Far From the Vine

Twelfth NightBeth Ann and Arié Dahan. Photo by Adrianne Mathiowetz. All other photos by Max Risman.

This Somerville Couple Mixes Business with Pleasure in Their New Zealand Vineyard

As the housing bubble burst in the United States, sending its devastating effects rippling across the world, another market was failing some 9,000 miles away. The wine industry in New Zealand was producing more grapes than it knew what to do with, and prices dropped as supply outstripped demand.

In 2008, at a time when people all over the world were shutting their wallets, Somerville resident Arié Dahan says the “worst thing” happened for New Zealand vineyards: they had a fantastic crop.

Rather than destroying their grapes to artificially tweak the supply, they sold huge amounts in the United Kingdom, according to Arié. The vineyards “killed their brands,” he explains.

As these two markets unraveled, Arié got a call from his mother urging him to make some osrt of low-risk investment.

Arié and his wife live in Somerville, but Beth Ann knows a lot about the wine scene in New Zealand. She teaches wine classes at Boston University’s School of Hospitality, a career path she got into after running Soleil Café in Teele Square.

The couple mulled over Arié’s mother’s advice. Real estate in the United States was off the table, so Arié and Beth Ann turned their sights abroad.

New Zealand vineyards were in financial trouble, but Beth Ann knew about the quality of wines coming from the country’s Central Otago region. They flew to New Zealand with Max Risman, Arié’s colleague, and spent two weeks exploring vineyards. On the twelfth night, they found the one, and Twelfth Night Wines was born.

Although it was a large financial decision, buying a vineyard was an obvious choice for Beth Ann and Arié. The two have an eye for business—they met while getting their MBAs from Northeastern University in the early ’90s. Arié is now a portfolio manager for a hedge fund.

Beth Ann comes from a family that loves wine, and she enjoyed working in the culinary industry before switching to teaching wine classes. Wine is an “endless source of new discoveries,” she says. For Arié, the draw to wine is simple: “I’m French.”

Arié, Beth Ann, and Risman bought the 60-acre vineyard in 2011. The first two years were difficult as they immersed themselves in farming with the extra challenge of being thousands of miles away.

Twelfth Night

The team learned quickly that the people they’d hired to run the vineyard didn’t have sufficient training to care for it. They lost 90 percent of their crop in their second year.

In addition to modernizing the vineyard, the trio enlisted two native Frenchmen as vineyard manager and winemaker, and a South Korean woman whose family operated a vineyard in her home country as a seasonal staff supervisor.

But operating out of New Zealand has allowed them to part with French winemaking in some areas. Old winemaking countries like France and Italy are “bound by tradition,” Beth Ann says, and there’s “much more freedom” in New Zealand.

They’ve unrolled inventive solutions to combat frost, wind, and disease, including a tunnel sprayer that works well in wind and minimizes product use. One of their more creative solutions turned into a “complete disaster”—they got air dancers, like you might find outside of a car dealership, to scare away birds, but couldn’t figure out a way to power them in the middle of the vineyard.

“Sometimes our crew thinks we’re completely nuts, but some things work great, so you have to try,” Beth Ann says. “That’s definitely the feeling we have running the vineyard.”

They also set up a weather station so that Arié can monitor soil water levels and weather conditions in minute detail and in real time. He checks in nearly constantly, Beth Ann says.

Their operation of the vineyard reflects their original decision to buy it—a choice made out of a passion for wine and a desire for a good investment.

“We’re running the vineyard as a business,” Beth Ann says. “Obviously we have a love for wine, but at the end of the day, this was an investment, and we want it to be profitable, and Arié and Max have spent a lot of time really making sure that what we’re doing makes sense from a business perspective.”

“Our spreadsheets are well renowned in Central Otago,” Arié says.

The Twelfth Night Wines umbrella includes pinot noir, pinot noir rosé, riesling, and sauvignon blanc. The vineyard keeps about 20 percent of the crop, enough to make 3,000 cases annually, and sells the rest of the grapes to other wineries, Beth Ann says.

When people find out Beth Ann and Arié own a New Zealand vineyard, the first reaction is often that they’re “a little bit crazy,” Beth Ann says.

“Mostly the reaction is very, very positive, they think it’s really cool,” she says. “I get a lot of people saying, ‘Oh my god, I’ve always wanted to do that,’ or ‘I’ve always wanted to work picking grapes.’ We’ve had at least three or four people from the Boston area who have actually gone down and worked on the vineyard and picked grapes.”

The wine is for sale locally at Dave’s Fresh Pasta, Pemberton Farms, Thistle & Shamrock, and Inman Square Wine & Spirits. The different varieties sell for between roughly $13 and $20.

All of the wine comes into the United States through New Jersey, according to Beth Ann, and it’s for sale in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Connecticut, North Carolina, Florida, Indiana, Tennessee, Pennsylvania, and the Washington, D.C. area.

This story appears in the Food, Glorious Food! issue of Scout Somerville, which is available for free at more than 220 drop spots throughout Somerville (and just beyond its borders) or by subscription.

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