How Garage Project makes wine in the middle of Wellington City
In 2016, famed Wellington brewer Garage Project did something completely unexpected — it made wine. Jos Ruffell (who founded the brewery with Ian and Pete Gillespie in 2011) had been travelling in Europe and fell in love with natural wine, but struggled to find much of what he was looking for when he returned to Wellington.
He started asking everyone he could about who was making that kind of wine here, and one name kept coming up — Alex Craighead, who’d recently started Kindeli wines as a side project from his winemaking day job. Ruffell and Craighead (who, coincidentally, had gone to school together) started trading wine for beer and eventually hatched a plan to make wine in Garage Project’s workshop on Marion St in the middle of Te Aro. Like everything Garage Project does, it quickly exploded. By 2020, Ruffell was pressing 14 tonnes of grapes by himself across “eight or nine” different wines.
From the beginning, Ruffell wanted it to be “quite provocative and interesting”, doing to wine what Garage Project has made a name for itself doing in beer — inventive combinations and processes, “not strictly natural wine, but something a bit different”, he says.
Garage Project bought juice and then grapes from Craighead in Martinborough, but has since taken a lease on some vines in Nelson, where Craighead now operates. Garage Project’s winemaking (which it calls GP Crushed) sits alongside its more experimental beer project, the Wild Workshop. For Ruffell, winemaking is a perfect complement to its brewing, which now includes ageing in oak barrels, blending, experimenting with fermentation methods, playing more with acidity — taking the newly learned techniques of winemaking and then trying them out on beers, and then sometimes vice versa.
Ruffell says choosing to make wine in an urban winery instead of out in the countryside where the grapes are grown is more than just convenience for Garage Project, “it’s about demystifying the process and making it readily available for people to learn about”.
“We have a hands-on connection to all our grapes,” he says. “But by bringing it into the city, we can bring it closer to people.”
This content was created in partnership with WellingtonNZ.