Free Range Wines – “I Feel a Change Comin’ On”


Justin and Cynthia Oliver are surfing on the front of the ‘Natural Wine ’ wave.  This rising tide will expand our knowledge and expectations of wine and will be the  greatest driver of change in our beverage choices since craft beers flooded our fridges and swamped our chilly-bins. Justin, might be making a new (but ancient) style of wine but he is not new to winemaking. Twenty plus years ago he completed a horticulture degree at Massey and went on to do post graduate diploma at Lincoln in enology (winemaking).

Having completed a four year internship with Villa Maria, Justin set off to America to learn from the Californian winemakers and as luck would have it, he met Cynthia in an Irish Pub in Sonoma County where Cynthia’s family owns a vineyard.

They spent the next eight years as free range winemakers and vineyard workers,

vintage hopping between hemispheres, until they settled in Nelson where they set up an organic B&B.

Full immersion in the Nelson organic community changed their way of thinking about wine making.

The bulk wine producers they worked for used chemical sprays that workers and wine alike, were exposed to.  They machine harvest which means they have little control over what goes into the vats which means they have to manipulate the wine and use more additives in order to compensate.

It was in Nelson that they first became aware of the  “Natural Wine Movement”, a global movement that is all about hand harvested, organic wines made with native yeasts (naturally occurring on grapes), minimal manipulation and little or no preservatives.

Making wine this way is a more pure expression of the intrinsic qualities of the grapes and the terroir and this approach to winemaking resonated deeply with Justin and Cynthia.

2008 saw them return to Matakana and winemaking for Dave Hoskins and Mary Evans at Herons Flight for four vintages.  Dave and Mary have been significant mentors for Justin and when circumstances conspired to leave him with the option of purchasing a harvest’s worth of organic grapes, they encouraged him to take the leap and jump in.

A few vintages later find Justin and Cynthia leasing several small organic vineyards in and around Matakana. (If you happen to have a north-facing slope that you are tired of mowing and fancy having an organic vineyard planted and professionally managed for you, Justin and Cynthia would love to hear from you).

In addition to the grapes grown locally they use organic grape juice from Central Otago and Nelson enabling them to offer a Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Syrah, Cabernet Franc, Rose and Sauvignon Blanc.


One of the great similarities with the craft beer movement is that these natural wines,  whilst packed primarily in bottles,  are well suited to being stored in and served from kegs.  Doing so requires less processing and preservatives, the wine retains life and vibrancy of flavour and it saves huge amounts of packaging

Those of us that are partial to the odd glass of quality vino will soon be having our long stemmed glasses filled from a keg.  It seems strange at first but a glass or two of the 2016 Chardonnay provides a very convincing argument that Justin knows what he’s doing and that we will all be well served if we can keep step with this very talented winemaker.

By the time the kegs appear you may well be able to enjoy the first release of  Te Rata ‘Pétillant-naturel’ , a sparkling wine made in the ‘méthode ancestrale, producing a rustic sparkling wine that is traditionally cloudy, unfiltered, and bottled with a cap not a cork.

Te Rata wines are stepping in to the market place with the attitude of a craft beer.  They will challenge and change the way we drink wine and what we expect from wine and winemakers in future.  They are going to give craft beer and other local wines a run for your money and any beer that thinks its spot in your fridge is secure should not be quite so complacent.


Te Rata by Free Range Wines.

Available at Creamery Market Matakana –Saturdays 9-2pm, Coatesville Market, Mt Albert Friday Night Market,  Kumeu AMP Show and Moveable Feast (hopefully returning this Easter).

Order on line or contact Justin and purchase direct (6 bottle minimum).


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