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General Blog

Book Review- Latitude 45.15s, By Ric Oram


This is a self-published book by Ric Oran, a writer and journalist, formerly of Auckland, now living in Alexandra, Central Otago. He is known for his wine-writing, and for his book ‘Pinot Pioneers’ released in 2002. This book is a history and presentation of the current state of the Alexandra district as a Central Otago vignoble, and is sub-titled‘among the world’s southernmost vineyards’. The book is in the format of a landscape oriented school journal of yesteryear, but significantly more serious with over 40 pages packed with information. This is the type of book that interests me, as it tells the story of the development of wine, here in Alexandra in particular, and records for posterity stories of our wine past which could soon be lost. So I strongly endorse the author’s research, work and publication. The book was released at the Clyde Wine and Food Harvest Festival at Easter this year.

The World’s Southernmost Vineyards
For quite some time, Verdun Burgess and Sue Edwards’ ‘Black Ridge’ vineyard held the title of being the world’s southernmost winegrowing area, at latitude 45.15S. Over the course of time there have been other sites in Otago further south planted, but these did not last. There is now a large development in Argentina at 45.33S which has taken the title. Although the northern hemisphere has winegrowing areas closer to the north pole, Central Otago, and Alexandra remains as one of the most southern, and with a long track record.

The author takes us back to the pioneers Jean Desire Feraud and James Joseph Bladier who established vines in Central Otago by 1864, and takes us through developments by later arrivals, and discusses their legacies, which are still apparent today. However, modern relevance brings the story to life with the work of Ann Pinckney, Rolfe Mills, Alan Brady and Bill Grant who planted vines in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Verdun Burgess and Sue Edwards planted a significant 4,000 vines in Earnscleugh 1982.

The author then discusses the difficulties involved in growing in such a southerly region and climate, and how Pinot Noir became the favoured variety of the region.

The Focus on Alexandra
Living in Alexandra has given Ric Oram the ability to get to know the winemaking scene intimately. In researching the book, he visited every winegrower in the district. In the book he profiles most of them from the tiniest to those that are a little larger. None of the Alexandra producers is large, though Sam Neill’s Two Paddocks is probably the most commercially viable in terms of economies of scale. The portraits are succinct and cover the owners’ philosophy and practical reasons, more than detail on plantings and wine. But it’s the human element that is most important here. Though I have visited and taken an active interest in the Alexandra sub-region, Oram has dug out details on much more than I ever knew, and his portraits capture personalities and impressions very much as I see them.

Following the producer portraits, the author discusses who actually makes wine hands-on, then the enemies of winegrowing in Alexandra, focussing on frost. Then a reflection on what has been achieved to date.

Supporting the text are some very good photographs, as well as some basic, but useful maps. Overall, the book is a little dis-jointed in topic flow, but all the interesting and important points for an excellent overview, both historical and modern-day are provided. It’s a book that is easy to read and well-worth doing so, to understand the struggles and growth of a unique winegrowing district.

Latitude 45.15S, By Ric Oram
Ric Oram and Louise Joyce, Alexandra, 2018, ISBN 978-0-473-42853-2
RRP $20.00
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