Written by Victoria Clark

There was a time when Valley Neale was so chuffed when she had sold a case of wine, she’d buy herself a celebratory cappuccino.

Valley and her husband Gary had been growing grapes for six years on their Brightwater property when they made their first, small, commercial vintage under their own label, Brightwater Vineyards. One of Valley’s first tasks in building the business was to market its wine to top restaurateurs, with the aim to impress them enough, they’d add it to their menu’s wine-list.

“It was exciting, making those first sales - ‘cappuccino-marketing,’ we called it,” she laughs.

Eighteen years on, Brightwater Vineyards grows its grapes on two vineyards spread over 15 hectares, producing 8,000 cases annually. In 2015 its pinot noir was awarded the Air New Zealand Wine Awards Champion Pinot Noir Trophy, Brightwater Vineyards was named New Zealand Winemaker of the Year at the 2012 Royal Easter Wine Awards and, that same year, named the Nelson/Tasman Small Business of the Year and the Nelson/Tasman Supreme Business of the Year.

Brightwater Vineyards’ wines have consistently won gold medals and five-star awards, ever since, says Valley, but her goal has always been the same – “to produce wines that people just love.”

She has been marketing manager, a cellar-hand, label-designer, managed the picking crews and taken care of the vineyard’s wine club and administration, but welcoming visitors to the vineyards cellar door is the best perk of the job, for Valley.

“I want to make people feel at ease, because not all of us are wine experts. I always tell people they should just drink wine they love.

“I believe making good wine comes down to a collaborative approach, great viticulture, gentle winemaking and creating wines that display true fruit character, elegance and fine balance.”

Brightwater Vineyards continues to succeed because Valley and the team are truly passionate about wine.

“If there’s one thing that’s kept us in this industry, it’s our love of fine wine,” she says. “I can always tell when there is no love in (the making of) a wine.”