Wine lovers should rejoice at Mary Zurakowski swapping Doncaster for New Zealand, writes Christine Austin

Mary Zurakowski opened the big doors of her family winery with a smile and a Kiwi accented ‘How are you?’ She and her husband Ian have lived in New Zealand for many years, although when we sat down and started to talk about the winery she lapsed more and more into the broader vowels of Yorkshire.

‘We were both born in Yorkshire and our parents were friends. I grew up in Doncaster and went to school there, but Ian’s parents decided to take up the ‘£10 Pom’ offer to go to New Zealand. They built their lives there while we remained in Yorkshire, however the two families maintained a close bond. It was this connection that led me to meet Ian again many years later and we fell in love and married.’

I was visiting the Archangel estate in New Zealand’s Central Otago region. Located in the southern part of South Island, surrounded by mountains and almost continental in climate, ‘Central’ as it is known, is one of the most beautiful and distinctive wine growing regions in the world.

From the newly built tasting room, we looked out out over 11 hectares of vines, which were draped in white nets to keep birds off the ripening grapes. Planted to Pinot Noir, Riesling, Pinot Gris and Chardonnay, this is an idyllic spot. There are comfortable chairs on the terrace, great views and wonderful wines. Has it been easy? ‘I have never worked so hard in my life’, said Mary with a smile. ‘When we first started Archangel, I went to the London Wine Trade Fair and was totally overwhelmed by the sheer amount of wine available, but I knew that if we stuck at it we could make this happen. After all, I am a Yorkshire girl and I had made up my mind to do it.’

Pinot Noir ripening on the Archangel estate

After a career in the oil industry in both the UK and New Zealand, Ian and Mary decided to move to Central Otago. ‘We had started to get into wine and heard that this was a good place to grow grapes but we had no idea how to go about it. We knocked on doors, tasted wines and eventually talked to a neighbour about it.’ That neighbour was Nigel Greening, owner of Felton Road and producer of one of New Zealand’s best wines. ‘He was wonderful. He helped us find the land, and helped us make decisions about grape varieties and rootstocks.’ Did she know that Nigel is also a Yorkshireman? ‘No, he never said. What a surprise!’

Now they produce a range of wines, which are just starting to appear on the shelves of the UK. The Pinot Noir 2013 (£26.99) stands out for its ripe fruit, depth of flavour and suppleness. It has captured the dark cherry fruit typical of this grape grown in this region, layered with an edge of spice and a note of violets on the aroma. The Chardonnay 2015 (£23.99) has notes of nectarine and vanilla, with freshness on the palate while the Pinot Gris 2015 (£21.99) has ripe pear and white peach notes, with a rounded, textured finish. There are two Rieslings. Stefania 2012 is a dry style, with white flora aromas, shot through with lime and a lively minerally finish. Halina 2013 (£21.99) is sweeter, with pink grapefruit and mandarin fruit, balanced by notes of honey and baking spice. This is perfectly suited to matching with Asian cuisine and lightly spiced dishes. Latitude in Leeds (0113 245 3393) stocks most of the range and Archangel wines feature on the wine lists at Brasserie 44 in Leeds, The General Tarleton in Ferrensby and The Westwood in Beverley.

For such a young estate these wines have done extraordinarily well in national and international competitions, winning Golds in The Air New Zealand Wine Awards and Silvers in Decanter Wine Awards.

Most new estates hunt around for a name that explains what or who they are but the name Archangel for this estate came out of the deeply emotional, shared family history of Mary and Ian’s mothers.

 

‘We were both born in Yorkshire but we have Polish parents who served in the RAF and WAAF during World War II. Our mothers were Halina and Stefania, and while they didn’t know each other at the time, when they were aged 14 and 16, they were rounded up and transported from war-torn Poland to a forced labour camp in Siberia. Conditions there were terrible. Temperatures in that region go down to minus 30 degrees C. Eventually they were released and made the journey from Russia, via refugee settlement camps in Africa to RAF Newton in Nottinghamshire where they joined the war effort for Britain. By this time they were still only 17 and 19. In Nottingham they met each other and their husbands, who were both in the RAF, and it was this bond that kept the families in touch for a generation. After the war my family moved to Doncaster and most of them are still in and around Yorkshire.’

‘When we were searching for a name for this estate we realised that there could only be one. The labour camp where Halina and Stefania were imprisoned was called Arkhangel’sk which translates as Archangel.’ It is just a name but it means so much to us all.

Mary trained at Sheffield School of Art and Design and this shows in the exceptional artwork around the tasting room. Instead of the usual single tasting bar, there is a relaxed, almost lounge atmosphere and wine tastings can be teamed with food pairings – each type of platter named after a famous artist. Mary even runs art workshops in the vineyards.

Mary and Zenek Zurakowski, and the latest family recruit, Zenek’s fiancée, Chelsey Harland from Bridlington

And the family continues its Yorkshire connections. Mary and Ian’s son Zenek went to England to help sell the wines. ‘The trip was meant to be four weeks, but he spent two years there.’ The reason is obvious. At that point, in walked Chelsey Harland from Bridlington who is now engaged to Zanek and the wedding will be sometime next year. She is missing home, but clearly enjoying this new life in Central Otago.

Long journeys seem to be a continuing way of life for the Zurakowski family.

 

 

About The Author

Christine Austin

Christine is a wine writer, broadcaster and a wine judge for several international wine competitions. She has a technical background and spent five years as a buyer for a major supermarket before moving to wine writing.She writes for The Yorkshire Post Magazine and organises the York Festival of Food and Drink. She has won both the Lanson and the Roederer prizes for wine writing.

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