Written by Victoria Clark

Grapevines are not unlike weeds, in that they grow vigorously and need controlling, says Tranja Fry, but unlike weeds, they bring her immense pleasure and she has spent more than 20 years getting to know every vine in her vineyard, Fossil Ridge.

“I enjoy learning about each plant, getting to know it and training it,” says Tranja. “Every plant is different. I like the challenge of pruning them to ensure they’ll perform every season.

“They can misbehave, which makes me a bit grumpy, and yes, I do talk to them sometimes,”she laughs.

Tranja and her husband Darryl were looking for a family project in the 1990s – something they could do together with their three teenagers, Mark, Scott and Jess. They bought 14 acres in the Richmond Foothills, intending to grow olives. They also planted citrus and nut trees.

“With the children, we planted grapevines, too. They did a lot of the work, setting up the wires and the training systems and picking grapes at harvest time, between their studies.”

The first Fossil Ridge vintage was produced in 2000, and though the couple’s children have long left home, Tranja and Darryl continue to hand-pick the grapes and prune the vines themselves.

“Darryl has a background in horticulture, and I have a degree in Home Science and I love anything to do with food.

“We originally just grew the grapes to learn from experience how to do it all. We like problem-solving and working out how to do things, such as keeping birds from eating the grapes.

“We’d look at what other growers were doing and put our heads together to make things work for us. We’ve always liked a challenge.”

Fossil Ridge, which is named after shell-like fossils called monotis richmondiana, commonly found in the Richmond foothills, started its wine-production with Chardonnay and Riesling and won a gold medal (Air New Zealand Wine Awards) for their first chardonnay. They then added pinot noir, rosé, and gewürztraminer to their stable.

“My favourite wine would be Riesling. I think Nelson produces some beautiful, citrusy Rieslings,” Tranja says.

“What I love about eating the grapes, though, is that I can actually taste the flavours we’re going to get in the wine we’ll make. I think that’s really quite special.”