Turn­ing out great wines from Otago

CHB Mail - - News - Graeme Bar­row

Who’d have thought, sev­eral decades ago, that Otago could pro­duce wine at all. Yet to­day Cen­tral Otago’s ta­ble wines, with pinot noir to the fore, have be­come sought af­ter by wine en­thu­si­asts world­wide. It joins Ger­many, Ore­gon in the US, Cal­i­for­nia, Tas­ma­nia and a few fringe con­tenders in pro­duc­ing pinot noir re­garded as an ac­cept­able al­ter­na­tive to the bet­ter wines of Bur­gundy, the home of this iconic va­ri­ety.

Yet if pinot noir, when good, is de­li­cious to drink, it is a mon­ster to make — a capri­cious va­ri­ety which is the wine­maker’s great­est chal­lenge. And chal­lenge is a cen­tral theme of this sen­si­bly writ­ten, beau­ti­fully pho­tographed book, which is far more about the peo­ple who make it than the land or the fruit.

The land dif­fers — soils are dif­fer­ent, tem­per­a­tures, al­ti­tudes, and rain­falls vary. Yet the peo­ple are the same — ded­i­cated, pas­sion­ate, hard­work­ing, in love with their jobs and in love with the beau­ti­ful area they have cho­sen.

There are six recog­nised wine-grow­ing ar­eas — Gibb­ston, Alexan­dra, Ban­nock­burn, Low­burn-Pisa, Bendigo, and Wanaka. The wines of all are iden­ti­fi­ably Cen­tral Otago, but have sub­tle dif­fer­ences. Every­one will have their favourites. And all the ven­tures have ab­sorb­ing sto­ries to tell.

But three are a bit dif­fer­ent. Alan Brady at Gibb­ston Val­ley was the pi­o­neer in plant­ing va­ri­etal grapes. Rudy Bauer, now of Quartz Reef, has been hugely in­stru­men­tal, with Brady’s help, in mar­ket­ing the re­gion’s wines to the world.

Fel­ton Road: English­man Nigel Green­ing, al­ready a fan of its pinot, and its largest pri­vate cus­tomer, heard in 2000 that it might be for sale. He jumped on a plane to NZ and bought it. He parted with “pretty much ev­ery­thing I owned, and got Fel­ton Road.”

A de­ci­sive man, and wise. The wines have be­come many wine lovers’ bench­marks. If each win­ery sub­mit­ted a pinot noir and a chardon­nay (the two great va­ri­eties of Bur­gundy) my choice as the win­ner would be Fel­ton Road.

Maude is a win­ery sit­ting amid the stun­ning back drop of Lake Wanaka in Cen­tral Otago.

Mt Dif­fi­culty, Ban­nock­burn, Cen­tral Otago.

The Vine­yards of Cen­tral OtagoBy Viv Mil­som and Mike Wilkin­son (pho­tog­ra­phy, Pen­guin Ran­dom­house, $55 (hard­back)

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