Established in 2008, Yealands was always destined to be a story of “thinking differently”. In 2002, when founder Peter Yealands began developing land in the Awatere Valley, Marlborough, at the north-eastern tip of New Zealand’s South Island, many thought viticulture would be impossible given it was home to some of the toughest conditions in the region including steep slopes, strong winds, cool nights and low rainfall. Located on the cliff’s edge overlooking the Cook Strait, Seaview Vineyard on Yealands Estate is now one of the most sustainable and striking vineyards in the world, producing award-winning wines that are enjoyed by millions across the globe.

Natalie Christensen had her first experience at Yealands when she came back to her home country to sort out some visa issues, after working in Spain. She took up a temporary role of a vintage winemaker for the 2014 harvest at Yealands following which she headed back to working in the vineyards in Spain after harvest. Little did she expect to get invited back to Yealands as vintage winemaker again for the 2015 harvest. After working with the then, chief winemaker Tamra Kelly-Washington she took up the post of a full time permanent senior winemaker since 2016. I met her recently when she was in London to promote the latest vintage and new labels of Yealands and it was fascinating to learn how her career of winemaking, spanning various wine regions (old world and new world) has moulded her personal and professional perspective.

Yealands wine estate – Sea view vineyard (Image : Yealands)
Natalie Christensen (image: Yealands)

Sumilier:    How did you get into the world of wines? 

Natalie: Through a “quarter life” crisis. I was working in Human Resources after graduating with a Master of Science in Psychology and a Bachelor of Music. I was keen to step out and travel in order to experience the world. I got a chance to work my first harvest back in 2006 at Saint Clair Family Estate in Marlborough. The short-term goal was simply to make some quick cash to go travelling. But I got there and I loved the experience so much! I was offered a permanent role. However, I still managed to take two months off to travel around Europe, before taking off my career in winemaking which has since become not just my passion now.

Sumilier: In terms of your winemaking experience around the world, what is the one thing you took away from each of the region you have worked in? 

Natalie: I have worked in some amazing vineyards and taken away so much more than I ever thought…So here is a quick take away from the following regions I have worked in …

Bordeaux – how delicious the combination of bread and cheese is and…..also how to shoot a gun!

Oregon – the whole farm to fork mentality, foraging and working with whole bunch in Pinot Noir.

Galicia – how incredibly well Albariño matches with seafood and how beautiful and lush North West Spain is.

Sumilier: In terms of homeland, how has New Zealand winemaking changed over the years?

Natalie: New Zealand is a relatively young wine producing country in the context of the world, but we have come a very long way in a short space of time. I’ve been involved in the New Zealand industry for 12 years now and I feel we now have the confidence to express a wine style  that we can call as our own.  Currently there seems to be a movement towards more ‘experimental winemaking’ that is pushing the boundaries of creative winemaking, transpiring New Zealand into one of the most attractive winemaking destinations.

Sumilier: How do you work towards communicating Yealand’s creativity to the rest of the world?  

Natalie: We have a fairly sizeable team spread all over the world. The winery is in the Awatere Valley in Marlborough, New Zealand and home to the winery staff, vineyard team, administration and logistics. We also have a beautiful office in Auckland where our sales and marketing teams are based and then we also have marketing managers dotted all over the globe.

Sumilier: When not winemaking….

Natalie: I love exploring nature. Living in Marlborough I have easy access to the Marlborough Sounds which is one of the most magical places on earth. I love going out with my near and dear ones. We have some good places to dine out in Marlborough, but I also enjoy heading over to Auckland, Wellington or Christchurch when I get time, to catch up with friends and family and to check out what is newhe restaurant scene there as well.

Sumilier: Where do you see yourself 10 years from now?

Natalie: In 10 years I would love to have my own small brand – specialising in fun and deliciousness! I would love to have a little winery that is just full of joy and own a brand that makes people smile and feel happy.

Sumilier: What has been the most challenging experience in winemaking and the most rewarding one? 

Sumi (right) with Natalie Christensen (middle) and Rosemary George MW (left) during Natalie’s recent visit to London (Image: Sumi Sarma)

Sumi (right) with Natalie Christensen (middle) and Rosemary George MW (left) during Natalie’s recent visit to London (Image: Sumi Sarma)

Natalie: One of the most challenging experiences was when I landed myself a winemaking job in Spain and I had one month to relocate there as harvest was about to happen. I sold all my stuff, left my cat and my boyfriend, took a crash course in Spanish then jumped on a plane without really having time to even think. I landed in Santiago de Compostela in Galicia on a Tuesday and then was told I was expecting fruit on the Friday! For someone with minimal Spanish and zero Galego (the local dialect) it was one of the most stressful but equally exciting and rewarding experiences of my life that has been etched in my memory!

Sumilier: In you opinon, is there gender diversity in the wine industry? Any message for young ladies who are looking at winemaking career?

Natalie: One of the awesome things about the New Zealand wine industry is that there has always been a good representation of females. I think New Zealand is very progressive in that sense. We were the first country in the world to get females to vote thanks to Kate Sheppard in 1893.  Already in 2006, when I first started, there were a lot of female role models in the industry like Jane Hunter, Jules Taylor, Kate Radburnd, Alana McGettigan to name a few.

My message to young ladies out there who are looking at winemaking as a career is  – Do it! It is an incredibly exciting industry that is very rewarding, challenging and ever evolving. It is also very diverse and there are many paths that you can take once you get in. It is very much a global industry and if you are committed, you can get the opportunity to meet so many interesting people with wide experiences and visit and infact even work in some of the most awesome locations all over the world. You can steer your career, the way you want. I love it!

For more on Natalie Christensen and her works at Yealands wines please click here for my previous article where you can see some of the award winning wines.