North Island New Zealand Map
The site of the Elms vineyard is especially favourable. Its shallow valley faces due north and is protected from wind by low hills on either side. About 5 kilometres to its west, the main ridge of the Carrick Range runs north-south. Its highest peak is Mt Difficulty (1285 m) and most of the ridge is over 1000 metres. This ridge protects the Elms and Calvert vineyards, indeed most of the Bannockburn vineyards, from the worst of the nor’westers.
The Calvert vineyard is across the road from the Elms vineyard. Calvert’s slopes are gentler and its Bannockburn silt-loams from lake sediments are deeper. It slopes slightly east of north towards Cromwell. These vineyards along the northeast side of Felton Road are about 500 metres from the Kawarau River. Its banks here are 200
Cornish Point Pinot Noir 7.3 Chardonnay 0.3 Total 7.6 25 blocks 2000 Clones are on one of three rootstocks: 101.14, Riparia Gloire or 3309. Eight blocks are on their own roots. 4040 Pinot Noir B114, B115, B667, DRC Abel, AM10/5, UCD 5, UCD 6 Chardonnay D95 Manuherikia Moderately deep, fine, sandy loams. Loess (windblown) soils developed on river gravel and from schist parent material.
Note The Cornish Point vineyard became part of the enterprise when Nigel Greening bought Felton Road in 2000. Felton Road has also leased a vineyard in Gibbston metres above sea level. To their northeast these vineyards face the long corridor of the bed of the former Clutha River, now Lake Dunstan. On this side of Felton Road and a little lower are the vineyards of the Olssens (owned by Mark Weldon) and Robin Dicey, the spur-pruning enthusiast who has been a major influence on viticultural practices in Central Otago.
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When Stewart began preparing the Felton Road land for vines he avoided reshaping the terrain of the property, apart from smoothing one small knob, but the prospective vineyard area was ripped and the subsoil broken up. He also wanted to get a more definite idea of the soil profiles so ‘just got a fellow with a digger to make half a dozen coffin-like holes’ and was pleased that they ‘seemed to conform with the soil map’. To establish the air flows and cool-air drainage of the property he ‘came up from Palmerston at ten o’clock at night and let off a few borer bombs just to see what was there, to see how the frost situation would be, and the air movement situation was satisfactory’.
He used the recent DSIR soil maps as a guide to matching varieties to soils and made bold decisions. The gravelly soils of the Lochar series, with their thin layers of loess, were planted in Chardonnay and Riesling. On the Waenga series – ‘which the fruit growers around the area seem to prefer’ – he planted Pinot Noir. ‘But all I could see in it was there was a bit more clay, obviously. So I used those areas with more clay for Pinot.’ In these initial plantings he did not so much choose the number of hectares of each variety he planted, as choose where on his almost 50-hectare property he planted each variety. This decision, coupled with the availability of suitable rootstocks and cuttings, decided the varietal mix.
After three years of planting, only 10 per cent of Felton Road’s 11 hectares of vines were on rootstock. Grafted vines were in short supply during the mid- to late 1990s as grape growers and wine companies in all viticulture regions were aggressively planting. Stewart obtained many of his original cuttings from Chard Farm and some of his grafted plants from Montana’s Marlborough nursery as well as a range of other sources.
Cuttings he bought one year disappointed him: ‘So I really said to myself, unless I can get exactly what I want and good plant material, forget it.’
When his vines started bearing in 1995, Stewart sold all these grapes (and those from 1996) to Gibbston Valley Wines. The excellent quality of these wines, and their success in winning medals, were the primary stimulus to his building the Felton Road winery. His friendship with his laboratory partner at Lincoln College, winemaker Blair Walters, was the other. Blair, who was extending his practical experience in California, agreed to design a gravity-fed winery for the Felton Road enterprise. Stewart built it. The vinification facilities were state of the art for the time and have been little modified since, although the capacity of the winery has more than tripled. Blair accepted the position as winemaker for Felton Road in time for its first vintage of 1997. The winemaking tine of the Felton Road tuning fork was in place. Felton Road’s Pinot Noir has been under allocation to distributors from then until the present and Blair continues to run the winemaking arm of the enterprise following its sale in 2000 to Nigel Greening.
Summarising his approach to viticulture, Stewart Elms remarks: I felt that essentially what we wanted to do was grow Pinot, so we selected what we thought was the best area to do it. Site selection is 90 per cent of growing grapes. If you’ve got a bigger problem, if you’ve got a lot of canopy management, if you’ve got a lot of thinning, [it] only tends to indicate that things are not well balanced and the site is not that appropriate It’s hard work and as you get older you just can’t handle the physical stuff. Well, if you do, you’re pretty stiff for days after!
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