Map South Island New Zealand

Map South Island New Zealand

Accumulation and sharing of knowledge

Nigel Greening’s search for a suitable site in the late 1990s demonstrates how he conducted his own investigation before plucking up courage to approach the high priests of Central Otago winemaking:

Then as I learned my wines I started talking to people. I found the soil maps and started studying those. And then I got the topographic maps and started marking every slope that went the right way on the maps. I got a four-wheel drive and started driving. And I did that for about four or five monthsSo I plucked up courage and knocked on Rudi Bauer’s [Quartz Reef] door. He was very supportive, He said, ‘Well, all your homework is good.’ He said I ought to go and knock on Alan Brady’s door [Gibbston Valley], which I didSo I then went into phase two where I steadily narrowed it down to 30 sites then got it down to about twenty. Alan looked at about ten of them with me.

Nigel Greening bought the apricot orchard on Cornish Point before later buying Felton Road.

Numerous other new enterprises have emerged through experienced personnel leaving established ones and starting their own. Rob Hay who launched Chard Farm in the late 1980s was winemaker for Gibbston Valley while Chard Farm was being established. Greg Hay, Rob’s brother, was running the viticulture for Chard Farm before he became involved in the Wentworth development and Peregrine. His influence there built on his previous experience, including knowledge of the quality of grapes from Gibbston sites compared with others in the region. The list of winemakers for Rippon Vineyard (Table 8.6) includes Rudi Bauer and Clotilde Chauvet, both of whom later returned to Central Otago and for twelve years were in partnership making Methode Traditionnelle at Quartz Reef.

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Alan Brady began his small Mount Edward winery in 1998 after he sold most of his shareholding in Gibbston Valley to Mike Stone, the American casino owner based in Wanaka. Steve Davies returned to New Zealand in 1999 after experience in California, initially to be winemaker for the recently formed Akarua in Bannockburn shortly after Sir Clifford Skeggs established it as one of the largest continuous areas in vines in the region. Davies then became winemaker for the Carrick winery, almost directly opposite on the Bannockburn Road and owned by Steve Green, the former chief executive of the Otago Regional Council and collaborator with Robin Dicey before Mt Difficulty was established.

The Annual Report of New Zealand Winegrowers lists all the country’s wineries in three categories: those producing over 4 million litres of wine annually (large wineries); those producing between 200,000 litres and 4 million litres (medium); and those producing less than 200,000 litres annually (small). These lists of wineries and grape growers make it possible to establish the scale of production in the Central Otago region. In 2010, just four wineries – Amisfield Wine Company, Chard Farm, Mt Difficulty and Peregrine Wines – were in the medium category of wineries. Central Otago’s remaining 98 wineries each produced fewer than 200,000 litres of wine annually, many much less than this. With 1540 hectares of vines in production in 2010, the average area of grapes per winery in Central was 15.1 hectares. On average, therefore, they had about the same area in vines as family operations in the prestigious appellations of the Cote d’Or, Burgundy. For those wine enthusiasts wishing to visit a region where most wineries are small, and owned and operated by families, Central Otago is the ideal choice.

Moreover, very few enterprises in Central Otago declare themselves as grape growers. In the 2010 New Zealand Winegrowers Annual Report only eleven Central Otago enterprises are listed as grape growers. This figure gives the region the lowest proportion of grape growers to wineries of any major winegrowing region in New Zealand. It also suggests that almost 90 per cent of the enterprises involved in winegrowing consider themselves as wineries because they make wine commercially, even though they may not yet have their own winery. This situation is likely to change. Localities within Central Otago such as the Kawarau Gorge and Bannockburn already have sufficiently dense clusters of wineries to attract substantial numbers of New Zealand and international tourists. As the number of successful wineries increases, the demand for grapes grown locally will follow. Verbal or written contracts with the small number of local growers are already zealously guarded.

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