Our Roots

A tatou e noho nei, tupu ake I te whenua, tupu iho I te rangi e. Sitting together, with the land we grow, with the sky we grow.

Our past shapes our present.

The Hortus Story

In 2008, the viticulture industry in Marlborough was growing rapidly, and contracting businesses were being thrown together to keep up. It was an exciting time in Marlborough, and we were amongst it.

It was easy enough to find labour contractors at the time, but we noticed something missing. Vineyard Managers were craving consistency and reliability, and so were Kiwi jobseekers. In a seasonal industry with plenty of bootleg operations, those things were hard to come by. When Marlborough Vine Works began in 2008, we wanted to provide exceptional service where consistency and reliability were guaranteed for both our clients and our employees. 

In the early years, we learned a lot and made some mistakes. We were good at what we did, which helped build the strong reputation that we still hold today. Over time, it became increasingly clear that our purpose was not just to provide great viticultural services. We were in a position to change lives, and we felt compelled to have the widest possible impact. By rebranding to Hortus in 2013, we opened ourselves to future growth avenues in other crops as well as other regions.

Every decision we’ve made along the way has been driven by the desire to operate in an ethical and socially conscious way. A few core principles helped guide our initial growth:

  • First, to treat everyone how they want to be treated. 
  • Second, to include people in the conversation, the journey, the vision. 
  • Third, to never ask anyone to do something we weren’t prepared to do ourselves, or to stay somewhere we weren’t prepared to stay ourselves. 

These three fundamental concepts evolved into the vision and values that we live by today.

Now we have a clear understanding of how to achieve our goals. We provide exceptional services, take care of our people, and measure our impact. We work with clients whose values align with ours, and we seek out opportunities that fulfil our long-term vision. No one ever said changing lives was easy, but we’re up for the challenge.

Hortus: 2010

Hortus office in 2010

Hortus: 2021

Hortus office and accommodation in 2021

BHAG (Big hairy audacious goals)

Our founder's story

Our owner and founder Aaron Jay is adamant that Hortus should never be about one person. That’s true, of course, because we know that what makes Hortus special is its people, and that its success is the collective effort of many people over many years. Aaron thinks that means we shouldn’t tell his story on the website, but we think it’s a pretty good one. So we are going to tell it anyway. (Sorry, Aaron)

Arriving in New Zealand in 2001, Aaron Jay was struck by the wealth of opportunities available, a stark contrast to what he’d experienced in England. He grew up with the clear goal of wanting to make it into the British special forces, but when a heart condition diverted the path, he was left feeling lost, and with no plan B. He set to work building his reputation as a jack of all trades, master of none. Working at a bank, he learned about finance, and computer sales taught him marketing and brand sales.

Having limited formal education felt like a low ceiling on Aaron’s career aspirations. This frustration led him to join his family in New Zealand. Fresh air, nature, and work opportunities were abundant in Marlborough. Starting out in forestry, Aaron was introduced to some of his best friends (who are now core members of the Hortus team). He and a mate started their own silviculture contracting company, where Aaron first realised his deep desire to be a business owner.

Photo of Aaron giving a speech

Aaron transitioned to viticulture doing field work for Montana, slowly working his way up. He found himself in the room when Marlborough Vine Works was created, and a year later he had the opportunity to buy in and eventually take over the company entirely. In retrospect, buying a company days before his first child was born may have been a bit out-there. But then again, ‘Aaron Jay’ and ‘out-there’ are still finding themselves together in sentences to this day.

Over the years, Aaron has grown and learned alongside Hortus. His key to success now is to surround himself with people whose strengths are his own weaknesses. His pride in the company is exceeded only by his pride in his family. Thoughts of his wife and two daughters get him out of bed each morning (even though admittedly, dreaming about the future of Hortus often keeps him out of bed at night).

Aaron’s name is often paired with words like “dreamer” and “visionary”. Hortus is certainly the sum of all its parts, but the truth is (as much as he hates to admit it), without Aaron we never would have found each other, or had the opportunity to build such a powerful legacy together. Hortus could have existed without Aaron, but it would probably be a pretty average, boring company. And none of us would want to work there. And that’s why his bio is on the website.

The Hortus Haka

Toitu te whenua 
Kia whaka nga hoki au I ahau
Hi aue hi!
E nga tane o rongo kukua nga ringa
Hi au au aue ha!
Horohia ai nga pakiaka o te rakau
Hi au au aue ha!
He ruruhau mo nga iwi ke
A tatou e noho nei, tupu ake I te whenua, tupu iho I te rangi e.
Whatungarongaro te tangata, toitu te whenua.
Ana ksss ana ksss ana ksss aue haa!
Hi Ahaha!
Kat u te ihi-ihi, ka tu te wana-wana, Ki runga ki te rangi, E tu iho nei, E tu iho nei, Hi

The land will remain
Men of Rongo with fists clenched
With hands spread we lay the roots of the tree
People of all tribes under its shade
Sitting together, with the land we grow, with the sky we grow
When all men fade from sight the land will remain