Pssst. It’s a secret. Promise not to tell anyone?

Blair Gibbs

One of the best New Zealand sauvignon blanc from the heart of Marlborough wine country, Spy Valley, is just getting better – not bigger.  

It was a Spy secret; but the news has leaked out! So keep it under your hat.

Spy Valley wine is run by one of the most respected winemaker in the country, Blair Gibbs. The label is called Spy Valley because it is sited close to the U.S. spy satellite monitoring base in Marlborough’s Waihopai Valley. The modern-looking winery is among the most advanced winery in the country.

Gibbs is an under-stated, over-achieving man behind Spy Valley. He is one of the most unassuming chaps you could ever wish to meet.  He comes across as a quietly-spoken Treasury bean-counter or an undercover secret agent.

Neither could be further from the truth. Blair is the general manager of Spy Valley winery. While those at the US spy base up the valley are into secret squirrel stuff, Blair is certainly not.

He is a warm, genial, quietly-spoken, true-blue Kiwi, who also heads Wine Marlborough, an organisation that leads the biggest wine region in NZ.

At 42, Blair has transformed, steered, guided and led Spy Valley into one of the finest wine labels in New Zealand. Their stunning wines have received major worldwide acclaim.

They won the Decanter Magazine under 10 pound Sauvignon Trophy (2008 sauvignon), the top NZ Producer of the Show, San Francisco international wine competition  and Sydney international wine competition - 4 Trophies in the same year .

The Decanter World Wine Awards – one of the most influential wine competitions  in the world - attracted more entries this year than ever before – more than double the numbers when the awards first began five years ago

Spy Valley is considered as one of New Zealand’s leading family-owned wine companies and Gibbs is in charge. It is a far cry from his early days growing up in Wellington.

 “I lived in Lowry Bay; went to Hutt Valley High School; I worked in the Ohakune ski industry for three years, got a parks and recreation degree at Lincoln University and bought half a second hand sporting goods store with a friend in Wellington at the age 26. We ran and built that business (Second Wind Sports) for eight years. “

 “We ran events like the Wellington Ski Swap, took the shop on the road to run sales in the Hawke’s Bay and Palmerston North – in towns that weren’t serviced by good ski shops. Second Wind was upgraded to a new location and was renamed as Surf and Snow which is still being run today by my business partner. It is one of a few successful independent sports retail businesses.”

 “Then I met and married a woman whose father owned a vineyard. We moved to Blenheim for a six month trial in the grape industry, decided we liked living in the country and stayed. I learned on the job so it was like an apprenticeship: driving tractors and learning how to grow grapes. I later completed a viticulture diploma from the EIT in the Hawke’s Bay.’’

The Gibbs moved to Blenheim in 1998 and linked to the Johnson Estate (established 1992) which was a contract vineyard selling fruit mainly to Corbans Wines. They were developing new vineyard land as the wine industry began to take off. The decision was made to establish a wine company. After an exhaustive search for a suitable brand name that reflected their (spy base) location and a bit of themselves, they settled on Spy Valley. The first Spy Valley wines were released from the 2000 vintage: A sauvignon blanc, gewurztraminer, chardonnay, pinot noir and merlot. Riesling and pinot gris were added to the line-up in 2001. The first few years, Blair learned how to market and sell wine nationally and internationally. Stage one of the winery was opened for vintage 2003, with full capacity of 2000 tonnes being reached in 2007: the year of ‘Spy  - 007’! .

Blair Gibbs,Spy Valley

Today Spy Valley proudly shows off one the most modern state-of-the-art wineries in the country.

  “It’s a huge investment and it has just won a number of awards including the Marlborough Environment Landscape award and the NZ Institute of Architects open commercial building award. It’s a smart place and a great place to work or visit. We were at full production this last summer and we have no aspiration to get any bigger. I have looked at the industry and believe we have a business size that is sustainable with quality at the highest level able to be produced consistently. We term ourselves a global boutique (trademarked) business, big enough to be global, small enough to have a selfish dedication to quality. If we were to grow, you don’t get the same economies of scale until about 5000 or 6000 tonnes and at that size you need a more corporate operating structure and start to lose the intrinsic values of a family business,’’ Gibbs says.

The Spy Valley label has caught on and they are now exporting to Australia, Belgium, Canada, China, Czech Republic, Denmark, Dubai, East Timor, Finland, Fiji, Germany, Greece, Hong Kong, Ireland, Japan, Korea, Maldives, Norway, Philippines, Singapore, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, Thailand, The Netherlands, Ukraine, United Kingdom, USA and Vanuatu. They are also in discussion with Poland, South Africa and Russia. The UK is the largest export country with 30 percent and USA is showing the fastest growth.

Actor John Cleese has asked for some Spy pinot when he last visited Christchurch. Sir Roger Moore was served Spy wine when he was in Auckland last December.

Spy Valley’s first plan is to survive, says Gibbs. They will continue to grow their main brands from existing production and work on building new relationships into new markets and to covet their good national and international partners. Although the wine market is under a huge amount of pressure, Spy Valley is determined to live out of the recession.