15 Years at Greystone – an Interview with Winemaker, Dom Maxwell, And, General Manager, Nick

Nick & Dom – 15 Years.

This New Zealand wine story involves a partnership that started in an empty paddock, grew with a vineyard and evolved into a friendship over 15 vintages. 2019 marks the 15th year our Winemaker, Dom Maxwell, and General Manager, Nick Gill, have worked together at Greystone. Their story began in 2004 when Nick, who at the time was viticulturist at Penfolds, was approached by the Thomas Family to establish the Greystone Vineyard in Waipara, North Canterbury.

Q: Nick, what was the state of Greystone and the North Canterbury Wine Region when you first arrived?

Nick: It was a pretty empty sheep farm when I first arrived. I had a dog in my ute and not much else. I started from scratch, setting the property up with all the gear and people it would need. The local wine region was tiny. At that stage I had put more grapes through the Penfolds winery in 2003 than the entire harvest of North Canterbury wineries put together.

Around this time, Dom had returned to New Zealand from Europe, where he had been since 1999 jumping from job to job in London while exploring the world. Like many New Zealand wineos, Dom was bitten by the wine bug during this OE. When he returned to NZ he ditched his career plans in commerce and enrolled in Lincoln University’s post-graduate diploma programme in Viticulture and Oenology.

Q: How did you find each other?

Nick: I advertised in local papers and at Lincoln for vineyard hands. Dom was one of the first applicants and I remember clearly that I’d said I’d meet him at the front of the property at a certain time but I’d got held up and he actually came exploring into the property to find me which made an immediate impression – he was a go getter! 

Q: Dom, what was your first impression of Greystone?

Dom: I remember tearing around the property in his ute, chatting about what varieties were getting planted where, and just thinking…”my god, this place has some potential…such a stunning spot”. Nick had a huge amount of knowledge on things I’d only started to learn about during my studies.

Q: Nick, what did you see in Dom that made you want to hire him?

Nick: Dom had enthusiasm and energy just leaping out of him. I wasn’t expecting to find seasoned vineyard hands so I was looking for great raw material – people who were looking for a career in the wine industry, passionate about wine, able to commit to Greystone for the journey and also that he would be a great person to work with.  

Dom spent his first few years at Greystone as a vineyard-hand. As if by fate, the winemaker Nick had lined up left for a career change and Dom was given the chance to step into the winemaker role. Dom’s first few vintages making wine for Greystone were under the mentorship of local wine legend, Alan McCorkindale. Dom had taken the reins completely by 2008. 

Q: Why do you think your partnership works so well? 

Nick: I think the collaborative approach we take tackling challenges has been our biggest strength. We’ve had a few big challenges over the years and we’ve always taken them on as a team. I remember when Dom first explained his thoughts on wild yeast fermentation and how commercial yeasts might be dominating our ferments in the winery, even though they were “wild”. We talked it over and Dom decided the best thing to do would be to let the wines ferment in the vineyard amongst the vines. On a nice day in January it seemed pretty easy, but in the rush of vintage it was another matter. Together we worked out who did what and always just trusted the other fella would get his bit done. We’ve been doing it since 2012 now, so thankfully we’ve had time to iron out the creases.

Dom: I’m grateful we’ve always shared a can-do attitude, that nothing is insurmountable. Without this I don’t think we would have developed the Vineyard Ferment, or even got to where we are today as a business.