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Misha’s Vineyard – Telling a Story

By July 4, 2013No Comments
Each member of the New Zealand wine industry is admonished to “tell their story” as it is the way to capture the consumers’ imaginations and their wallets. For indeed, everyone who grows grapes and makes wine has a tale to tell, and each tale is a unique one. For many, this is a difficult task, and if they do not do so, they will be left in the wake of those who prosper and succeed. Misha and Andy Wilkinson have their own story about setting up their vineyard in the Bendigo region of Central Otago and having wine made by one of the best winemakers in the country, and they are experts at telling it. I went to visit Misha and Andy, to hear their story, and to the vineyard to hear it speak too.

Misha and Andy Wilkinson
In the desolate beauty of Bendigo

Finding a Site
The Wilkinsons come from a business background, Andy in IT and Misha in marketing, and much of it was in Singapore where they accessed the greater Asia area. There they developed a love of good wine, and when it came time to settle in Andy’s home country, the wine industry beckoned them to join. In 2002, investigating different regions, they were captured by the beauty and the wines, especially Pinot Noir, of Central Otago. They specifically credit Felton Road as a major influence and to this day see that iconic brand as a model.

A parcel of land on John Perriam’s Bendigo Station was the eventual site for the vineyard, which was selected with the help of viticultural guru Robin Dicey, a man who has the nous to identify pieces of land that are especially suitable for planting vines to make potentially great wine. The land did not come easy for them, as Perriam “grilled” them to see if they were people who had the means and the commitment to turn his land into a vineyard that would honour the soil and the district. The Wilkinsons passed the test and purchased 57 ha, of which they have now developed 26 ha into vineyard. The expertise of Dr Richard Smart was enlisted, and on his advice, a range of aromatics was added, as he said that Misha should not be a “Pinot Princess”, the soils, climate and aspect looking suited to whites as well as Pinot Noir. The first vines were planted in 2004.

Misha’s Vineyard is accessed by a private road, off the S.H. 8 on the eastern side of Lake Dunstan. The site touches the main road and climbs around 3 km into the Bendigo hills It has beautiful and commanding views over the lake and around Mount Pisa to the west. There is an air of desolate beauty.

Misha’s Vineyard – ‘Ski Slope’ Sauvignon Blanc vines
Misha’s Vineyard
The Wilkinsons have spared nothing and everything is done to the best quality to make the best wine. The finest clones of fruit and rootstocks have been used and planted to suit the soil types and topography. The Wilkinsons have also established an irrigation scheme with Perriam and Dicey for the vineyard and the surrounding area, which will enable further growth in the future. In balance, they have taken great care to preserve the evidence of the mining that occurred in the late 1880s, and the native flora, especially in the gullies where gold tailings remain. They see their vineyard as a continuance of fine produce from the Bendigo land, firstly with gold, then fleece, and now wine..

At present, 17 ha (65%) of the plantings are in Pinot Noir, followed by just over 3 ha of Pinot Gris, just under 3 ha of Riesling, and 2 ha of Sauvignon Blanc and 1 ha of Gewurztraminer. The land is steep on former terraces at an altitude of 210 – 350 metres a.s.l. and the soils which are technically Clyde sandy loam are variations of schist, with gravels, sand, boulders and clay. There’s very little organic matter in the ground. It’s pretty much continental, and it is water eroded and wind-swept. The vines have taken their time to get established, but they will be better for their struggle, eventually finding a strong and true equilibrium with the soils and the site. The annual production is around 11,000 cases per annum, with a potential of around 15,000 cases when all plantings are yielding fully, and when the growing season is good.

Rich Williams is the on-site viticulturist, with 14 years experience behind him, with Misha and Andy since 2008. Seeing him work with each plant, you can sense his care, concern and empathy. He clearly loves his job, and knows practically every vine personally. If anyone is a ‘vine whisperer’ he surely is.

Rich Williams – Vine Whisperer

Winemaking and The Wines
As Rich Williams is with the vines, Olly Masters is with the winemaking. Following his departure from Ata Rangi, Olly was lured by the beauty and nature of the vineyard and site, as well as the Wilkinsons’ focus on producing top flight wines, particularly Pinot Noir. Olly’s hand in crafting one of the country’s very best examples of Pinot Noir, the Ata Rangi, plus his extensive involvement in wine judging offers a great resource in developing the wines and styles under the Misha’s Vineyard brand. He too is sensitive to what the land provides, and the delicately textured, refined and stylish expressions of wine that he has made so far seem to be reflections of the environment from where the fruit comes from.

The Pinot Noir wine, while elegant in proportion, has an iron core and firm tannin line that is consistent with other Pinot Noirs from Bendigo. The Misha’s wines are more sinewy, and may be a result of the bony, schist soils, and maybe younger vines. It will be fascinating to see how the wines change as the vines mature and grow in harmony with the soil over the coming years. The whites are already showing beauty and finesse, but they too should show greater texture and extract as the vines age.

Business and Marketing
Andy and Misha have appointed Rich and Olly in key positions for their expertise in their fields. They readily admit that viticulture and winemaking are not their strengths, even though I could see their intimate knowledge in all matters concerning growing grapes and making wine. Misha recounted the advice that Robin Dicey gave her before embarking on their journey that growing wine was like a three-legged stool. She and Andy must have legs in viticulture, winemaking and marketing. The Wilkinsons’ expertise is, in building successful business plans and marketing. They have all three legs. The overall planning and detailing of every aspect of the development and running of Misha’s Vineyard comes under the eye of Andy. Misha’s proficiency in marketing and use of social media is already legendary in New Zealand.

It is fortuitous that Andy and Misha operated in Asia in their former lives, and this has provided them with the familiarity and contacts for promoting their wines in this developing market. While they have a good presence in the traditional spheres, the majority of their forays are in in countries where many New Zealand wine producers would like to be.

They have a very strong sense of self-belief and are driven by achieving progress and results. There will be more than a modicum of envy from their peers in the wine industry for sure, but if just a few more take their approach, New Zealand wine will go further as a whole. The Wilkinsons are strong supporters of Bendigo, Central Otago and New Zealand wine, and as they become more established, I’m sure they will be able to share their expertise and energy with the wider wine community. As it is, they are growing their wine and brand, and have become first-rate ambassadors in their own right. One must applaud how they’ve told their story. www.mishasvineyard.com

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