Richard Riddiford

Photo credit: Mike Heydon / Jet Photography.

New Zealand Pinot Noir lost a huge ally and friend this week when the CEO of Palliser Estate, Richard Riddiford, passed away.

Larry McKenna came back from the USA in the late 80s full of dreams of establishing a Pinot Noir event here in New Zealand.

He’d been to the Steamboat Pinot Workshop and the International Pinot Noir Conference and imagined something with a similarly outward focus.

New Zealand was in the early years of Pinot production, and a national event celebrating the grape was a total pipedream.

A steering committee was established, and a vote on where it should happen was held. Central Otago lost out to Wellington, and so the limelight swung to the capital city and its supporting wine region in the Wairarapa.

This gaze fell on one man in particular, Richard Riddiford. Richard and his family had a huge history in the district, and he was well connected in the business community.

Power, influence, status, spiritual power, charisma – Mana is an important word in New Zealand. The more prestigious the event, person or object, the more it is surrounded by tapu and mana. Mana is inherited at birth, the more senior the descent, the greater the mana.

It’s no wonder then that Larry speaks of Richard having Mana. He describes him as having a tough exterior but always being the first to put his hand up when the chips were down.

Richard needed all this Mana when he chaired the very first Pinot Noir NZ conference in 2001. The ability to translate a great vision of a few men into sold seats at a conference was a huge ask. So senior diplomats and politicians were told they needed to be there by Richard.

He was completely pivotal in its success and that laid the foundation for all that has followed it.

As is the way of the greatest people in the New Zealand wine industry Richard wasn’t motivated by the success of his own brand alone. He was determined to take Martinborough and the whole of New Zealand Pinot Noir with him.

Everybody who has benefitted from this since owes him a debt of gratitude.

The Mana of the current Pinot Noir NZ event is, in no small part, due to him.

Vale Richard Riddiford. Haere rā.


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