Nigel and Shelley Avery and their three daughters have embraced life in the Twin Cities: The girls run lemonade stands. The family skis and skates its way through winter. Friends and neighbors join the couple for an occasional glass of wine on the deck of their Edina rambler.
As much as they feel at home here, the Averys actually are about 8,000 miles away from their native New Zealand. The South Pacific island nation also is the headquarters of Sileni Estates, the family-run winery that Nigel’s father launched in 1997.
Nigel, CEO of Sileni Estates USA and a member of New Zealand’s Olympic weightlifting team in 2000, moved his family with him while he works to expand sales and learn the U.S. market as he prepares one day to succeed his father as the head of Sileni, named for the followers of Bacchus, the Roman god of wine. The wine he and his wife enjoy, of course, is from the family winery, and is available in more than 80 countries and hundreds of retail outlets and restaurants in Minnesota and other states
The Avery family moved to Edina in August 2013, just in time for their daughters — Blaise, 10, and 7-year-old twins Hunter and Neve — to start classes at Countryside School. Shelley, a nurse in New Zealand, is staying at home during the three years the family plans to be in Minnesota.
“From the moment we walked in, we were welcome,” Nigel said. “For us as a family, it’s been really rewarding and enriching. We’ve all grown and it’s been a positive experience.”
Nigel hopes that the small but fast-growing Sileni can benefit from the increasing U.S. interest in New Zealand wines, particularly sauvignon blanc. He’s also seeking to spur demand for Sileni Nano, a recyclable plastic cup and single-serve bottle of on-the-go wine. He chose to move to the Twin Cities to be close to Sileni’s national importer, Prestige Wine and Spirits Group, and Johnson Brothers Liquor Company, a distributor, which both have metro-area offices.
The family had a good idea of what living here would be like from seeing a lot of Hollywood movies and television shows in New Zealand, Nigel said.
The weather was a different story.
They’ve seen “nothing as drastic” as what Minnesota’s changing seasons have to offer, Nigel said. “We’re probably as warm in the summer but a little bit drier,” he said. “Our winters are like the early or middle part of spring here. We get a lot more rain, I suppose.”
Nigel was the only one with winter experience, from a trip to Calgary when he was a member of New Zealand’s bobsled team. He made sure to equip the family with jackets, hats, snow pants and gloves.
“I said, ‘If we don’t adapt to this climate we’re not going to enjoy it,’ ” Nigel said. “We love the snow — making snow angels, tobogganing, skating and skiing.”
Flavors of home
What they’ve missed, besides friends and family from back home, is produce from Hawke’s Bay, their home region and “the fruit bowl of New Zealand,” Nigel said.
“You miss that because it’s so flavorful,” Nigel said of the region’s fruits and vegetables. “I think that’s why our wine is also so flavorful.”
Those fruit flavors are helping to make Sileni’s wines popular as well, he said, especially its top-selling sauvignon blanc. The company, one of few family-owned New Zealand wineries, focuses on making wines that pair well with foods.
Sileni’s sauvignon blanc is a very good example of a wine that is increasingly in demand, said Ted Farrell, president of Haskell’s, which has a dozen wine shops in the state.
“New Zealand sauvignon blancs right now are probably one of the hottest categories in the market,” Farrell said. “People love the citrus nature of the wine. It’s very clean, very sharp and refreshing. It definitely helps to have a character like Nigel promoting those wines. If you could bottle up the energy Nigel has, you could conquer the world, that’s for sure.”
Sileni wine is on the menu at Pittsburgh Blue Steakhouse and most other Parasole Restaurant Holdings properties, said Donna Fahs, the company’s chief operating officer.
“It’s a really easy-drinking, nice sauvignon blanc,” Fahs said. “It really epitomizes the New Zealand variety. It’s affordable … and we love the local connection.”
For the Averys, the one challenge that adapting so well to the Twin Cities may pose is going back to a smaller region when they are due to return to New Zealand at the end of July 2016.
“It’s all been positive,” said Shelley, who hopes to return to the United States on her husband’s future business trips here. “It’s going to be hard to go home. Friends here are starting to talk about when we leave and I say, ‘Let’s just live in the now.’ ”
Todd Nelson is a freelance writer in Woodbury. His e-mail address is email@example.com.