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Loop Road, Lake Dunstan, and the Bendigo Terraces the hills south and east of Bendigo – Shepherds, Rise and Shine, Aurora, Chinamans, Pigeon, Raupo, Green Valley, Devils, John Bull, and even Firewood and Brewery. Rudi and Suellen chose the evocative name Quartz Reef even though Quartz Reef Creek and Quartz Reef Point are on the adjoining Northburn Station to the south of Bendigo Station.
John Perriam was more interested in Rudi Bauer’s proposal than he initially let on, but had told him to ‘go away and if you can find us another partner in the old world that had a marketing infrastructure in place before we planted a grape then I’d think about it’. Three months later Rudi was back with the name of Clotilde Chauvet of Champagne.
Her family owned a small, successful Champagne house in Epernay. Perriam’s response was to fly to France and spend time getting to understand the Chauvet enterprise as the family’s guest. That experience, together with his respect for Rudi’s knowledge and winemaking skills, convinced him to go ahead.
In 1996, Rudi Bauer, Clotilde Chauvet and John Perriam formed the Bendigo Estate Partnership. Bendigo Station had been the first high-country run to go through tenure review in 1986. This allowed owners to freehold some land while ceding vulnerable natural environments to the Department of Conservation, in some cases with closely controlled grazing rights. Perriam tried to convince the Department of Conservation to include the Bendigo slopes in the land reverting to the state because it was costly to keep the rabbits under control and was growing little tussock or other grasses: ‘I had tried to talk DOC into taking all the land right down to the road because it was full of rabbits. Now it’s some of the most valuable land!’ Until Rudi’s approach, Perriam had been unaware of the potential of the Bendigo slopes and higher terraces for growing grapes. But he did know the micro-environments of Bendigo station well.
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Rudi had taken temperature readings on the proposed Bendigo land that confirmed its suitability for Pinot Noir. Its temperatures during veraison were very similar to the commune of Aloxe-Corton in the Cote de Beaune. Clotilde Chauvet’s experience at Rippon and skills in vinifying sparkling wine complemented his and were essential in producing the non-vintage Quartz Reef Methode Traditionnelle. His plans for the future possibilities for the organisation of the enterprise were already clear:
Trevor Scott, one of our partners, bought another 15 hectares just beside ours. So the plan is that it runs with us, under one label, which makes a lot of sense. That’s a total of about 30 hectares. Let’s say on average that’s 250 tonnes, that’s 20,000 cases-plus. I do believe in time, most of the sparkling wine would be sourced from contract vineyards. I think that’s possibly a good call. Have the foundation and then we are not put under pressure. Basically we’ll do what Montana does now. We realise that we cannot rely fully on grape growers. We really have to do it ourselves. Maybe we could aim for 50 per cent.
Rudi recognises the advantage of having two strings to his Central Otago bow – Pinot Noir backed by a Methode Traditionnelle. Clotilde Chauvet’s involvement at Quartz Reef for the first 12 years of its life removed some of the mystique surrounding Champagne, and Rudi is himself now skilled in its vinification. His quick calculation of the yield necessary to achieve 250 tonnes of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir works out at just over 8 tonnes of grapes per hectare. In the communes of the Champagne region proper, yields are often much higher than this, even for wines originating from elite houses.
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