Q+A With Michael From The Grove

We talked to Michael Dearth owner and front of house extraordinaire of The Grove Restaurant about their new menu, their favourite American wines and what brought them to NZ  from The States. 

So tell me a little bit about the history of The Grove… How did you get to be here and what do you think you bring to the area? 

I came to NZ when I was backpacking after a long trip through Australia and South East Asia. I was young and single and feel in love with the place. It spoke to me. I knew someday I wanted to live here. When I returned to America and met Annette (his partner) working together in San Francisco, I said, ‘If this is going to work out you are going to have to move out to NZ with me! She did and the rest is history.

What do we give to the area? Well, I had travelled a lot so I knew what NZ was lacking. It was at the time there were all the show off food-  foams etc. We wanted to bring quality, simplistic food, organic wherever possible and definitely in season. But above all we wanted to provide awesome service and be connected which is easy for us as it is such a great place. I was already a sommelier and Maître de and my knowledge of wine had been well nurtured by then.


What are some highlights over the last five years for The Grove?

Opening the door to The Grove was the biggest highlight! It was the culmination of a huge amount of work and a major project, moving out here from the States, finding the place and getting it all up and running. Then the Best Restaurant of the year in Metro that was a great boost as it was recognition of the hard work.


How much is the direction and inspiration of The Grove is influenced by your and Annette’s San Francisco experience?

San Francisco is like an island of food and wine culture in America. I worked there for 15 years and knew I wanted to work in hospitality. Its gateway to the Napa and Sonoma and some of the best Sommeliers in the country reside there. I worked under a guy Harry Stone and tasted alongside him and other sommeliers. It’s like a big farm with seasonal and organic produce at our doorsteps.


You are organic where possible and seasonal.  What are the highlights we can look forward to over the summer?

Zucchini Flowers stuffed with goat’s ricotta with lemon, lime zest with rosemary and thyme herbs. This is the type of food I grew up on. We had a huge garden and ate seasonally and preserved the rest.


What is your favourite dish on The Grove menu right now?

Ben’s seasonal terrines- made with wild game and foie gras, hazelnuts and walnuts. It has an amazing wine match with desert wines and fun at the beginning of the meal.


Your wine list is often commended, how do you get a list like this?

I love weird and esoteric wines. Wines from Bulgaria, Greece and Austria. I love serving wines which people have to ask about and enjoy showing new wines to guests.

People now come to me with unusual or different wines. My time alongside top sommeliers and tasting wines from around the world and friendships with many winemakers in California has meant we have a varied wine list here.


What’s the difference between NZ and Californian Chardonnays?

Californian Chardonnays can have the extracted, ripe round and voluptuous sometimes this can be too much. New Zealand Chardonnays have a grape fruity and citrus character tensioned between the richness and minerality. I am growing more towards the NZ styles.


You have the Odyssey Reserve Iliad Gisborne Chardonnay on the list. What would that pair well with?

We have a risotto on the menu made with individually fried whitebait. There’s an elegance and finesse to the dish and it’s very textural, this goes so well with the Iliad.


What are your favorite American wines on your list right now?

Right now I am enjoying the wines of Nick Unti from Sonoma. I love the way he makes blends from multiple varietals and teams up ancient varietals from Italy for example with modern Zinfandels, Petite Syrah and Mouvrvedre.  Unti wines have a fun aspect about them.

Italians often bring their cuisine and wine with them when they immigrate to create pockets of Italian culture and cuisine.

One cannot help but think that Michael and Annette have brought their own a bit of Italy and San Francisco cuisine with them here in the form of Baduzzi and The Grove, and we are so thankful for that! Yum!

Catching up with Kiwiseed

We caught up with Maren from KiwiSeed to talk about the importance of diversification in plants on vineyards and suitability to different soils. MAren is the horticulture agronomist at KiwiSeed, and she has studied a B SC Horticulture, graduating in 2008. 

Where do you come from and how you got to come to work in Marlborough? How different is it from your home country?

I was born and raised in the green outskirts of busy Berlin, Germany. In comparison, Marlborough has got a lot to offer if you enjoy being outdoor, coast, flats, hills, rivers and generally a much more relaxed attitude.

My parents always encouraged me to travel and see the world early on, so I did. I travelled through Europe, did a high school year in America and travelled around Australia in 2005. I then finished my Bachelor of Science in horticulture back home before my partner and I decided to escape to New Zealand. After travelling for three months, I worked in the Marlborough’s vineyards before I heard Kiwi Seeds owner Bruce was looking for a Horticulturalist. I started the next Monday and haven’t left since, maybe its meant to be!


Maren is a horticultural agronomist at KiwiSeed and is responsible for designing many of the regions vineyards cover crops. Maren can you explain how you start to work out what seeds to prescribe sow on the organic vineyards?

To get a better understanding of my client`s needs I ask some questions:

- What are you trying to achieve – attract beneficial insects or create enormous amounts of biomass to improve soil structure, tilth, nutrient levels, combat soil erosion and so on, or is it a combination of both?

-Are there any water logging issues and what are the soils like?

Its also important to find out if the block will be grazed by sheep or cattle now or in near future and what the future plans are.


How important is biodiversity in a vineyard?

It is very important to increase biodiversity as much as possible in vineyards to reduce the risks related to monoculture. Using cover crops is a great way to regenerate nutrients and our protect soils. Soils hold at least one quarter of the world`s biodiversity and healthy soils are base for healthy food and wine production.


What influence does soil type have on what seeds you sow?

Some plants do better on some soils than others. So to create a blend that will work in a particular vineyard situation you need to know the soil type and what plants to match. The tricky bit is often there are more than just one soil type in a vineyard- dry bony parts and hollows that hold water for long time.


What trends do you see in organic vineyards?

Definitely organic and biodynamic vineyard managers are aware of dangers in monoculture production systems and realise the benefits of diversity. It is great news that more and more blocks here in Marlborough are being converted to organic production sites and even conventional growers are starting to open up to the idea to have a couple rows in wildflowers during the spring/ summer months to attract those beneficial insects.


What’s the most interesting part of your job?

Diversity! I get to look after our Vineyard clients. I am also in charge of all the other seed production contracted to Kiwi Seed. On a daily basis I get to meet very interesting people with great ideas, knowledge and skills.