Written by Victoria Clark
As a child, Beth Eggers planned on “buying a bit of land and raising sheep” once she was old enough.
She grew up and trained in nursing - “something I said I would never do,” she laughs. But, her determination to fulfil her childhood dream never wavered – although, when she visited the centuries-old vineyards of Germany, she happily adjusted that dream to include a little vineyard.
When Beth returned home to the Moutere Valley near Nelson, she furthered her nursing studies; all the time looking for just the right piece of land. Eventually, she bought 11 hectares (26 acres) of completely bare land in the Moutere, and planted apples and an acre each of chardonnay, sauvignon blanc and cabernet sauvignon grapevines.
She named her tiny vineyard ‘Himmelsfeld’ (meaning ‘Heavens’ field’) in deference to her German heritage and to honour her forebears. Her sheep, too, she endearingly named with her heritage in mind. There’s been several generations of Gretel, Gretchen, Heidi, Liesel, Hansel and Hanover, to name a few.
When Beth planted her grapevines in 1991, she hoped to make wines that could be aged –“like the wines I had tasted in Europe,” she says. “I allowed the vines to fruit every year for six years without harvesting the grapes, grew them organically, and allowed the birdlife to freely feast on them every year, while the vines’ roots went deeper into the earth.”
With the wine-making expertise of Daniel Schwarzenbach, who Beth credits with “allowing Himmelsfeld Wines to reach its level of excellence,” the first Himmelsfeld vintage was bottled in 1997. The wines are available in a selection of fine-dining restaurants and lodges around New Zealand, and some is exported to Tokyo and London.
Though Himmelsfeld wine can’t be found on supermarket shelves, Cellar Door visitors can taste them under the watchful eyes of Beth’s Romney sheep. When they’re not doing their leave-plucking and grass-control work between the grapevines, they relax beneath the apple trees and delight visitors, particularly overseas tourists who’ve never seen sheep.