Allan Scott, the accidental wine maker

Allan Scott is the man behind one of New Zealand’s most successful vineyards. But it wasn’t always that way.

Cool nights and sunny days in the scenic New Zealand region of Marlborough help to create Allan Scott Family Winemakers’ award-winning wines. But the family’s passion and commitment to excellence are also a huge part of the winery’s success story.

It’s not for nothing that Allan Scott is known as New Zealand’s “Marlborough Man”. For more than three decades, he has been creating world-beating wines in the Marlborough region, the country’s largest wine-growing area, first with his wife Cathy and now with their three adult children.

But Allan Scott Family Vineyards was not a meticulously planned, carefully thought-out creation, as evidenced by the title of Allan’s biography, Marlborough Man: A Quintessentially Kiwi Story of an Accidental Wine-Industry Trailblazer.

In fact, Allan’s foray into winemaking began in 1973, when he worked as a labourer, putting the first fence posts and vines in the ground for early New Zealand winemakers such as Montana (now Brancott Estate) and Corbans.

As his son Josh puts it, “Dad wasn’t the suit-and-tie type. He was on the backache side of the industry.”

Fortuitously, Allan and Cathy owned a property in Marlborough and Allan spent hours reading about viticulture and learned fast. In 1975, the couple planted their own vines to supply other wineries, working in the industry by day, tending to the grapes by night.

Meanwhile, Allen climbed the corporate ranks of the New Zealand wine world, working as Corbans’ viticulture manager, supervising and consulting on vineyards throughout the North and South Islands.

But the passion to create their own wines finally won over and, in 1990, the couple branched out on their own, becoming one of Marlborough’s first independent winemakers. By 1994, they had gone “the whole hog”, investing in harvesting machinery and a bottling plant.

It was a family business from the start. Daughter Sara Stocker, who now heads the management team, remembers spending evenings and school holidays in the garage with her siblings applying hand-cut labels onto bottles.

Today, Allan Scott Family Winemakers is hugely successful, and a regular winner on the award circuit. About 40 per cent of their acclaimed sauvignon blanc, riesling, chardonnay, pinot gris, pinot noir and sparkling wines are for the domestic market, the remainder is exported.

Ever the laconic Kiwi, Allan is modest about the winery’s success: “I always tell people [that winemaking] is no different from any other form of farming. We’re subject to the same vagaries of nature and weather… but wine is just a little sexier than growing potatoes or raising pigs.”

But he does attribute the label’s ascendancy to the Marlborough climate – cool nights followed by sunny days – and enviable free-draining alluvial soils.

Maybe so, but it’s also taken passion, knowledge and enthusiasm to create both the wines and the winery itself, a beautiful slice of Marlborough that includes the much-visited cellar door and award-winning Twelve Trees Restaurant.

Allan and Cathy encouraged tourism from the outset and continue to enjoy welcoming visitors to the cellar door. “We’ve always wanted to share our wine and make it the best quality for a fair and equitable price,” Allan says. “We like people to be comfortable with us and feel like they know us personally.”

Family members can also be found hosting the daily tours of the winery, not something you would encounter at every vineyard. “There’s nothing better than being able to tell the Allan Scott story ourselves,” says eldest daughter Victoria, 42, who specialises in marketing and sales. “Visitors get a bit mind-blown and can’t believe we take the tours personally, but when you love what you do, you’re not working. You just want to get your message out there.”

The winery’s latest launch is the Generations Series, a nod both to Allan (who all the children call by his first name) and to the sense of family that pervades the business.

“It’s a tribute to family tradition and a commitment to quality,” says Victoria. “It’s also about looking after the vineyards and the business for the next generations coming through.”

As son Josh, 37, says, “We love keeping the family vibe. There are seven grandchildren now, from toddlers to teenagers, and they love running around here like we did when we were kids.”

Josh learned winemaking after leaving school, doing apprenticeships in France and California, and says the international experience taught him that some winemakers see their work as an art, while others treat it like a science. His personal style is a little of both, and his role in the family business straddles wine-making and viticulture, plus looking after the sales team.

At 33, Sara Stocker is the youngest member of Team Scott. She planned on being a professional tennis player but one day when she was back home working in the vineyards she thought, “Hold on. I actually like this.” 

Recently, she stepped aside from viticulture to focus on management and HR. “We like to say that we treat the people who work here as family,” she says, “because we want them to back the winery as much as we do.”

Last but certainly not least is Cathy Scott, who has an innate eye for detail, architectural flair and a hunch for what works. She might not have a flashy title like everyone else but, as Allan says, “We trust her with the last word every time.” 

Cheers to that.

Travel Tips

Allan Scott Family Winemakers is a 10-minute drive from Blenheim. It is possible to fly into Blenheim; otherwise, it’s a four-hour drive north of Christchurch, or 90 minutes east of Nelson. The restaurant, cellar door and gift store are open daily from 9am to 4.30pm. November to March is the prime time to visit. 

Marlborough is home to more than 65 wineries, along with plenty of opportunities for mountain-biking, fishing and bird-watching. Just outside Blenheim is the Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre, featuring filmmaker Sir Peter Jackson’s collection of WWI aircraft and artefacts.