When Graham Norton takes a sip of wine on his chat show, do you know what it is?
The winemakers behind the brand gracing the glasses of many an A-list star probably didn’t envision their drink reaching so high a profile, so early on, but it did just that.
Invivo wines was started after two lifelong friends – Tim Lightbourne and Rob Cameron – decided to pack in their jobs to do something they loved.
It was five years ago and Rob was working in Europe as a fine winemaker, while Tim was here in England, working in marketing. Both were keen to get back to their homeland so they threw in their respective towels and ventured back to start their own wine company.
They launched Invivo in 2007 and followed with their first wine release in 2008 after approaching growers in the Wairau and Awatere Valleys in Marlborough. Rob now works with 13 growers, including some in the Central Otago region. He is meticulous, picking what he thinks are the best grapes and working with varieties he is particularly passionate about, such as Pinot Noir.
I met both recently at the London International Wine Festival where they were doing tastings through their UK distributor, Grupo Codorníu UK. Early into our conversation I realised how passionate both are, exuding a childish excitement that can only come from doing something you truly love.
While Rob tasted grapes, Tim was hard at work getting Invivo out to a wider audience. The label was designed to stand out from other Kiwi wineries as they wanted to avoid “mountains, lakes and bays” according to Tim. Instead, they picked an graphically strong eight-point ship’s compass rose done in silver to reflect against the black background.
Their hard work has paid off. In the past few years, it has sponsored New Zealand fashion week, emerging music artists, quirky graffiti events and, of course, supplied Mr Norton with all the wine he can handle. Its Pinot Noir has won gold and been named one of the top 5 in the world at the International Wine and Spirits Championships in 2010; received a gold from Decanter for its Sauvignon Blanc; and had its Sauv Blanc also chosen as the wine to be served on Air New Zealand. While they started with 5,000 cases, they now sell 50,000.
One of the company’s biggest sellers has been Bella which is a lower-calorie, lower-alcohol 9.5% Sauvingnon Blanc that makes up 15% of sales. The grapes used achieve fully ripe flavours with lower sugar levels, so it creates the lower-alcohol content. They are also picked at night when it is cooler, which adds to this concept. It’s a lovely crisp, tropical fruit flavoured wine and very appealing to someone like myself who often finds strong white wines create a headache after only a couple of glasses.
My favourite of those I tried was the Pinot Noir – it was bursting with a palate of ripe cherries and plums, with a tiny hint of spice and a flavour that just lasted and lasted on the tongue.
Invivo’s wines launched in the UK last year and were exclusively available at Harvey Nichols, but have now gone into local independent shops around the country and on tesco.com’s wine shop.
So, if you see the eight-pointed star in your shop, give them a go. They’re only five years in and making a huge splash. It was pleasurable to taste the wine made by such passionate young people.