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The arrival of Robin Dicey in 1992 was a technical fillip for Central Otago. Robin has grapes in his blood. His family owned land in the Western Cape, South Africa, and he went to school in Cape Town before completing qualifications in viticulture and oenology at Stellenbosch University. His OE included working in Modesto, California and in the Barossa Valley, Australia before he returned to Cape Town to take over the family farm in the mid-1960s: ‘We did about 1400 tonnes of wine grapes, another 200 tonnes of table grapes, and about 120 tonnes of canning and drying grapes.’
The Diceys left South Africa in 1977 when Corbans offered him the job of setting up their Tolaga Bay vineyard on the East Coast. Three years later the family settled in the Bay of Plenty where he was involved with Horticultural Resources, an enterprise managing kiwifruit operations for absentee owners. While living in Katikati he was responsible for setting up the Morton Estate winery for Morton Brown. With its Cape Dutch-style building, Robin helped give it a South African flavour that was echoed in some of Morton Estate’s wine labels. By this time he had added a comprehensive understanding of New Zealand horticulture and winegrowing to his South African training and international experience.
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During a skiing trip to Wanaka in 1988 the Dicey family fell in love with the area and eventually bought land on Felton Road in 1990 and moved there in 1992, bringing sufficient of their own grafted vines from Katikati to plant a 13-hectare vineyard. By the millennium they had 3.5 hectares of Pinot Noir, 3.5 hectares of Chardonnay, 2 hectares of Riesling and 1 hectare of Pinot Gris in production. A further 3 hectares of young Pinot Noir were in the ground.
An unexpected bonus came with the purchase of the Felton Road site. The former owner, a bulldozer driver on the Clyde Dam, had considered planting vines on the property and employed a consultant to write an extensive report on its soils which came with the property. ‘It was just bloody marvellous,’ says Robin, ‘a huge help!’ When asked about other potential sites for new plantings in Central Otago, Robin enthuses:
I don’t think we have begun to be intelligent about it yet. There’s any number of sites if you’ve got the imagination to go and work with them. I’d look for something that probably had more slope on it than this. It would be north facing, I would look for more protection. I wouldn’t worry too much about the soils. I haven’t come across a soil here yet that I feel uncomfortable to plant.
Robin Dicey’s high wire trellising at Mt Difficulty.