Emma Lowe

Emma Lowe

Monowai Estate (Winemaker & Owner)

“What attracts me to wine is all the possibilities, challenges.”

Open to adventure may be a good way to describe Emma Lowe, born into a farming family in Christchurch, and the winemaker and owner of Monowai Estate. In her last year at a private high school in Hamilton, Emma saw the potential for a career in wine and decided to enter the four-year Enology program at the University of Adelaide in Australia. During her third year, Emma took part in an exchange program with UC Davis in California that she much enjoyed and had a placement at Kendall-Jackson in Sonoma, where she was introduced to wine production.

After graduating in 1996 she took a position in Hunter Valley, Australia, but her love for adventure soon led her to Europe and a family-owned winery in Switzerland. After assisting at a second Swiss winery, Emma asked herself, “Where can I go next?”

She began consulting and making wine for the English market, and traveled to South Africa and then to France. It was at this point that her mother said to Emma, “Don’t tell me about it until after you have done it.” Seizing the opportunity to improve her skiing, she briefly worked in a bar at a ski area and then at a winery in Chile “. . . as it would be good for my Spanish.” Unexpectedly, she found herself in charge of building and equipping the laboratory for the winery!

In 2001 she moved on to Santa Helena, a large winery in Santiago, and managed one of its several wineries for two vintages before receiving an offer of land from her parents. It was in Crownthorpe, a newer district of the Hawke’s Bay region, where the soil is a thin layer of silt loam over several meters of red river gravels.

Emma accepted her parents’ offer in 2002, and that same year married Marcelo Nunez, a Chilean vineyard manager. Together with her parents, they “. . . picked up roots and stones on the bare land, and began planting vines.” She established her own label, Monowai Estate, meaning “One-Water” in reference to the fact that a single expanse of ocean separates her and Marcelo’s respective homelands. Their winery was built in 2005 in time for their first vintage.

She and Marcelo have two young children. Her parents have moved to live close by, and Emma feels fortunate that they are so supportive with the children and in the vineyards and winery. Many women Emma knows go part-time when they have children. “Men in New Zealand are still quite traditional.” She mentioned attending a NZ winery engineering conference and seeing very few women: “. . . one day there was a total of two women, and on the second day, a total of three.”

Words of Advice. Emma recommended, “Start at the beginning and learn along the way,” international experience, and doing a vintage before enrolling in an enology program to understand what is involved. With regard to personal qualities, she sees flexibility and confidence as key.

The Wines. The Monowai Estate vineyards and winery are the first to be located in Crownthorpe. The upper reaches of the Ngaruroro River Valley shelter the inland, elevated terraces of this district, making it perfect for premium cool-climate style wines. In addition to its Pinot Noirs, Monowai produces top-quality, estate-grown Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris, Merlot, and Chardonnay. The current production is around 17,000 cases a year.

Monowai Estate was named Hawke’s Bay Winery of the Year at the 2017 New York International Wine Competition, and was awarded three gold medals for its 2015 Sauvignon Blanc, 2015 Pinot Gris and 2013 Pinot Noir. The winery does not have a cellar door and thus we were unable to taste Emma’s award-winning wines. Instead, we purchased a bottle of her 2015 Monowai Upper Reaches Pinot Noir to bring home with us. (“Upper Reaches” vintages are made from outstanding parcels of wine.) This wine has received excellent reviews.