Pegasus Bay has pioneered winemaking in the Waipara Valley, and with an emphasis on quality over quantity, the name Pegasus Bay has become synonymous with excellent food and superior wine. The label has won a multitude of awards for both its restaurant and its wine.
What makes it truly unique though is its secret ingredient: family. Ever since renowned neurologist Ivan Donaldson and his wife Christine planted out one of Waipara’s first vineyards on what were then flat, barren paddocks back in 1985, the family has had an ‘all hands on deck’ approach. Their four sons, Michael, Edward, Paul and Matthew spent their holidays as children helping to plant out and propagate the vines. As the boys grew, and the vineyard became more established, so did their passion for viticulture, and high quality food and wine. Despite there being no pressure from their parents to come onboard, today all four children have roles within the business.
Three decades on, Ivan and Christine spend the New Zealand winter months overseas, leaving the running of Pegasus Bay to their children, and have done so for the last 15 years. When home though, they are still heavily involved in the business. Ivan, who retired from medicine 10 years ago, oversees the vineyard, working alongside a viticulturalist. Ivan favours a hands-off natural approach in the vineyard, with Pegasus Bay being an accredited member of the New Zealand Winegrowers sustainable viticulture programme. Christine has had many roles in Pegasus Bay over the years but has always been responsible for the gardens which cover around three hectares and provide the restaurant with a stunning, perfectly landscaped backdrop.
Every tree was planted by Christine with care, transforming what was in some parts swampy, and in others dry, bony, bramble-covered paddocks into what is now a carefully manicured masterpiece. ‘She gets inspired by travel,’ says Edward, and they have put their own Kiwi slant on it as well. The garden is a blend of styles from English, Italian and Japanese, and is separated into ‘rooms’ such as the rhododendron gully and the native bush walk. Christine still maintains the garden and extensive lawns herself, with the help of a full-time gardener.
The four sons’ position within the business plays to their natural strengths. Matthew is the winemaker, while his wife Di handles the winery logistics. Paul is the general manager, while also handling the side label of Scoundrels and Rogues Cider. Michael, a lawyer, was the last son to join the business, returning to Pegasus Bay two years ago as sales manager after spending 15 years in Ireland. Edward, a trained chef who was one of the first chefs to head the Pegasus Bay Restaurant, is now marketing manager, and travels overseas promoting Pegasus Bay wine and developing and maintaining relationships with their distributers. This is something that keeps Edward busy, with around half of Pegasus Bay Wine going to the export market. The label is sold to 20 countries worldwide, with Australia and Belgium being the biggest buyers. Edward’s wife, Belinda, manages the award-winning restaurant. The family dynamic works well, something which Edward describes as a ‘unique situation’. ‘All having clearly defined roles is important,’ he says. ‘And we all like each other, which helps.’
The restaurant is highly regarded, winning eight out of the last 11 Cuisine Food Awards for best Winery Restaurant, and is perpetually busy, with around 16,000 guests per year being treated to the Pegasus Bay culinary experience. The restaurant itself has grown from the humble beginnings of plastic tables and chairs and a very basic menu in what is now the bottling room, to an architecturally designed two-storey building with an esteemed reputation for excellent food.
The current restaurant, which took 15 years to complete, boasts reclaimed elements that give it a classic warm and rustic charm. The wooden floors are recycled from the roof of an old milk factory, and the chandeliers, adorned with wine bottles, are French bottle drying racks. Stained-glass windows filter in soft, warm light while leather couches by the large open fireplace are perfect to relax on with a glass of Pinot Noir in winter. Artworks from Christchurch art dealer Jonathan Smart adorn the walls and are available for purchase.
The restaurant menu is created to pair perfectly with Pegasus Bay Wine and work with seasonal produce. Much of the produce is sourced locally, with lamb coming from local farm Stonyhurst, truffles from Limestone Hills and fruit and vegetables from Waipara growers, or onsite. ‘There is a mutual respect between growers and buyers,’ Belinda says. ‘We have done quite a lot of collaborative events together.’ These events have included the Truffle Festival, and ‘A Day out in North Canterbury’ where local produce and foraged goods are prepared by top Canterbury chefs, including Pegasus Bay’s Jackson Smith and Black Estates’ Grant Soeberg. Pegasus Bay has also hosted onsite-only events, such as ‘Sculpture. North Canterbury’, showcasing six of New Zealand’s top sculptors in the Pegasus Bay gardens, as well as concerts in the natural amphitheater. Last year the Pegasus Bay Vine Run had its debut, a running and walking event to raise money for The New Zealand Brain Research Institute, of which Ivan was a founding member.
Son Michael primarily organises the event with the help of Matthew’s wife Di. The event sees runners and walkers navigate either a six or 10 kilometre track through the vineyard after being warmed up and entertained by MC and former Court Jester Andie Spargo, with music and water stations along the way, ending with a festival-style party in the restaurant grounds after the event. With 500 entries in this year’s race held in January, the Vine Run raised around $25,000, an impressive achievement in what is only the race’s second year.
With a new generation of Donaldsons coming up through the ranks, a strong commitment to excellence, and a dedication to family and community at the forefront of the business ethos, Pegasus Bay continues to hold an integral place in the North Canterbury wine and food story, setting the standard for quality wine and food both in New Zealand and on the world stage.
For more information, head to pegasusbay.com.
Words & Images Claire Inkson