The Tale of Tussock Hill; The Journey of Vineyard to Table on Christchurch’s Port Hills

The Tussock Hill management team smiling to camera outside.

Growing grapes on Christchurch's Port Hills is rare and, from what I've been told, not easy. Match that with an onsite restaurant with a vantage point looking over Christchurch City and the vineyard while enjoying your glass of organic goodness, and you've got Tussock Hill. It's only been open since 2021 but already feels like part of the landscape.

Interview by: Johnny Gibson 

Photos by: Ashleigh Vermaak

I got to chat with Melaina Targett, General Manager of Tussock Hill, about the family's journey, their passion and what it takes to deliver such an impressive set-up.

Tell us a little about the journey that led you here. 

The very short answer is that Graham was looking for another job outside of Carpentry, and we, as a family, were looking for a business to run together that could work alongside having little children. Graham was building a house overlooking the Port Hills property and saw the running of the vineyard next door and thought it looked like an exciting opportunity/career change. We then realised the property was for sale, and one thing led to another, and here we are!

You purchased the vineyard in 2017 and had the whole family join in on the vision. How did you know that was the right decision, and how did you beat the doubts that creep in with such a venture? 

We'd been looking for a business to run together for a while, with a property we could all share, so it seemed perfect to take on some new challenges. The final vision was a gradual development over time as we realised what it would take to have several vineyards and then a restaurant. We had a great deal of family support and wonderful consultants. 

A big part of not letting the doubts get the better of us was Graham's father, John. Having started multiple businesses himself, he was no stranger to risk and was a big part of maintaining our confidence in what we knew to be a great venture. 

You never really beat the doubts when starting a new business, but we've done our best to keep them at bay!

What do you love about viticulture? 

Graham and Sally love working outdoors and the different challenges every season brings, as no season is the same as another. Graham loves that, and because we farm organically, the grapes we grow directly influence the finished wine. It's really special when pouring one of our wines for someone. We know that it tastes the way it does because of the hard work put into the vineyard. 

Tussock Hill has Organic Winegrowers Certification. Why is that important to you, and what misconceptions do people have about it? 

We were lucky that the first vineyard was already certified, and our other vineyard was transitioning, so we have never farmed any other way! The Organic Winegrowers conferences have been a source of inspiration for us. 

It's important to us because it can be a lighter, more environmentally friendly farming approach when done correctly. Because we believe wine is a treat, not a necessity, it's important to treat our land with as much care and respect as possible. 

People's misconceptions would be that it is somehow easier, that we don't spray or do anything in the vineyard. In reality, it's a lot more involved to farm well organically, and you have to have a very proactive approach rather than a reactive one which you might find in most conventional vineyards or farming. 

Alongside the vineyard and restaurant, you have accommodation and a mobile bar. How do you manage all the different elements? 

We have set roles for the family members that work full time on the property. Melaina manages the administration, website, socials and emails. Managing the workload has been easier because we have been surrounded by many wonderful people who have given us excellent advice, as well a wonderful team of staff that we trust and value, so they have been able to help with many aspects of the business, too. 

We do find that it is tough to take a day off as the restaurant is just beside our house, and there's always something going on on either property.

What are the daily rituals around the vineyard and restaurant that are important to you? 

I love going to the restaurant, making a pot of coffee for the restaurant staff and chatting with everyone. And in the springtime, wandering around the vineyard, making a note of what is growing and where. 

For Sally, in the morning, she loves taking the dogs down to feed the animals. Graham and Sally enjoy walking and talking around the vineyard, feeling connected to the land and what's happening on it. 

What do you want people to experience when visiting Tussock Hill? 

I would love people to have a complete property experience, from our veggie garden to the vineyard, the view and our hospitality. Our goal is to achieve as close to a full farm to table experience as possible. 

What are the biggest hurdles to running a restaurant at the end of a long road? 

It has been tricky managing this as a "destination" restaurant. It's very disappointing for people to drive all the way up on a busy weekend and be turned away. We have utilised online booking as best we can to manage this. Getting people up midweek during winter can also be a bit of a challenge.

Tussock Hill has gained a tremendous following and reputation since opening. Why do you think it has resonated with locals so much? 

I hope it's because they can see the passion and love behind everything we do. We are such a small owner operated business, and we try to be as genuine as possible and hope that our customers value the experience we provide. 

What is your favourite food and wine match? 

I have loved seeing dishes with ingredients grown on our property. The Candied pumpkin salad with our barrel fermented Sauvignon Blanc is a favourite of mine. 

What are the dreams for Tussock Hill going forward?

We want to expand the vegetable garden so a good portion of the produce is grown on-site. I want to stay true to our vision of local, sustainable food that supports smaller producers like us doing beautiful things.

Where do you find inspiration? 

I've found inspiration recently from attending conferences, from Organic wine growing to hospitality and accommodation. Seeing other people further along than ourselves still being so passionate is absolutely awesome. 

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