Paul and Angela Jacobson bought their land in Hillview Rd, Alexandra in 1997 and planted it out in vines in 1998.
Paul grew up in Millers Flat and the name Judge Rock was inspired by a local landmark from there – Old Judge Rock. The couple had always had an interest in wine but it was when they were living in Blenheim in 1990 that Paul first made it. He googled “how to make pinot noir” and took it from there! Five years later the bug had taken hold and when they moved to Alexandra for Paul’s engineering firm they decided to look for a suitable site to pursue their dream to grow Pinot Noir grapes.
The site is slightly sloping with the terroir sandy, as opposed to rocky, and reasonably fertile. Grapes are hardy plants and prefer less fertile soil but all in all the site was deemed to suit their purposes and they set about ripping out the established orchard that was there and putting in place the infrastructure necessary to plant a vineyard – posts, wires, irrigation and frost fighting paraphernalia.
Paul is an engineer and Angela was the manager of multiple kindergartens in the region, plus they were raising three sons, so these were very busy times.
The planting is 85% Pinot Noir, and 15% St Laurent. The St Laurent gives them a point of difference and helps them stand out from the crowd. Their research indicated that the grape would suit a cool climate and could reach the same levels of excellence as pinot noir grapes had in the region. In 2001 they imported tissue culture plant material from Canada, quarantined it for 6 months in Tapanui at Blue Mountain nurseries who grew them on, and one year later they had 180 little plants. They planted half in the vineyard and the rest went up to a Kapiti coast nursery to grow a mother block. Three years later they had 2000 grafted plants. In 2009 they had New Zealand’s first commercial St Laurent wine on the market.
Apart from Pinot Noir and St Laurent they also produce a Rosé and a Riesling. The grapes for the Riesling are sourced from Avalon vineyards between Cromwell and Wanaka. Avalon is a sustainable, registered vineyard. They also produce a second tier Pinot Noir under the name Venus.
All their wine is made at Vinpro in Cromwell, a large contract wine making facility. They have a close relationship with their wine maker and a lot of input into the style of wine they want produced.
Angela and Paul employ two permanent staff members and other casual staff as needed at peak times. Paul continues to work as an engineer but Angela gave up her employment to work solely on the vineyard as the viticulturist, marketing and operational manager.
Work on a vineyard is relentless as the vines require constant attention over the growing and harvesting seasons. Angela projected that each vine gets visited 12 times per season and they have 13,000 vines so there is no doubt that the work is very labour intensive!
They are NZ Wine Growers certified as sustainable which means that they are audited with sustainability in mind. Spray records, irrigation requirements, health and safety incidents etc - everything that makes up best practice for a vineyard - gets audited regularly. They do no spraying after nets go on in February and use sprays sparingly at other times.
Marketing is an important part of their business. They sell their wine here and in Australia and rely on a combination of restaurants, off licenses and their cellar door to distribute their wine. They see the Otago Farmers Market as an extension of their cellar door.
Angela and Paul also enter quite a few prestigious wine competitions, food shows and festivals. NZ Wine Growers certification is required from all that enter such events. Over the years their Pinot Noir wines have done very well, winning many gold and silver medals and the St Laurent receiving an Air New Zealand silver medal.
Paul travels to France as often as he can. This kind of hands on professional development is invaluable for maintaining currency and joie de vivre!