The Organic Life of Winemaker Tim Turvey: “There Isn’t Too Much Control of Anything”

It was a sunny afternoon in the summer of 1987. Tim Turvey was sitting on a plastic chair drinking wine with his friends in the middle of a stone field in Hawk’s Bay, when I hit him.

Everything led to that point. He thought the 33-year-old was doing exactly what he was supposed to do.

The field, a stone’s throw from the beach at Te Awanga, will in time be covered with grapes and become the birthplace of some of the best Chardonnay in the country. But all that was still ahead of him.

The paths that got Tim to that point were of course many and varied, but it’s safe to say its genesis lie in the form of two small crystal drinking glasses, no larger than an egg cup.

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These little utensils were given to Tim by his parents when he was little more than an infant, so he could enjoy a glass of wine with them while he was having dinner.

Helma van den Berg and Tim Turvey, founders of Clearview Estate Winery at Te Awanga in Hawke's Bay, at the 2015 Hawke's Bay Hospitality Awards, where the winery won Outstanding Winery Experience for the third year in a row.
SNPA / John Cowpland / Stuff

Helma van den Berg and Tim Turvey, founders of Clearview Estate Winery at Te Awanga in Hawke’s Bay, at the 2015 Hawke’s Bay Hospitality Awards, where the winery won Outstanding Winery Experience for the third year in a row.

It wasn’t normal, but his parents, Max and Jane, weren’t normal. They were both in their 40s when they had Tim – who was considered too late to start parenting in the 50s – and had lived full and successful lives.

Max retired when Tim, an only child, was three months old and moved the family from Wellington to the shores of Lake Taupo, where Max rebuilt the Waitahanoi Inn (still in operation and very popular), and added a shop and five cabins.

After six years in the inn, the family moved to Hawke’s Bay. Until about the age of ten, Tim accompanied his parents on many foreign trips, on a sea-going ship, to Europe, the Mediterranean, and all over the Pacific. They’ve also covered New Zealand in an old ambulance that’s been converted into a kind of camping.

Tim got tired of the funny life and when his parents said they were going to embark on a year-long world cruise, he said he was “sick of this bullshit” and went to boarding school instead.

Turvey of the land that became Clearview says:

John Copeland/Staff

“It was very rugged… I mean really rugged,” says Turvey of the land that became Clearview.

After Rathkeale College, near Masterton, he went to Massey University, where he was about to complete his bachelor’s degree, but chose instead to open a photography studio in the center of Palmerston North.

Max was cut from the leading Kiwi stock, where if you want something you do, you learn as you go. It is a trait passed on to the son without restrictions, he has spent his life teaching himself skills and taking on tasks that might seem intimidating to others.

“If you have a passion for something, it’s better to learn it on your own rather than do some crazy course and spend the rest of your life learning what they were trying to teach you,” Tim says.

He does not lack confidence. “I’ve never failed, as far as I can see…but I attribute a lot of that to the support I’ve received from my colleagues, wives, employees, and family, to be honest.”

He taught himself how to develop rolls of film and ran the studio for two years before deciding he was tired of being in a dark room, so he started a farming contracting business in Hawk’s Bay.

Clearview Estate Winery (formerly a Hastings tractor shop)

John Copeland/Staff

Clearview Estate Winery (formerly a Hastings tractor shop)

A few years later, in addition to a time in Mahia working on sailboats between surfing, Tim and his girlfriend (and future wife) Margie headed to the OE. It was 1978. They arrived in Sydney, where Tim worked as a welder on a steel yacht, before heading to northern New South Wales to work on a sugarcane plantation.

This led to Tim being tapped to help develop and manage a 180-hectare pineapple farm in Byron Bay.

I didn’t know anything about pineapple. I thought it grew on a tree. It became very successful. We spent about three years doing this before going home to have our first child.”

Katie was born in 1982. Two years later, her sister Gemma joined her.

It was 1986 when Tim and Margie found a 20-hectare plot for sale on the western edge of Te Awanga. They paid $76,000 for the bloated and unkempt block. On it was a single tree, a 100-year-old olive, and a house no more than a hut.

“It was very rough terrain… I mean really bumpy. The well was drilled by hand. You had to start a motor to bring water into the house,” he recalls.

winery

John Copeland/Staff

winery

At that point they had no idea what they were going to do with the land, which they chose to call Clearview.

“We were half hippies at the time. I was thinking about growing sweet corn and maybe some other things.”

He borrowed a tractor and began mowing the meter-high lawn that covered the section. “The more I cut it, the more interesting it gets. There were little signs that said ‘Merlot’ and ‘Chardonnay’. At one point, I bumped into something big. It turned out to be a ‘Vidals No 2 vineyard’ sign. I knew Vidals had Once Chrome was here somewhere, but I didn’t know it was here.”

One day, while he was mowing the lawn, a man named David Ward came up into the driveway.

He said to me: I want you to make me a piece of grapes. Everyone tells me you’re the guy who does it. I told him the grapes were about the only thing I didn’t grow, and that he’d better get someone else. But he was adamant.”

They have proven the perfect pairing. Tim Ward helped develop a 20-hectare vineyard in the Tokitoki Valley, and in the process he “fell in love with this whole grape.”

Turvi, an avid surfer, was seen here at Te Awanga in 2007.

supplied/stuff

Turvi, an avid surfer, was seen here at Te Awanga in 2007.

The grape, Dr. Hogg’s hometown, was popular and sold well, but the most lucrative for the couple was the pine nursery they started nearby. They sold a huge number of pine seedlings; Eight million only in the fourth year of operation.

Tim Ward remembers him as “a wonderful guy who became a kind of mentor.”

“He’s done all kinds of things all his life. He died about five years ago. A lovable guy I miss so badly.”

The first grapes that Tim planted in Clearview were four rows of Cabernet Francs. Eight rows of Chardonnay followed, then taught himself to squeeze grapes and make and bottle wine.

Life and work became hectic at that time. His marriage ended, and he then established an affair with the woman who would become his second wife, Hilma van den Berg, with whom he had a third daughter, Bella.

When the former Ford Motors tractor shop was up for sale, Tim bought it for $1,000, disassembled it with three colleagues and reinstalled it in Clearview. It became a winery, and still is today.

Tim isn't going to change things for the better.

John Copeland/Staff

Tim isn’t going to change things for the better.

Then Hilma and Tim decided to open a restaurant. It was late 1991, at which point they had three wines to sell.

“Everyone said it would never work…”There’s nothing else here,” they say, and “Who’s going out to lunch?” “No one went out for lunch at that time.”

It worked. They sold all of their wine within three months.

They hired a chef, who started with a single gas grill, moved to a home oven, and then, about three years later, a commercial oven.

“It was all very organic. My whole life is organic. There’s not much control over anything,” Turvy says.

At about that time, Tim sat down in that plastic chair and concluded that it was where it should be.

Many, many, many awards and another marriage (from Kirsten) later, Tim – turning 70 in January – can still be found most days in or around the winery and restaurant. Or play tennis somewhere. Or hanging out with the grandchildren (the six).

Clearview produces about 30 types of wine, and sells about 300,000 bottles annually, 99% of which are in New Zealand.

Tim isn’t going to change things for the better.

“The local kids will come in at the age of 10 for a job polishing glasses. Then they start waiting at the tables, the small ones to start with, then the bigger ones, and they develop over time to be a really skilled wait staff. It’s like starting life really early.”

“Ten or twenty years later, they’ll come back with their kids and remember when they were a little kid polishing mugs. Now they’re a corporate lawyer or something who lives in London or wherever. They’ll say ‘Tim, is that you?’ I’ll think ‘Who the hell is this?'” Then I’ll remember it was the 10-year-old girl with the Lisp.

“I tip my hat to people who run their own businesses and go out to help the community. I haven’t had time for that, but I think my little restaurant and my own vineyard is a microcosm of life and where I do a little help. That’s all I really love…and wine of course.” “

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