Notable woman of the vines

Meeting the woman behind the Hunter brand.

Tessa Anderson
HarperCollins, $50, hbk

Review by Charmian Smith

The history of wine contains many stories of notable widows who take their late husbands' wine companies to greater heights, and one of the most remarkable ones at present is that of Jane Hunter, of Hunter's Wine in Marlborough.

This shy but steely-minded woman has built up the company since the death of her husband Ernie in 1987 after only three years of marriage.

She was left, she says, "a business not doing so well, a bloody goat, a big dog and a derelict cottage".

Despite her grief and her reticence, she was persuaded to give up her job as viticulturist for Montana and take over the struggling company.

Luckily, she was supported by consultant Tony Jordan from Australia, her family, friends and staff, and had a natural resilience and perseverance.

Despite the ups and downs of the wine industry, she has achieved a high profile in New Zealand and the international wine world, has been awarded an OBE, an honorary doctorate from Massey University, and a prestigious Women in Wine international award.

She has also been involved on various boards and consultancies, including the New Zealand Wine Institute, now Winegrowers New Zealand.

Tessa Anderson has talked to numerous friends, relatives, acquaintances and colleagues to get many sides of Hunter's story - we are told several times about her grief, her feelings of inadequacy and modesty, her struggle coming to terms with managing a company, with travelling, marketing and promoting her wine, public speaking, and the financial minefield of the wine industry, but disappointingly little of her personal life, except that after being alone for 25 years she now has a male companion.

Perhaps during those 25 years she was too busy to have much of a personal life, despite her sister and brother-in-law Peter Macdonald, who is general manager of Hunter's, and their boys living near by.

The sub-subtitle of this biography is "The story of an inspirational woman and her place in the history of New World wines", and inspirational it is, in a hagiographic sort of way.

That, however, does not detract from Hunter's personal charm or her achievements as one of the figureheads (albeit a seemingly reluctant one) of the Marlborough, and indeed the New Zealand, wine industry.

- Charmian Smith is an ODT feature writer and wine columnist.


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