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Sileni celebrates 10 years since first vintage

30 September 2008

Sileni Estates celebrates 10 years since first vintage

One of this country’s top wineries marks a major milestone this year.

Ten years after its first vintage, Sileni Estates in Hawke’s Bay is reflecting on a decade of significant growth, the creation of award winning wine and an international reputation.

From a first vintage of just 4,000 cases, Sileni is now one of this country’s major exporters of wine, selling into 40 international markets in 2008 and producing around 350,000 cases from the current vintage.

Sileni Estates was born out of owner Graeme Avery’s long standing interest in wine and named after the Sileni who featured in Roman mythology alongside Bacchus, the god of wine.

In 1996, Graeme had sold his highly successful medical publishing business, Adis International and was keen to establish a new family-owned business with the primary focus of producing ultra-premium quality wines of world class standard for the export market.

“For 20 years I travelled the world working in my medical publishing business and I was exposed to the riches and enjoyment of the Old World food and wine,” says Graeme.

“When I sold the business my vision was to produce food-friendly wines that achieved acclaim in world markets.”

Graeme contacted talented New Zealand Winemaker, Grant Edmonds, who came on board in late 1997 and remains Sileni’s Chief Winemaker today. While Graeme initially wanted to set up the winery at Pauanui where his holiday home was, Grant persuaded him that Hawke’s Bay was a better bet viticulturally.

Within months Graeme had purchased suitable grape growing land in the warm free-draining “Triangle” west of Hastings and another higher altitude river terrace at Mangatahi, 10 kilometres further up the old river valley.

Grant Edmonds says Sileni Estates’ first vintage in 1998 was the best red wine vintage in Hawke’s Bay for more than a decade, despite the fact it was made in his garage at Redmetal because Sileni’s winery was not completed until 1999.

“Sileni’s first Vineyard Manager, Craig Single and I co-ordinated the hand harvesting and picked up every 20 kilo bin of fruit from the ground to a trailer, then a truck, then tipped each into the crusher. We handled the 60 tonne crush three times, which meant we lifted about 180 tonnes of grapes between us,” says Grant.

His memories of that first vintage still linger a decade on, from dinner with the kids on the winery floor while processing was underway, to dancing on the lids of the open fermenters when they could smell the fantastically ripe fruit during hand plunging.

In that first vintage Sileni Estates produced Hawke’s Bay Merlot and Chardonnay. Today 3,800 tonnes are grown throughout New Zealand’s top grape growing regions and Sileni now produces eight wine varietals.
“We always knew this was a good area for high quality grapes. What became apparent over that first year was Graeme’s absolute determination to do it well and to make the vision a reality.”

Sileni’s real growth kicked in when the winery picked up three international trophies for the 2004 Sileni Cellar Selection Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc in London.

“People started to take us seriously and in the last three years we have doubled production each year to the point where we are now nearly four times the size of our original plan.”

Over 90 per cent of Sileni wine is exported to some 40 countries around the world, including many markets in Asia and in Eastern Europe where Sileni is either the leading New Zealand brand, as in Japan, or in the top three. It has achieved top 10 status in the UK, the world’s most mature wine market.

International success can be attributed directly to the hard work Graeme Avery has put in to market development and marketing overseas. Even before the first vintage was produced Graeme was travelling the world developing distribution channels.

“I think the key to Sileni’s international success has been learning about its markets and spending time in them on a regular basis,” says Graeme.

That approach continues today with Graeme and General Manager of Sales and Marketing Pip Austin sharing the duties, with the aim of visiting all Sileni’s international markets at least once a year and key ones two to three times annually. They are also always visiting new markets for opportunities to introduce Sileni Estate wines to other parts of the world.

Graeme also believes to be successful it is vital to gain a full understanding of the business environment you are operating in and the changing customer behaviour. Something you can only achieve by regular visits to markets.

That’s reflected in the unique approach Graeme has adopted from the beginning to developing a complete Sileni experience. Sileni Estates is far more than just a winery – the complex includes a restaurant, culinary school, culinary garden, a wine and food reference library and a gourmet food store.

This visionary approach has seen Sileni Estates more recently join forces with New Zealand’s largest olive oil producer The Village Press, which operates a special processing facility at Sileni Estates.

In addition, over the last two years Sileni has developed significant new leasehold vineyards in both Marlborough and Hawke’s Bay to help boost high quality fruit production for the winery. It is also working in conjunction with contract growers to develop specific sites to supply their projected fruit needs over the next 5 years.

“In the last decade we have grown from a small, high-end Hawke’s Bay focus to a much larger export-orientated and broader based producer through a wider range of varietals including Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc.”

Graeme’s visionary approach has not changed and he is already making plans for the future.

“I’m keen to have continued growth in our established markets and develop new markets for future growth, as well as develop our people to their full potential and continue innovation in product development and marketing. Here’s to the next ten years!”


Sileni Estates Timeline 1996 - 2008

December 1996
Sileni Estates owner Graeme Avery sells his medical publishing business Adis International and starts to develop a plan to establish a new family-owned business with a primary focus on export market development.

September 1997
Graeme brings top New Zealand winemaker Grant Edmonds on board with the plan to establish a green-fields vineyard and winery development in Hawke’s Bay. First vineyard land purchased.

March/April 1998
Sileni Estates’ first grapes were harvested with the first vintage made in Grant Edmonds’ garage at Redmetal. Sileni’s first vintage produces 4000 cases.

Early to Late 1998
Graeme purchases suitable grape-growing land in the Triangle and Maraekakaho areas of Hawke’s Bay.

October 1999
Sileni Estates winery, restaurant and epicurean centre is completed and officially opened to the public.

Late 1999
First export market of the UK with small volumes for the on-trade.

Early 2000
Export to the USA started with volumes sufficient only for a few States.

Mid 2000
Jamie Oliver cooked for 300 wildly enthusiastic guests and in turn enthused over Hawke’s Bay produce.

Late 2001/Early 2002
Export to Japan and a few markets in South East Asia commenced.

Early 2002
Australia exports commenced.
Sileni Estates begins sourcing Sauvignon Blanc grapes from Marlborough.

Mid 2002
Exports to European markets commenced with a start in Ireland and Germany.

Late 2002
First exports to Liquor Boards in Canada.

Many new export markets commenced in Europe and Asia, as well as in South America.

Mid 2004
The Village Press opens its state of the art olive press facility at Sileni Estates.

October 2004
Sileni celebrate the first five years with a gala dinner featuring five great chefs including Peter Gordon from Providores in London and the culinary team of the Beverly Hills Hotel.

September 2005
2004 Sileni Cellar Selection Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc wins three trophies in London at the International Wine Challenge – Best Sauvignon Blanc, Champion New Zealand White Wine & Best Value White Wine of the Competition.

Early 2007
First exports commenced in China for a range of distribution channels.

April 2008
Over 350,000 cases produced from the 2008 vintage. Sileni will be exporting to 40 international markets in 2008.

Early-Mid 2008
Development of further new markets in Central and Eastern Europe, with exports to all markets in Asia now complete.


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