Of the many wonderful things I could write about Jules Taylor, it is her sense of humour and craft as a winemaker that leave the most lasting impression. When setting up this interview, Jules had to pull herself away from “gardening jobs in her life sentence block”. Growing things has always been a big part of Jules’ life, a skill that is evident in her range of wines today. She also loves enjoying food and wine with family and friends. No wonder the back deck at Taylor’s house is regularly filled with mates enjoying her famous chicken marbella or lemon cake, along with a cheeky glass of wine!
Jules grew up in Marlborough surrounded by the blossoming wine sector, and over the years she’s seen it grow, change and evolve. Growing grapes and making wine was definitely in her destiny so after graduating from wine studies at Lincoln University, Jules headed overseas for a few vintages to explore winemaking in the Northern Hemisphere as well as a little closer to home in Australia. She came home not only with a wealth of experience, but a new-found approach to winemaking. Jules firmly believes that wines are more about creating great memories and less about status or cellaring potential.
Upon her return to Aotearoa, Jules and husband George took that Kiwi leap of faith and launched Jules Taylor Wines in 2001. After 20 vintages it is clear that Jules is one of Aotearoa’s modern pioneers of wine, crafting outstanding sauvignon blanc, chardonnay, pinot noir, rosé and grüner veltliner. The OTQ range is quite spectacular.
Jules was chosen as Gourmet Traveller Wine Magazine’s New Zealand Winemaker of the Year 2021 by a panel of industry judges. I asked what this has meant to her and to her wine business as she looks back over the past 12 months. “The award came as quite a shock,” she said. “But it’s really all about the team, I am just the babysitter for this little family of grapes. It has been nice to see more people trying our wines and finding their new favourite however, and the award prompted an old schoolmate from the late 1980s to get in touch, too! I love that this industry gives me so many opportunities to connect with people.”
We discussed her 2021 vintage, which has been described as “small but perfectly formed”. How did it unfold for Jules Taylor Wines? “I can’t think of a vintage that was more perfect, I didn’t see a bad berry, the fruit was just so clean.” Jules did mention that she was amongst many producers in Marlborough to experience a smaller harvest in 2021 with her pinot noir and gris down almost 70%, but with such outstanding quality the wines looked very exciting. There’s always an extra hop and a skip in her voice when she talks about great vintages like ’21 – “You should see the colour of the pinot noir this year,” she enthused. “The intensity of aromas and flavours are fantastic, I can’t wait for you to try them. Every year is different, it’s so exciting!”
It hasn’t all been plain sailing however and 2021 has been a turbulent year for everyone. Jules agrees there have been all sorts of hurdles to overcome. “2021 has felt like a giant catch-up game, the biggest challenge has been shipping and like many exporters, we are patiently waiting for shippers to get back to normal. But it’s also been terrible to see how COVID has hammered the restaurant and bar industry in New Zealand and elsewhere. I constantly worry about our friends in the trade and how they are coping. For our own business, the new protocols we brought in during 2020 to manage COVID-19 in the vineyard and the winery mean we are now well prepared to keep harvesting should things change again. We have to be!”
But with 2022 on the horizon, Jules is hoping for a smoother year. “Vintage wise, indications are that we’re heading for a more normal-sized harvest which is a relief! And outside of wine, I’m just really keen to pack a suitcase and head away for some R&R. I’m sure lots of people feel the same way!”
There’s no question that Jules Taylor loves what she does and her wonderful energy flows through into the wines she makes.
To explore the range of Jules Taylor Wines, visit julestaylor.com