A sip of the Southern Alps intoxicates
IFALL in love with Rippon Winery even before any of its wine has touched my lips. On the shores of Laka Wanaka in Central Otago, at the foot of New Zealand’s South Island, and often touted as the most beautiful vineyard in the country, its setting takes my breath away.
There can be nothing quite like sampling exquisite biodynamic wine on a perfect spring day in the Southern Alps. It’s impossible not to gaze in mellow satisfaction at the lovely vista outside the tasting hut: 2000m snow-capped mountains encircling Lake Wanaka and reflected on its surface, and the estate’s vines marching in orderly lines down to the shore, beside tall, newly green poplars. It’s a 40-minute stroll on a well-trodden path around the lake from Wanaka town to the winery. Perfect for walking off the poached eggs on toasted muffins, with mountains of smoked salmon and slathered with lemon aioli, that I’ve eaten for brunch in town.
Alternatively, I could drive to the winery, but then I would miss the chance to breathe in more of that pure air. From the lake, it’s just 200m through the vines to the wine-tasting room, a rustic lake hut. The love that obviously goes into the production of the wines at Rippon, not to mention the expertise and the jolly good feeling I have just being here, makes me want to buy a case immediately.
A knowledgeable salesman takes our small group through the new releases. The first tasting is of the white and light osteiner, followed by a gewurztraminer, two rieslings and two pinot noirs.
The regular riesling and the youngvines pinot (Jeunesse) are a hit with our group, while most of us find the other whites too light and flinty. But then, with a platter of New Zealand cheeses on a picnic table out in the sun and a little more of that view, the light whites would do nicely.
For my palate, it’s the Jeunesse Pinot Noir that has me closing my eyes and nodding. It is young enough to retain the purity of the grape, as opposed to the established pinot, which shows more of the mineral notes of the soil, putting it more in tune with the region.
Rolfe and Lois Mills planted their first vines on the family farm here in the 1970s, despite the doomsaying of locals and friends alike who insisted wines could not be grown in such a climate. The couple proved everyone wrong, finding that the combination of good vine-growing soils and the convenient topographical features diverted the majority of the most damaging frosts.
As well as being in the southernmost viticultural region in the world, and 330m above sea level, this part of NZ boasts a climate similar to that of Alsace in France. The farm encompasses 15ha of vines, most of them riesling and pinot noir, which are also the biggest sellers for Rippon.
The soils are made up of schist rock with a thin layer of loess, producing wines that are light in every aspect.
While Lois Mills is bowing out of the business and spends much of her time in Europe, the second generation has taken over, with Nick Mills, who studied viticulture in France for four years, at the helm as artisan winemaker.
It was during his stint in France that Nick learned about Rudolf Steiner’s biodynamic farming. The system takes organics a step further, with a deep consideration for the inherent qualities of the soil and the flavours that they bring to the grape.
This philosophy of terroir is a perfect blending of traditional French winemaking and biodynamic farming. The farm brings in organic cow manure and about 40 tonnes of biodynamic compost is made on site, according to Steiner’s methods, to enrich the soil without chemicals.
Planting, composting and watering are done according to phases of the moon, and no chemicals or pesticides are used.
We lounge at the picnic table in front of the tasting hut long after finishing our bottles of osteiner and platter of cheeses. On the hill that slopes gently down in front of us, the grape vines are just coming into bud and the lake beckons. We pick ourselves up and set out on our walk back to Wanaka at a languid pace, stopping to take pictures, skip flat stones from the foreshore across the water and plan our next visit.
Rippon Winery, 246 Mt Aspiring Rd, Wanaka, NZ; www.rippon.co.nz. Wanaka is an hour’s drive from Queenstown airport; six hours’ drive from Christchurch.