On May 2, 1895 Romeo Bragato, an Italian viticulture expert assessing winegrowing potential throughout New Zealand, gave a speech to the Chamber of Commerce of Otago impressing his listeners that Central Otago was an ideal site for growing of wine grapes. He was astonished at how well grapes of the Burgundy type grew here. “There was no country on the face of the earth”, he said, “which could produce better”.
It would take a further 100 years before anyone commercially was game enough to seriously try. The climate and soils, which provide production advantages, create some of the biggest risks. These include frosts in late spring and early autumn, limited access to water, low amounts of sunshine and the cool southerly winds virtually uninterrupted from the Antarctic. Yet the prize without doubt has attracted some of the most adventurous winemakers in the world.
CENTRAL OTAGO IS THE ONLY REGION IN NEW ZEALAND WITH A CONTINENTAL CLIMATE
Its pioneers in the early 80s and 90s most certainly were up for the challenge. Alan Brady Gibbston Valley, Rolfe Mills Rippon, Verdun Burgess Black Ridge, Ann Pinckney Taramea and an intrepid handful of others, completely untrained, shared a passion to do something new because of their love of the region.
Becoming noticed on the world stage in the mid-90s the industry owes a great deal to these first-generation pioneer winemakers, who put up a formidable fight against difficult conditions to establish a fledgling industry. Winemaking in Central Otago is not for the fainthearted. It’s taken a dogged arrogance and a “can do” attitude to grow these spectacular wines in rugged mountain valleys 45° south; the world’s most southern vineyards.
Its second generation of investors and winemakers have brought international skills to the region, which is now becoming recognized, in wine awards and food service networks worldwide. The area enjoys the advantage of a large well-established tourist industry whose Queenstown gateway treats visitors to one of the world’s most scenic vineyard journeys through Central Otago.
THERE IS A BEAUTIFUL SENSE OF UNIQUENESS BEGINNING TO EMERGE
Now entering its third generation there is a growing movement within the industry to go well beyond sustainable land practices, venturing into organic and biodynamic methods of growing. These new techniques require hands-on management and significant knowledge of the regional soils and climate conditions, which is shared through a closely networked strong industry association and local infrastructure. Today the Central Otago Pinot Noir is recognised as some of the finest in the world.
Rudi Bauer of Quartz Reef, a highly respected winemaker, believes the dedication to Pinot Noir in the region principally has fast tracked the region, and established a reputation of a seriously committed high-quality group of producers. Bauer quotes, “there is a beautiful sense of uniqueness beginning to emerge. The energy of this region is very special, its striking landscapes are raw and you have to be alert”.