introduction to central otago
After Marlborough, we visited the world’s southernmost wine producing region: Central Otago! With snow-capped mountains, azure blue lakes and vineyards at the cliff of mountains, this region offers stunning landscapes. This beautiful region produces some of the very best Pinot Noir with an intense colour, spices and plum flavours: we better understand why this grape variety takes up three-quarters of the vineyard area! With only 2% of national production, it’s the only true “continental” region with more extremes daily and seasonal temperatures. Therefore, the main challenge is frost and site selection is key: to fight against frost, some vineyards use wind machines, water sprinklers and some others even fly helicopters over the vineyards to push hot air down!
We visited Chard Farm, more precisely the original vineyard site and home of the Winery located high above the Kawarau river gorge!
This vineyard was created in 1987, and is located at the entrance to the Gibbston Valley. This property was originally owned by the Chard family in the 1860s, who practiced market gardening and fed the miners in the region. The winery was then created in 1993. The Chard Farm vineyard is marked by very low vegetation and therefore offers impressive desert landscapes.
our time at chard farm
We visited Chard Farm and its beautiful vines on the cliffside. To access the vineyard, we had to take a very small path along the river and the vines. It was quite impressive but we don’t hide it was hard to drive our "little" van there! We then arrived in front of a building tinged with pink, surrounded by flowers and pretty little gardens.
We then met Jessy, the cellar door manager of the estate. We were able to interview her about the winemaking methods of the vineyard and more ask her more general questions about the winemaking world in New Zealand, such as consumption habits or the place of women in New-Zealand. Then we tasted several of their delicious wines.
We also discovered Misha's Vineyard Wines, managed by Misha and her husband, with hillside and lakefront vineyard that are also frost-free!
Misha's Vineyard, a 57-hectare estate, owned by Misha and Andy Wilkinson since 2002, is located in the Central Otago region, more precisely in the Bendigo Valley, known for its rugged topography. It took Misha and Andy two years before finding the perfect site to plant their vines: for them, the key criteria was to be “almost” frost-free. And they found the perfect location and planted 26 hectares of vines! Their vines are planted on very steep slopes, on a spectacular location overlooking the lake Dunstan. It’s so steep that the site goes from 200m above sea level up to 350m! The steep slopes favour the vineyard’s exposure to heat and light, and the lean, stony and poor soil (little soil on the surface) ensures an optimal drainage. As for the lake, it offers a microclimate likely to reduce excess temperatures. Under these conditions, the vine is forced to fight to produce its best fruits!
⅔ of their plantation is Pinot Noir and ⅓ is aromatic white varieties, mostly Alsace style aromatic such as Riesling, Pinot Gris, Gewurztraminer and also of course Sauvignon Blanc.
our time at misha's vineyard
As we talked with Misha about sustainable and organic practices, she encourages us to look at the bigger picture. For instance, at Misha’s vineyard, they think about their carbon footprint and food miles: they choose to export mainly to Asia Pacific and to avoid sending bottles over to Europe and America. What’s more, it took them time and money to find the perfect site to grow their grapes and chose one that is frost-free: therefore, they don’t need to run wind machines, helicopters or to burn fuels..
During our day, we’ve visited their tasting room and tasted some of their delicious wines! We met Michelle (a winemaker and cellar door manager of Misha’s vineyard) and the owner Misha, and we had a long and very enriching discussion with them about the vineyard, their winemaking methods, the characteristics of their terroir, their particular topography and the place of women in the wine industry in New Zealand.