Land lady

By Jacqui Gibson Photography by Adrian Vercoe

Featured in Capital #78.
Subscribe to get the real thing here.

Last year’s Matariki was one of remembrance for Wairarapa winemaker Jannine Rickards.

Jannine lost her dad, aged 66, in November to emphysema. When it comes time to reflect on loved ones who’ve passed at Martinborough’s Hau Ariki community marae on 10 July, it’ll be hard for her to hold it together.

On the upside, she’ll be in good company – about 80 winemakers and their families will attend the Matariki noho marae, hosted by marae chair Kevin Haunui. So there’ll be plenty of hugs, storytelling, sharing of kai, and chat about the year ahead.

“To be honest, I was so busy last year that dad’s death didn’t really hit me until the end of the wine harvest,” explains Jannine from her home on State Highway 53 near Tauherenikau in the Wairarapa.

Inside, the fire’s roaring. On the kitchen bench, two venison back steaks are seasoned and coming to room temperature. Mick, Jannine’s partner of four years, is enjoying a beer on the couch. “That’s why I like this time of year,” Jannine explains, offering me wine. (I say no, but thanks). “The long hours of harvest are over. Winter’s here. The days are shorter. There’s time to pause and take a minute.”

At 40, Jannine admits that taking a breather any time of the year is a bit out of character for her. Just last weekend, she was in Rakiura with her mum and eight mates on a custom fishing and food charter run by Nate Smith of Gravity Fishing. Looking to the months ahead, she and Mick have trees to plant, a deck to build, and a pair of two-year-old dogs to fashion into skilled deer-stalkers.

Most Mondays, after work, she takes the one-hour return journey to Masterton for Māori language classes at UCOL’s Whakaoriori marae. Then there’s her full-time job winemaking for Urlar, a biodynamic vineyard located in the river-terrace wine region of Gladstone.

Right now, she’s preparing to bottle the fourth wine in the Huntress range, a skin-fermented pinot gris, which she plans to release at Wellington on a Plate in late August. This year marks four years of Huntress wines, a personal label Jannine launched in 2017.

“I’d like to slow down a bit, particularly after losing dad,” says Jannine. “He had a huge influence on my life. He was seriously the hardest working person I’ve ever known, but never put himself first and left us far too early.”

This is where hunting comes in, says Jannine. “It’s the best way to destress by connecting with nature. I’ll switch off my phone as I go into the bush on Friday night and won’t turn it on again until I come out on Sunday.”

Tonight’s venison, which she and Mick will eat as tartare and wash down with Huntress pinot noir, is her latest kill, shot in Ata Rangi’s regenerating bush block. Jannine has made pâté from the spiker’s liver, and a regular favourite – a wild food breakfast of fried heart, onions, and herbs, with lashings of spicy sauce. The rest she’ll likely divvy out to friends and family.

Ata Rangi’s bush block holds special meaning for Jannine. It’s where Mick taught her to hunt a decade ago and it’s on the Martinborough property of local wine-making legend and conservationist Clive Paton, Jannine’s former employer of six years.

She tells me making wine alongside Wairarapa greats such as Clive and Helen and Olly Masters set the course of her career. “They were incredible to work for. I learned so much in the harvests we did together. I did vintages in the USA, South Africa, and France, and completed my post-graduate diploma in oenology during my time with them. I’d been working in the wine industry for about three years, but at Ata Rangi I decided to go all in.”

Venison tartare with foraged and garden greens

by Jannine Rickards

Knowing where your kai comes from will connect you to the whenua that provides for and sustains you. Ask: where is this from? Did it have a happy life? Was it grown organically? These questions will take you on a journey that will bring joy and satisfaction to every mouthful.

I always make this dish from the back steaks of deer I hunt; we enjoy this delicate and tender cut of meat raw/tartare rather than cooked. Many of the ingredients change depending on what is available on the day. I encourage you to improvise and play around with combinations. You can source wild game meat from several suppliers, or alternatively source some beef from a reputable butcher who knows the farmer of the meat.

Serves 2 as a main or 4 as an entrée


Glugs of Olive oil (grapeseed oil/ avocado oil)
Splash of cider vinegar (juice of a lemon/ wine vinegar/ fruit shrub)
½ a finely diced red onion (shallot/ spring onion/ onion weed/chives)
Cornichons diced finely (pickled onions)
Dash of Worcestershire sauce
Tabasco or other hot sauce (I used Apostle)
Quince jam (or other homemade fruit jam/honey for a hint of sweetness)
Finely chopped fresh herbs like chives and parsley
Dijon mustard
Salt and pepper

300–400g of venison back steak
Sea salt, pepper, and garden herbs

Foraged watercress and chickweed
Home-grown rocket or other salad greens
Fresh herbs like parsley and chives

To Serve
Croutons or home-made potato/ kumara fries
Chive flowers (or onion weed/ rocket flower/ radish flower)


  1. Prepare the meat. Tidy up and remove any sinew, pat dry, and season with salt and pepper and finely chopped thyme or other herbs. Wrap and place in fridge until ready to plate dish.
  2. Make the dressing, combining ingredients and seasoning to your taste.
  3. Gather/ harvest salad greens, rinse, and dry.
  4. Make croutons with some sourdough or prepare some potatoes or kumara for making chips.
  5. Dice back steaks finely and combine with dressing.
  6. Cook chips if serving, dress salad, and plate up.
  7. Enjoy with a great glass of wine and friends.


Sign up to our newsletter