A sip of the South­ern Alps in­tox­i­cates

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Indulgence -

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.

Check­list

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.

www.lake­wanaka.co.nz

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