David Herd who first made wine on New Zealand’s Auntsfield Estate was a Dundonian who emigrated there in 1852.
When David Webster at The Butcher The Baker began stocking wine from New Zealand’s Auntsfield Estate, little did he know that the story behind the wine would lead back to the city.
After taking delivery of some bottles from the brand to sell in his shop in Annfield Road from wine consultant Neil Robertson, he was amazed to discover that the first person to make wine in that area of New Zealand was a Dundonian.
David Herd headed to the other side of the world in the 1800s and Neil has unearthed an amazing story about the man believed to have been from the city’s Hawkhill area.
Story to tell
“I have been in the trade for about 28 years selling wine and I also come from the Dundee area, so when I heard about the link between Auntsfield Wine and Dundee it was a story I wanted to follow up,” he said.
“I run a business in the Scottish borders, but I still have family up here so I am visiting regularly. We were taking on wine businesses that were family-run and had a bit of provenance and a story to tell.
“This came up and I went through it and found out that David Herd, who was born in Maryfields, which is not the hospital, but it’s possibly an area in Dundee or the farm that is out Strathmartine way because he came from farming stock.
“His father was from Kincaple, St Andrews, so we were thinking this was really interesting.”
Investigating further, Neil discovered that David Herd had gone out to New Zealand in the mid-1800s.
“Marlborough Wines are huge, massive, and he was the first to grow vines in that area to make wine. I think there were vines planted for grapes, but not wine,” Neil continued.
“He had gone out there in 1852, had stopped off at Melbourne, didn’t quite like it and had gone on to New Zealand’s North Island before he went down to where he was which was called Meadowbank Station which we think was a sheep station.
“This Crown Grant land was available and he purchased it and started to make wines. 1873 was when the first vine went in and he made that until about 1905, passed it on to his son-in-law, and then in 1931 they dug the whole thing up and went back into sheep farming.”
Despite having taken the decision to stop making wine, there remained evidence of the operation which continues to this day with the original cellar having been preserved and a feature of the branding on bottles even now.
“They still had the cellar which is on the Auntsfield label and the Cowley family (company owners) started to replant vines back in the 90s,” Neil said, adding that he has discovered links to the Hawkhill area of Dundee.
“I have a lot more digging to do. I am trying to find out something that relates to Hawkhill. One of their wines is called Hawkhill but it is only a coincidence as I think they named it after a bird.
“I found out that David and his wife actually came from Hawkhill. I have got the census and if I have got the family right he stayed in a place called Gowden Knowes or Cowden Knoll (Golden Hill) which is round about Wilkie’s Lane which is where St Joseph’s is.
“So he stayed there and his wife’s father stayed at 140 Hawkhill which was just in front of where the Life Sciences building is now and he was a shoemaker. Between the two there are 100 metres, so there is a connection there.
“I am sure there will be school roll that will have both of their names on it as well.
“When he purchased the lands he called it ‘Auntsfield’ which we were told was named after one of his favourite places in Dundee, but we haven’t been able to find anything yet. We thought it might be Ann’s Field which is probably the nearest thing. It’s a great story.
“Graeme Cowley who owns it now did a bit of digging and they commissioned a statue of David Herd. If you fly into Blenheim Airport there is a picture of David there which is pretty smart.”
David Webster of The Butcher The Baker was amazed to find out he was stocking wines that had links to a man who had more than likely lived near his Annfield Road shop.
He said: “It gives you real enthusiasm for the wine, it’s one of these things, you enjoy it more because it has such a close relation to The Butcher The Baker.
“Who would have thought that it started from a guy in Dundee from such a massive world that the wine world is?
“It is truly exciting – and on the other side of the world. It is brilliant, fantastic and just by chance you are kind of looking at the birthplaces just outside your door.
“I think for Neil to walk in a couple of months ago by chance and offer us wine and then something like this turns up, it’s very exciting, especially for Dundee, it’s something that I don’t think anybody in Dundee would know at all. Really exciting. Extraordinary!”
“The closeness of names, whether it’s coincidental with the Hawkhill and Auntsfield or Annfield Road we are standing on just now. It’s amazing.”
Auntsfield is proud of its heritage and links with David Herd, stating on their website: “Auntsfield was founded by David Herd in 1873. Grapes which have shared ancestry with David Herd’s original vineyard are still grown on the land today. The same vines on the same patch of land. We keep his passion alive and build on it with our own.
“David Herd was a man with imagination. In 1854 he arrived in New Zealand and looked at the land he was farming. While everyone around him was looking around and thinking ‘sheep’ he looked at it and thought “wine”.
“With this vision, he became Marlborough’s founding winemaker. This is now a region famed throughout the world for its wine, but it was Herd who first saw that potential. He decided that the landscape, the soil and the weather were all perfect for wine.
“Herd conceived this dream of making wine on the Auntsfield Estate and planted his first grapes in 1873. He made wine here until his death in 1905 and his son-in-law continued his legacy until 1931. By then Auntsfield had made highly regarded wine for over 50 years.
“Our family has kept David Herd’s dream alive. Grapes which have shared ancestry with David Herd’s original vineyard are growing on the land in the same place he planted them. The way we make our mark in history is by keeping true to the past.
Feeling of history
“Hidden away on the vineyard is Herd’s original wine cellar. The place he created and stored his first wines. You can see it there on our logo. If you’re ever lucky enough to step into this cellar you will be struck by the cool air, the rich smell of the soil and the feeling of history under your feet.
“All of these things are what make Auntsfield Estate so authentic. A place where history is still alive in the land, and in the wine.”
Neil is continuing to research the story, but would love to hear from anyone who can provide any further details.
“We are still doing a bit of digging. My dad is in his 80s and is very much into his genealogy, so it is a little project for us both,” he added.
Neil can be contacted by emailing email@example.com