• Sam MacKinnon

Knook #29: Te Aro Wine


Te Aro Wine makes fun wine, not fine wine, in downtown Wellington. Photo: Supplied

When you think winery, you probably have visions of sitting among vines, tastings in a rural setting, a hot day. But down Ebor Street in downtown Wellington, you’ll find a different take on what winery means.


Te Aro Wine is an urban winery, making wine right here in the city, and changing perceptions of what a winery can be.


“We make fun wine not fine wine. We focus on low intervention wines, orange wines, pét-nat (which stands for pétillant naturel, French for “natural sparkling”) - anything that’s interesting and different to your usual winery experience,” says Jules van Costello co-founder and winemaker at Te Aro Wine.


I ask Jules how Te Aro Wine got started.


“We saw this international movement of urban wineries growing - cropping up in Melbourne, Sydney, New York, Stockholm.


“I loved the transparency of how wine is made in urban wineries. It’s like a microbrewery - you can sit in the winery and you can see the process taking place. Part of that is the limitation of space - you can’t sit people among the vines so customers get to see the entire process from grape to bottle. It’s a great way to engage people in wine education.


“It was an idea that needed to happen quickly. We needed to get it up and running while there was still a demand that wasn’t being serviced - that was something I learnt really early on in my other business ventures. When I started Cult Wine (another of Jules’ many ventures), there were very few retailers with a comprehensive selection so we had to move fast to capture that market.


“I mulled on the idea for a bit, talked to my business partner Robin, and we kicked the business off at the beginning of 2018. We moved into our premises on Ebor Street in January 2018, were making wine by March and then had opened the hospitality side up in September 2018. Since then we’ve been gradually building the wine production and now building up our hospitality and events offering.


Jules van Costello is the co-founder and winemaker of Te Aro Wine. Photo: Supplied

I asked Jules how his previous career experience has helped him grow this business.


“I’m not a winemaker by training - most of my experience has been on the sales and communications side of things,” says Jules.


“Making a good product is lovely but you need a strong channel to market. My sales background has given me a platform to offer wines that are different, because I know there’s a market there.


“Cult Wine was formed on the basis that there’s a lot of great wine in restaurants that’s hard to find in retail. We really embraced natural and lo-fi wine - wine from everywhere, low intervention, small batch and natural.


“So I knew there was a space for more funky and progressive New Zealand wines. Lots of people don’t understand the diversity of wine. We can use natural wine to break down rules and expectations, and provide a relaxed space for people to learn more. You don’t need to know a lot about craft beer to enjoy it - we want to do the same thing for wine."

I asked Jules what challenges they’ve faced in this journey.


“The biggest one for us is working out how best to tell our story. We know we’re doing some innovative things - but we’ve got to work hard to get the word out.


“Our Reserve Spiderweb is a rosé - that’s incredibly contrarian to the industry. Bees Bees Bees is our sparkling honey wine - it’s different and interesting and unlike a lot of what’s out there. But people have to know who we are to experience that.”


I asked Jules what advice he’d give to someone just getting started in business.


Says Jules, “Before you start, you have to realise it’s going to be harder than you think it will. Don’t be afraid to ask for help - reach out to other business owners because more often than not, they’ll be willing to give you a hand.


“The mental side of the business is the toughest bit. It’s key to understand the reality of the industry you’re getting into. There’s a low barrier to entry when it comes to starting a business in New Zealand but that doesn’t make it any easier.


“I think the other bit for me is don’t try to be cool. I’ve seen businesses fail because they’ve tried too hard to be cool - the cool kids are after what’s wild and crazy and it’s incredibly hard to keep their attention. So instead be authentic, work out how to differentiate yourself, and create a business personality to stand out.”


I asked Jules what’s next for Te Aro Wine.


“We’re always working on new wines and we’ll be releasing more of those this year. We’re always looking to create fun wines and interesting things.


“I also have my third book Beyond the Vines - the Changing Landscape of Wine in Aotearoa coming out mid-November.


“But our overall mission is to keep converting people to wine - offering a great range of interesting things at approachable prices.”


Visit Te Aro Wine in person at 8 Ebor St, Wellington, or online here: https://www.tearowine.co.nz/.


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