her own Moi Wines label chardonnay, she continues saying that the way you make it is an “expression of who you are” – “maybe that’s an ego thing.” The Chard grown and produced at Westbrook is held on a pedestal, they only make twenty-four barrels as it is all the vineyard produces.
Our Favorite Taste –
We sipped a few (okay, more than a few) different wines with Renee and James in the cellar – some straight from the cylinders. We sampled several years, and vintage’s from Riesling to Chardonnay, Rose, to ‘crackling’ Rose… a bit of Sauv. GGMag’s favorite was the unreleased 2019 Riesling – we’re still obsessing over it.
Writers Credit: Shania Mahy