Tamra Kelly-Washington – Fab Ladies of Wine

Tamra Washington Chief Winemaker-0067480

She knew she wanted to work in wine from the time she was a kid growing up in New Zealand. And now she’s the chief winemaker at one of the their largest wine brands – and one of the world’s most sustainable. She’s talented, warm and hardworking and we absolutely love this lady. (Even though she is from across the ditch!) Meet the inspiring Tamra Kelly-Washington.


When, why and how did you first enter the wine industry?

I think I knew from quite a young age I wanted to be involved in wine, growing up in Marlborough in the ’80’s and ‘90’s when a lot of planting was going on really got me curious – along with an interest in science based subjects. I worked in vineyards during school holidays then went to Lincoln University in Canterbury to complete a winemaking degree. 

How long have you been with Yealands and how did you arrive there?

I’ve been at Yealands now for eight years – since the inception. It’s been great to be involved in a winery and wine business from start up. I came into contact with Peter Yealands via a consultant who was working for him, and as they say, the rest is history! I was working in Italy at the time and so left ‘la dolce vita’ to come back to my hometown of Blenheim, NZ. 

What is your current role and what does that involve day to day?

My current role is Chief winemaker. It has evolved somewhat since the early days where I was pretty much doing everything concerned with running the winery and making the wines. Now, as we have grown and built up a really great team, my job is less of managing the ‘day to day’ and more overseeing the big picture stuff – everything that goes into creating the wines, their style direction from year to year, also a fair bit of work is involved in supporting the sales and marketing teams in promoting the wines both locally and in particular internationally, which involves quite a bit of travel.

What is the philosophy behind Yealands? And how does that fit with your own winemaking philosophy?

My winemaking philosophy is to try and promote varietal expression where possible – fruit purity, simplicity, elegance. This aligns nicely to the Yealands philosophy as we are fortunate to grow most of our fruit on a really special vineyard that allows the varietals to become quite transparent to the environment, and I aim to capture and nurture this in the winery. It is a super cool site right on the coast so we get an extra-long growing season, loads of flavour in the fruit and this beautiful mineral acidity.

What should we all know about New Zealand’s Marlborough wine region? Why is it so fabulous?

We have the perfect climatic condition here to make not only fabulous, world renowned Sauvignon Blanc but also brilliant Pinot Noirs and other white aromatics. The region is stunning, filled with picturesque vineyards, wineries, cellar doors, winery restaurants and we also have the breathtaking Marlborough Sounds on our door step – perfect for summer holidays, fishing, swimming, kayaking….

What wine varieties do you produce? And are they all from Marlborough?

We produce a number of varietals from three different regions of NZ:

In Marlborough we are focused on Sauvignon Blanc, which represents 70% of our production so is very important but we have also diversified into Pinot Gris, Riesling, Gruner Veltliner, Gewürztraminer, Pinot Noir, Viognier and even Tempranillo. We also produce wines from the warmer Hawke’s Bay area of the North Island – Chardonnay, Syrah, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and from the cooler southern region of the South Island we produce Pinot Noir. So you can say we have something for everyone!

What are your own personal favourites from those you produce, and why?

Personally I do love Sauvignon Blanc coming from our cooler home vineyard, Seaview, where we make a rich, textured barrel fermented Sauvignon Blanc. I am also a sucker for Chardonnay. I love whites that are savoury and complex, yet elegant and focused, both these wines deliver this every time.

What is your absolute favourite wine and food pairing? And what should we keep in mind when matching food and wine?  

I can’t go past bluff oysters and one of our Seaview Sauvignon Blancs that are super minerally.

Don’t be too held up on the classics and don’t be afraid to try something a bit out there!

As a woman working in the wine industry, have you faced any particular challenges where your gender has ever been an issue?

I haven’t really had any issues, I think it is always down to the attitude and personality of the individual. I have worked in a number of places overseas and was based in Sicily for a long time where there weren’t many females involved in the production side of the industry, and fortunately I didn’t have any major problems but having a relaxed, open attitude did go a long way!

What’s your number one tip for tasting wine?

Try and keep an open mind and don’t judge the wine until you have tasted it – sometimes we have in our minds an idea of what a wine will taste like based on previous experience but the world is full of many different styles of wines, even coming from the same variety, you will be surprised!

If there was one thing you could tell the sisterhood of wine-lovers out there, what would it be?

The wine industry is a fantastic, fabulous industry for women – it’s very dynamic, you never stop learning, have the chance to meet and work with great people from all over the world, not to mention get exposed to great food, wine and travel! It’s also very creative and rewarding. Don’t be afraid to make the leap into this industry if you have passion for wine!