Dry River appoints Ben McNab as new winemaker

by | Nov 18, 2022 | News

Dry River Wines has appointed young winemaker of the year Ben McNab to the winemaker role at the iconic Martinborough vineyard to help build upon the legacy of forty years of grape growing and winemaking, a journey started in the late 1970’s by founder Neil McCullum.

Ben – formerly from Palliser Estate – was named the 2021 Tonnellerie de Mercurey Young Winemaker of the Year and says he was worried he’d have to leave the region to get a chance like this.

“It’s an exciting opportunity and I’m conscious of the responsibility that comes with taking over one of the country’s heritage brands in one of our premier wine regions.

“Martinborough doesn’t make bulk wine – it’s low yield, high quality, fine wine. You don’t make these sort of quality wines from behind a desk – it’s a high touch approach based on a very close relationship with the wine.”

For Ben, the young winemaker of the year award was the culmination of a 10-year apprenticeship and three attempts at the title. Ben is a proud third generation Wairarapa farmer with a vineyard-led approach that is respectful of the traditions he is inheriting.

“We’re taking over as the vineyard comes into flowering which is a great time to get to know the land, the vines and the fruit – that’s my priority.”

Dry River was bought by Wellington businessman Charlie Zheng who built the Luna Estate brand after buying Blue Rock and Eclipse Vineyards.

Dry River and Luna Estate head winemaker Joel Watson says protecting the iconic Martinborough winery is a driving motivation for the new owner.

“Dry River has been returned to New Zealand ownership and Charlie is committed to Martinborough having spent the previous decade establishing Luna Estate and more recently adding an accommodation option, Parehua Resort.

“I feel the last six or seven Dry River releases are probably the best, most expressive and consistent I’ve tasted. We have a lot of respect for the previous winemaker’s organic viticulture-led approach – it makes sense us as we already use organic farming on all of our Luna vineyards.

“Wine is a team effort that takes time and commitment – we’ve got an incredible foundation with vines up to 40 years old and an exciting young talent in Ben who has a fantastic future ahead of him. Our job is to help him realise the vision for Dry River,” says Joel.


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