In 2001, Jules’ mentors suggested she needed to broaden her horizons and learn about the wider wine industry. As Jules says, “at that time, all I knew was making wine”. They encouraged Jules to spread her wings and start her own label. The first vintage was a tiny 400 cases and comprised just two varieties: Riesling and Pinot Gris.
“I figured that if it didn’t sell, our family was going to have a really great Christmas!” says Jules.
I’m not sure what Jules said to those disappointed relatives, but her wines were a hit and the ball was rolling.
Indeed, it took some time for Jules and husband George to convince themselves to jack in their day jobs and throw themselves into making and selling their own wines full time.
“At that time, I never even considered it would grow into a business that would be our sole means of feeding two skinny teenage boys!” laughs Jules.
Surprisingly given Jules’ reputation as the “Queen of Sauvignon Blanc”, Savvy was noticeably absent until 2004 but since then the range has expanded to include other varieties. Jules is particularly excited about the potential for Grüner Veltliner which she feels is really well suited to Marlborough and produces exciting textural wines. Another labour of love is her beautifully packaged range of indulgent, single vineyard wines called OTQ (On The Quiet).
Jules has nonetheless managed to grow her business into a successful, and well recognized brand, while at the same time keeping her team incredibly small, due in part to the fantastic relationships she has built up with partners in the trade.
Childhood friendships with local grape growing families have allowed Jules to source fruit from tucked away pockets around the region, whilst longstanding relationships with Hancocks Wine Merchants in New Zealand and Maritime Wine Trading Collective in the US as well as several other distributors have been invaluable in taking her wines to the world.
“I’m just the winemaker” says Jules, modestly. “Selling the wine is the hard part and luckily we have some great friends in the trade who help us with that”.
Several vintages in Piedmont and Sicily had taught Jules the value of a Mediterranean lifestyle: wine was enjoyed alongside delicious, simple food at shared mealtimes with family and friends and as part of a relaxed pace of life.
Jules took that philosophy to heart, and it infuses the family-friendly company she has gone on to create, as well as the unpretentious yet superbly tasty wines she is famous for.
Times have changed over the twenty years, for example with a shift towards greater transparency on wine labels - The 2020 vintage Jules Taylor Sauvignon Blanc features a Vegan Friendly logo on its back label for the first time - and towards sustainability and organics in the vineyard - something that Jules is passionate about.
Working with several different growers means seeing the benefits of various approaches in the vineyard. Jules took stock of what she saw and joined the Organic Winegrowers NZ organization in 2019. She also started to transition her own vineyard block to organic practices.
Moreover, Jules has begun a project with the local council to transition an area of the Opawa River around her HQ back to native wetland plantings to encourage the biodiversity of the site.
“I’m really excited about it” says Jules. “I want to feel we are leaving things for our kids in a better shape than we found them.”
The changes over Jules’ twenty years making her own wine have never been greater than over the most recent vintage under lockdown.
In Jules’ own words: “There were literally two days [heading into lockdown] where I was sh**ting a twinkie. If all the families we buy fruit from couldn’t get their grapes harvested and we couldn’t make the wine, it was going to get ugly.”
Vintage and winery crews had to work in a completely different way than ever before, implementing new health and safety procedures on the fly, whilst in the thick of their busiest time of year, with little certainty about the future, even as far as whether they would be able to complete the vintage.
However, now that the wines are complete, Jules can breathe a sigh of relief. The 2020 season was kind to the harvest and the wines are looking great. “We just have to hope we can sell them now” says Jules, referring with sympathy to the unsettled times that many of her longstanding friends in the hospitality sector are experiencing.
Unlike most years, Jules won’t be doing the rounds of overseas customers to hand sell her wines. Instead of hours of (carbon offset) airmiles, Jules will be plugging in to hours of zoom meetings chatting with customers overseas. Like everyone she is adjusting to the “new normal”. However, for Jules this has had some unexpected benefits:
“I’m looking forward to actually being here to enjoy aa full year’s crop from my veggie garden” says Jules. If her veggies are anything like as good as the grapes she coaxes into wine, that will be a treat to enjoy indeed.