Cherry wine blos­soms in Cromwell

Dave McMil­lan’s re­ject cher­ries used to go in a hole and were buried. Now they are poured into glasses.

The Orchardist - - Cherries - Story and pho­tos by Karen Tre­bil­cock

Wine glasses to be ex­act.

Since the 2014-2015 har­vest, his cher­ries which are too small or weather dam­aged go a cou­ple of kilo­me­tres down the road to VinPro in Cromwell and are made into wine.

“I’d known for a while they make cher­ries into wine in the States but it’s quite cheap to buy there, only $8 a bottle, so I didn’t re­ally think much about it then my son An­drew thought I should give it a go,” Dave said.

One of An­drew’s friends de­signed the bottle la­bels and wine maker Pete Bar­tle at VinPro made the first vin­tage of cherry wine in 2015 un­der the la­bel Rip­pon­vale Cherry Wine, named af­ter the road the or­chard is on.

That year they pro­duced two wines – one from each of the two va­ri­eties of cher­ries grown at the or­chard which are Lap­ins and the Sweet­heart.

Lap­ins pro­duced a wine with spice aro­mas, floral notes and red cherry and plum fruit flavours while Sweet­heart made a dryer wine with black cherry aro­mas and hints of vanilla, co­conut, trop­i­cal fruit and peach.

How­ever, Dave said, peo­ple seemed to get con­fused be­tween the two and they have de­cided this year one vin­tage was enough and have mixed the two va­ri­eties to­gether.

He planted the 8ha or­chard un­der the stun­ning Mount Pisa in 1995 back when the lo­cal coun­cil rules dic­tated small blocks of land had to have a com­mer­cial en­ter­prise on them be­fore a house was built. “I looked at wal­nuts to start with but they take so long, eight years be­fore your first har­vest. Cher­ries are a lot quicker. You get your first crop af­ter only three years.”

He’s still to build the house but the or­chard al­lowed him to re­sign from the Po­lice in 1998 and join the ranks in­stead of the many Cen­tral Otago cherry or­chardists.

Last sea­son 20T went to the wine­maker which in­cluded some cher­ries from other grow­ers.

“The cher­ries that go for wine are ei­ther un­der­size or are cracked or split. Or they have a ring around the top which is from where the rain sits,” Dave said.

“There’s noth­ing wrong with them. They’re still great to eat but they are just not cos­met­i­cally right for the mar­ket.”

And the mar­ket these days is the highly de­mand­ing Chi­nese and Tai­wan con­sumer.

The nearby pack­house 45 South grades and packs the fruit with the pro­fes­sional pick­ing gang ar­riv­ing at Dave’s or­chard be­tween De­cem­ber 15 and 20.

“The cher­ries in the Te­viot Val­ley start flow­er­ing be­fore us, they seem to have an ear­lier spring, but then we catch up with the Cen­tral Otago heat.”

His har­vest fin­ishes usu­ally about Jan­uary 20 and for the last few years Dave said the re­turns from the ex­port mar­ket have been good. About 75% of the crop go to ex­port, an­other 15% to the lo­cal mar­ket and the rest go to Pete at VinPro.

Pete made last year’s Air New Zealand Wine Awards cham­pion win­ner – Low­burn Ferry Home Block Pinot Noir Cen­tral Otago 2014 – so Dave said he knows what he’s do­ing.

How­ever, Pete wasn’t too keen to try mak­ing cherry wine at first.

“He’d never made it be­fore so it was guess­work for him. He was pretty re­luc­tant and then fi­nally he said he would give it a go.”

The wine is sold for $24.95 and $26.95 a bottle through the web­site www. rip­pon­, al­though Dave has tried re­tail­ing it di­rect as well.

“Any wine can be made but it’s the sell­ing of it that’s hard.”

At this stage he’s not in­ter­ested in the su­per­mar­ket or wine shop trade but is hope­ful of fu­ture ex­port or­ders, trad­ing on the rep­u­ta­tion of Cen­tral Otago wine as well as its fa­mous fresh cher­ries – es­pe­cially as he has two vats at VinPro of the 2016-2017 har­vest ready to be bot­tled in Novem­ber.

For Pete it is the only non-grape wine he has made, and he’s not too keen to try oth­ers just in case other or­chardists are think­ing of it.

The process starts with the juice re­moved in a press. About four to five tonnes are pressed at once and it takes five to six hours.

The juice is then pumped into a vat and left to set­tle for a cou­ple of days be­fore the solids are re­moved and then fil­tered to get the last of the liq­uid.

“We take the solids and they go into the hole at the or­chard that the re­ject cher­ries would have gone,” Dave said.

VinPro are not only wine­mak­ers but also han­dle the bot­tling, sup­ply­ing the bot­tles and pack­ag­ing, stor­age and dis­tri­bu­tion lo­gis­tics for lo­cal grape grow­ers.

But cher­ries were new to the busi­ness.

“We de­cided to treat it like a white wine which is a cool fer­ment for about three weeks,” Pete said. “We use a white wine yeast.”

The dif­fer­ence is the red grapes, such as Cen­tral Otago’s fa­mous Pinot Noirs, are fer­mented be­fore their skins and seeds are re­moved.

“I had to do some re­search into it and in the end I was re­ally re­luc­tant to fer­ment it like a red wine,” Pete said.

“I had a re­ally close look at the cherry stone and it’s not com­pletely sealed so I was wor­ried about the bit­ter­ness of the ker­nel get­ting into the wine. It’s not a seed like a grape seed.”

He said the wine was un­usual but most peo­ple wouldn’t pick it to be cherry wine if they weren’t told. “They would be try­ing to fig­ure out what grape va­ri­ety it was, or whether it was some sort of sherry or port.

“Peo­ple re­ally like it and I think each year we’re get­ting bet­ter at it.

“Get­ting the right pres­sure to get the juice at the start has been dif­fi­cult. I think we were press­ing it too hard. Now we are go­ing for a medium press and we’re get­ting a lot more juice.”

“Orig­i­nally we wanted the Lap­ins to be more of a rosé style but it came out re­ally dark,” Dave said. “You can’t hide the colour of the cher­ries.”

“A glass of it chilled is re­ally nice on a hot Cen­tral Otago day.”

Clock­wise from top left: Dave McMil­lan in the cherry or­chard near Cromwell. The start of a new sea­son. The cherry trees in full bloom at the start of Oc­to­ber. Young cherry trees al­ready with blos­som on them in the or­chard un­der Mount Pisa.

From top: VinPro wine­maker Pete Bar­tle pours a glass of this year’s Rip­pon­vale Cherry Wine from the vat. This year’s vin­tage in a vat at VinPro in Cromwell.

Be­low: Rip­pon­vale Cherry Wine.

VinPro wine­maker Pete Bar­tle (left) and cherry grower Dave McMil­lan toast to the new sea­son with a glass of Rip­pon­vale Cherry Wine.

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