Turning out great wines from Otago
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, hard-working, in love with their jobs and in love with the beautiful area they have chosen.
There are six recognised winegrowing areas — Gibbston, Alexandra, Bannockburn, Lowburnpisa, 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 Otago By Viv Milsom and Mike Wilkinson (photography, Penguin Randomhouse, $55 (hardback)