Joelle Thomson

Writer, author, journalist

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Friday drinks in Marlborough

Was it a punk streak or a craving for freedom? Possibly a bit of both led Hans and Therese Herzog to move to New Zealand in 1994 from Switzerland where restrictive Swiss wine laws meant they were unable to plant unauthorized grapes for many years, such as Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc instead of the uninspiring Muller Thurgau. The Swiss Government did liberalise its restrictive laws on grape varieties but the challenging Swiss climate remained, as did Hans’ dream to find more favourable growing conditions. Enter a move to Marlborough where the couple have planted 11.5 hectares of grapes on their own land. They buy no grapes in to supplement their wine production and this is their story, inspired by the Proust questionnaire.

What do you consider your greatest achievement?
Never being tempted to make ordinary wine for the sake of more money and being proud of each of my handcrafted wines.

What is your current state of mind?
Strong, balanced and positive, despite an insane stress triggered by staff shortage. 
What is your favourite part of winemaking?
Pruning my vines and reminisce about what more I could do to optimise my vineyard, in the stillness of winter. Another favourite part of winemaking is the peacefulness and feeling of joy going through each young wine in the barrel hall.


Do you have a most treasured wine?

Not really. There are too many wonderful wines. Why limit yourself.


Where is your favourite wine region?

Marlborough. I've never had a bad vintage here. The climate is one of the best you can find in the world and our plot of dirt on the right bank of the Wairau River provide me with the perfect terroir. I can really say my dreams have come true.


When and where are you at your happiest?

After a day of hard work, sitting on our verandah at home watching the sunset over the vineyard, hearing birdsong, the sound of the water fountain, the love of my life beside me and our animals lazing around us.


What do you most dislike in wine?

Uncleanliness and overworked wines.


What is your greatest fear?

I don’t think about fear. Thankfully I am not a fearful person.


What is your greatest extravagance?

Work hard, play hard. Being the viticulturist and winemaker of a 11.5 vineyard estate leaves me with very little free time but I love travelling and going places. I enjoy the finer things in life and can splash out. My philosophy was always that if you have to leave this world, you should leave without regrets.


What is your greatest regret?

See above. A character trait I slightly regret is possibly not to be able to express myself.


What talent would you most like to have?

More self confidence would help with marketing wines but it’s just not me. When Therese was a high flyer in the computer industry back in the eighties, she sent me to a Dale Carnegie course for public speaking where they turned nervous beginners like me into confident professionals who communicate with assuredness. Unfortunately I was a total failure. I don’t think I lasted more than two of the 10 or so lessons and definitively did not master the skills.


What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?

I just don’t ever think about things like that.


What is the trait that you most deplore in yourself?

My insecurity.


What do you most value in your friends?

Honesty.


Which words or phrases do you most overuse?

None, I am a man of few words.


What is your favourite meal?

I love food and maintain a very healthy lifestyle, despite indulging often. A meal has to be fresh, seasonal, creative and tasty. No sandwich lunch for me, always proper freshly cooked sit down meals together with Therese.


If you were to die and come back as a person or thing what do you think it would be?

The same person with the wisdom of my former life to carry on  improving my wines.