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Alexandra Basin Winegrower Vineyard Visits

By October 25, 2014No Comments
It was a privilege to be invited as a guest to the Alexandra Basin Winegrowers Annual Release Tasting. This year was the sixth event, and each time, guest commentators are involved for their feedback on the wines and the region. Although I spent plenty of time in Central Otago in the formative years of the industry, I’ve not been able to keep track of the developments as much as I’d have preferred. I’m aware I’ve neglected the Alexandra sub-region in particular. So it was very educational for me to be taken to a good number of the vineyards for a brief visit to meet some of growers and producers, and see their vines. Such visits give a taster a much greater feeling for the wines than just tasting them in ‘blind’ or in more sterile conditions!

I visited 13 vineyards, approximately half of members of the Alexandra Basin Winegrowers group, from the warmer Earnscleugh area, to the Clyde village and sandier soiled sites near the airport, to the cooler, elevated Hillview Road growing area marked by stony soils. I took photos of the vineyard owners next to their vines if possible, and made some brief notes about their vineyards and approaches to winegrowing. My photos and notes follow. www.alexandrabasinwines.com

Annie Winmill & Bill Moffitt, Dry Gully

Dry Gully
Dry Gully, in Earnscleugh, just outside Alexandra, is one of the older vineyards in the region, established by Bill and Sibylla Moffit, who planted the 1.6 ha site with 10/5 clone Pinot Noir in 1994 and released their first wine with the 1997 vintage. I remember buying the wine in my early days at Regional Wines. Central Otago wine identity Annie Winmill is the managing director, overseeing the production of three tiers, the ‘Pick & Shovel’, ‘Dry Gully’ and ‘Rock n Pillar’, the wines being blends including fruit from Bill and Sybilla’s three sons’ vineyards, except the latter wine which is a single vineyard selection. Pinot Gris and Gewurztraminer are also offered. The wines have been made by Antony Worch since 2013, and before that by Dean Shaw. If you are visiting, of particular interest is the 125 y.o. stone stable which serves as the cellar door. www.southernwines.co.nz

Bruce Shaw & Robyn Sim, OMEO

OMEO is the tiny and immaculate 1 ha vineyard of Bruce Shaw, who tends it with his partner Robyn Sim, a viticulturist who works in the district. Following a hospitality stint in Glasgow, Bruce came back to Otago with the passion to make wine. Meeting and encouraged by the late Mike Wolter, he established his vineyard on Hawley Road in the Earnscleugh Valley foothills in 1998, planting Pinot Noir and Riesling. The Pinot Noir clones 5, 10/5, 6, 777 and 115 are on their own roots. About 10% of the vineyard is dedicated to Riesling. Bruce makes the wines at Alexandra Vintners, where he assists Antony Worch. Bruce can be contacted on email: [email protected]

David Smythe, Barrington

Barrington Vineyard is owned by the Smythe and Dowling families, who in 2011 purchased the 8 ha site with Pinot Noir vines established 12 years ago. Four clones of Pinot Noir are planted with some rogue Pinot Gris vines interspersed in the vineyard. The vineyard has two distinct soil types, representing the land on Muttontown Road on the banks of the ‘mighty’ Clutha River next to Clyde township. The fruit was originally contracted to William Hill, and it goes towards the Barrington label as well as being outsourced to Matua (Treasury Estates). David and Karen Smyth, who own the Clyde Bistro are on site, and their son-in-law Jim Redgrave manages the viticulture. The Pinot Noir fruit, and Pinot Gris supplemented with grapes from nearby sites is vinified by Antony Worch. www.barringtonwine.co.nz

Shona Garry, Alexandra Wine Co.
with Geneva Double Curtain trellissing
Alexandra Wine Company
David and Shona Garry, dentist and pharmacist respectively run the Alexandra Wine Company as an aside that probably takes up a disproportionate amount of their attention. They have 3.5 ha of vines on Airport Road between Alexandra and Clyde, 70% planted to Pinot Noir with 20% Pinot Gris and 10% Chardonnay, the vines established in 1994. The Pinot Noir clones are 10/5 and a ‘Lincoln Mix’, the former on their own roots. What is unusual is their use of Geneva Double Curtain trellising, which gives certain advantages in canopy management and the ability to operate with the fruit zone at chest height. Pete Bartle of VinPro is their contracted winemaker, and the wines are released under the “alex.gold”, “Ferauds” and “Davishon” brands, the latter a contraction of “David” and “Shona”. www.alexwine.co.nz

Lucienne & Roland van der Wal, Immigrant’s Vineyard
with Frankie (there’s always a dog on a vineyard)
Immigrant’s Vineyard
The Immigrant’s Vineyard story is one of growth and success, with Lucienne and Roland van der Wal arriving in New Zealand in 1986 with a sense of adventure and little else. Over the years of business in hospitality and in supermarkets, an outdoors lifestyle beckoned leading to the 2012 purchase of 20 ha of vines that were planted over 2001-2004. There are 14 ha of Pinot Noir, 4 ha of Pinot Gris and 2 ha of Gewurztraminer within the 23 ha site neighbouring the golf course on Airport Road between Clyde and Alexandra. Toi Toi is the contracted buyer of the fruit, but with the 2014 vintage, the van de Wals have had made 100 cases each of Pinot Gris and Gewurztraminer and they have 4,000 L of Pinot Noir in barrel, with David Grant of Shaky Bridge as their winemaker. Their label is “Plovers Nest” referring to the birds on their vineyard. Lucienne can be contacted on email: [email protected]

Judy & Pat Medlicott, Greylands Ridge
with well-awarded (and stickered) bottles
Greylands Ridge
I’ve been reviewing the Greylands Ridge wines of Pat and Judy Medlicott for a few years now, and they have impressed with their consistent high quality. Pat, and Judy, originally from Dunedin, then resident in New Plymouth are from a medical and teaching background respectively and needed a change back to the beautiful area of Central Otago which they were so familiar with. It’s been an exciting journey, described with a smile and glint in Patrick’s eye as “madness” from the time they established 4.2 ha to 12,000 Pinot Noir vines of differing clones in 2002 and 2003. Then, Robin Dicey and David Grant were their advisors, and the wine is now made by Antony Worch. The Medlicotts are wishing to retire. The beautiful vineyard and home on the hills just north, outside Alexandra, on Letts Gully Road will be an excellent purchase. www.greylandsridge.co.nz

Murray & Jennie Hughes – Perseverance

Murray and Jennie Hughes are the people behind the nationwide Aotea Electric Group. They recount with big smiles their good times at my family’s eating house, Chan’s Garden Restaurant in Dunedin, back in the 1980s. Despite the size and spread of the business, Otago is where their hearts are, and they planted their first vines on Airport Road in Mutton Town Gully between Alexandra and Clyde in 2003. Initially in a ratio of 90% Pinot Gris and 10% Pinot Noir to suit Jennie’s taste for wine at the time, the mix is now an even mix of the two varieties, following further planting in 2008. Murray and Jennie then built their imposing, but tasteful home on site in 2010, and have quickly developed the gardens which include olive and hazelnut trees. Being the former site of a dairy farm, the Hughes need to manage the vigour of the 5,000 vines on the 6 ha property. Being significant shareholders of Alexandra Vintners, the Perseverance Estate wines are made by Antony Worch. The name of the estate refers to a gold dredge that worked the area. www.perseverance.co.nz

Chris Cockcroft, Clyde Village

Clyde Village
Chris and John Cockcroft’s vines are up Naylor Street overlooking the town of Clyde, hence the ‘Clyde Village’ name. Coming from Invercargill, they purchased the site of an old apricot orchard to set up “a little bit of Tuscany”. They planted 1,200 Pinot Noir vines, consisting clones 5, 667, 777 and 115, on a north-west facing terraced hillside, inter-planted with tussock to stabilise the land, and this has become a unique feature. In 2006 they added a further 660 vines on a lower slope of the property to get the yield up to a manageable 4 tonnes for David Grant at Shaky Bridge to make the wine. The 0.5 ha site is beautifully maintained, if not manicured, with the Cockcroft’s house sitting mid-slope surrounded by garden. Chris tends the vines personally, and John continues his work as a lawyer. www.clydevillage.co.nz

Paul Jacobson, Judge Rock

Judge Rock
Paul and Angela Jacobson’s Judge Rock Vineyard was established by Paul’s father on a westerly facing alluvial fan at the base of Hillview Road in 1998. Now measuring 4.5 ha, the Jacobson’s vineyard has Pinot Noir, Riesling and St Laurent vines, with the wines made at VinPro with Pete Bartle. Participating in a recent exchange of winemakers from Burgundy, Paul has brought back many ideas that his inquisitive mind can ponder over to improve what Judge Rock can do in making wines that can stand alongside those on the international stage. He cites Benjamin Leroux and Nicolas Rossignol as being particularly influential. Paul and Angela have instituted three tiers, with ‘Judge Rock’ at the top, followed by ‘My Three Sons’ and then the ‘Venus’ label, these paralleling the concept of grand cru, premier cru and village in Burgundy, based on the altitude and slope of the sections of the vineyard from which the grapes are sourced. Then, there’s the role of indigenous yeasts in the expression of terroir. Much more could be discussed, and we’ll need to make more time on the next visit. www.judgerock.co.nz

Kay & Evan Moore, Aravin

Aravin is the holiday home project of Evan and Kay Moore, lawyer and nurse respectively, from Dunedin. Loving the Alexandra district, they purchased their property on top of Hillview Road and planted vines in 1999. The vineyard was established with the consultancy of Mike Eaton of Marlborough, which explains the close-planting and low trellising regime. The first vintage, in 2002 was split with William Hill. There are now 2 ha of Pinot Noir, of which half is sold under contract, and the rest is made by Antony Worch to go under the Aravin label. There is also 0.6 ha of Pinot Gris, this fruit also sold under contract. The Moores are still very much in love with their home away from home and continue to spend as much time as possible on site. www.aravin.co.nz

Mark Borrie & Trevor Deaker, 8 Ranges

8 Ranges
The 8 Ranges vineyard occupies a spectacular position on Hillview Road. Owned by Mark Borrie and Trevor Deaker, Trevor describes it as being “on top of a toadstool in a valley” offering a unique panorama from its 297 metre elevation. One can actually see 12 mountain ranges from the vineyard, though 8 are readily recognisable. The location appears to be a favoured one too, with inclement weather passing around it. The site was acquired in 2001, following careful research, and the 2.67 ha of Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris vines planted in 2003 with the guidance of David Grant of William Hill. Mark and Trevor specified rocky soils as a prerequisite for the wine style of elegance and texture they desired. Tim again “this is the Gimblett Gravels of Central Otago”! The wines have been made by Antony Worch since 2006, with Lucie Lawrence of Aurum vinifying them over 2010 to 2012 inclusive. www.8ranges.co.nz

Wayne Matheson, Drumsara
with a ventifact
On the other side of Hillview Road to Aravin is Drumsara, operated by Wayne Matheson, taking over from his father John, who established the vineyard in 2000. At the time, there were only “rocks, rabbits and thyme bushes”. There are now 7 ha of vines producing, Pinot Gris which comprises 40% of plantings and Pinot Noir making 60% on the 8 ha property. The inaugural vintage produced 3 barrels of wine, equivalent to 75 cases; nowadays it is around 4,000 cases, the wine made by Antony Worch. A peculiarity of the vineyard are the ventifacts, rocks with a knife-like edge formed by 300 mph wines, these rocks found so far only in Antarctica, on the planet Mars, and at the Drumsara vineyard! www.drumsara.com

Liz Weaver, Weaver Estate

Weaver Estate
The Weaver family have been in Central Otago since 1864, and the six generations involved in orcharding and farming since. Liz and Carey Weaver planted their 4 ha block on the SH8 Alexandra-Clyde road to Pinot Noir in 2005 with Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc added in 2008. Just over 3 ha are in vines. Liz and Carey tend the vineyard, along with son Mark. Daughter Jess is the winemaker, with overseas experience. She makes the wines at VinPro. Liz jokingly says they are “doing it for their daughter” who has a real passion for winemaking. At the time of visiting, Jess was doing vintage in Oregon, and she left us winemaking details for her ‘Autumn’ Pinot Gris 2014, which spend 5 days on skins, and was fermented with full solids in oak, so we could understand the less than conventional winemaking. www.weaverwines.co.nz

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