We are big proponents of enjoying a nice glass of wine with lunch. It may not always be an option for us, but for the staff and grape pickers at Rippon Vineyards in Wanaka, New Zealand, it most certainly is. In our latest Family Meal feature, shot in collaboration with our friend and photographer, Henry Hargreaves, we sit down with Vineyard boss, Lois Mills to talk about how she prepares the vegetable, carb, and wine-heavy lunches for her staff.
STARTING THE VINEYARD:
We went overseas in 1981 when the children were ten, eight, and three.It was before we planted the vineyard. We lived near Bergerac, France for a year. It was basically to see whether it was the lifestyle we wanted to lead. There weren’t many vineyards in New Zealand at the time and we didn’t know people who were doing it. The people we knew around the world who were doing it, made us realize that growing grapes and making wine was not a 9-5 job, it’s a lifestyle. People tend to think it’s romantic, but It’s quite hard work. It’s a farmer’s life. So we went to live in france for a year to test out if it was the life we wanted and could have back in New Zealand.
When we were in France, my husband was doing stage, an apprenticeship. He worked for nothing. The family we were staying with gave us vegetables and wine – they took very good care of us.
My husband was older than me and he had always wanted to be a farmer. His stepfather made him go into the family business because he was the only grandson. In 1974 we had the opportunity to live in wanaka where we had land, and that is when he decided, “now I have the opportunity to do something I want to do.”, so we started experimenting with the grapes.
Before we left, we had planted experimental plots. There were three vineyards at the time in New Zealand, but at one stage we didn’t know who the other two were. We monitored the climate over a ten-year period and figured out that we could make it sustainable.
A FAMILY OPERATION:
We are the only family operation that started as such from the beginning. My children were practically born on the vineyard, on the land at least. When we got back from France we planted the bulk of the vineyard. And in 1986, we employed a winemaker. Up until then, we didn’t have one. I’m not a scientist and neither was my husband. We had no desire to become one. If you get a bad reputation as a winemaker while you are playing around trying to learn how to do that, you never lose that reputation. So we decided not to try ourselves.
My son Nick came on board in 2002, he had been living in France for four years studying. His wife, our daughter-in-law, Jo was working in Queenstown an hour away from where we were, doing the same job as me, just at a different vineyard. She was managing the office, stock control, export and marketing at a vineyard an hour away. I said, “this is ridiculous.” I have been doing this for 25 years. I am going to retire and let you guys get on with it. People were getting sick of the story of how we got started as pioneers. They needed to hear what was coming forward in the future from the younger generation. What the plans were for the future, not what happened in the past.
And it has been very successful. Nick was a winemaker. His wife became the manager of the business. We have a vineyard manager. Now we have gone to the next stage.
THE FAMILY MEAL:
Traditionally, we have our main meal at night. But during harvest, we have our main meal in the middle of the day like they do in rural communities in France.
On the vineyard, during harvest, we have around 28 people for lunch. That includes staff plus 12 pickers. It depends on how long the vintage takes, but the pickers are usually on the vineyard for 12 to 16 days over a 4 week period. I only cook the day they are harvesting grapes
It’s absolutely an extended family.
VEGETABLES & CARBOHYDRATES:
I cook the meal. A lot of the vegetables come out of my own garden. It’s almost exclusively vegetarian. Very rarely do I cook with meat. It’s too much of a problem if someone says I don’t like fish, or I am a vegetarian – I can’t be bothered with all that! Winery staff get fed at night I give them the roast.
I try to think of a balance over a period of time. If it’s a cold day I will make a minestrone, onion soup, or pumpkin soup – something like that.. Sometimes we can’t use the kitchen because we are hosting a wedding, so I make lentil pies that they can eat with their hands. I do have a repertoire of things I cook, but it’s not the same every year, day after day. It’s what available at the time.
Most importantly, there is always lots of carbohydrates. They need carbohydrates because they are working quite hard. Pastries, pasta, I do a lot of potato dishes… Anything that has carbohydrates in it.
WINE WITH LUNCH:
They arrive half past 12 having worked for about 3 and a half hours. They are tired and thirsty. We encourage them to drink a lot of water when they are working.
They and are looking forward to the surprise they are going to have for lunch. The people that have been there before, they know my cooking and can’t wait to see what is coming next. I do a lot of international food as well. Italian pasta, I will do chinese food… it’s quite international. I learned by traveling. It is an interest of mine. I don’t think there is such a thing as New Zealand cuisine. It’s eclectic with other cultures mixed in because we are the most traveled country in the world, considering the population. Most young people travel.
I’m a purist. I don’t follow recipes but I do use the ingredients that are from a particular country for the dishes I make.
They look forward to the variety. Stuff that they don’t necessarily get at home. They all sit down. they come up and they are served their portion. My daughter is a chef. She was working in the vineyard picking grapes the day you came to visit. She served that day. We had ratatouille.
Everyone gets a big plate full to begin with. Those who want it can come back and get more. They can drink wine as well. But we tell them they have to be careful when they are thirsty and tired, it goes straight to their head and they have a full afternoon of hard work ahead of them.
After they have had their glass of wine, or that odd person that smokes, they are all lying out on the grass under the sun relaxing, taking a nap, looking at the clouds, chatting and talking. It’s a lovely atmosphere. The whole experience lasts for about an hour and a quarter.
My favorite thing about our family meal is, people appreciating it.