Some years ago I was able to get a Napa Valley pinot noir, called Saintsbury, at a reasonable price - even though it was freighted from the United States. It was a fine drop and so when I discovered that Central Otago winemaker Steve Davies had been at Saintsburys for a time in the 90s and was now doing his own thing at Doctor's Flat in Bannockburn, I was keen to try his wine.
Davies arrived in Cromwell from Napa Valley at the end of 1998 and started looking for vineyard land.
"I spent a lot of time talking to people who might help, looking at topographical maps, listening to estate agent stories and engaged in a bit of trespass with my mountain bike," he says.
After a three-year search, he stumbled across the Doctor's Flat property that ticked all the boxes.
The vineyard's name is taken from an 1890 map of Bannockburn Mining District that shows the Deep Lead and Doctor's Flat Mining Co held a claim there.
Pinot noir was planted on a 3ha site and initially the fruit was sold to neighbouring Carrick Wines.
"I had a couple of years to test my site selection and since 2008 I've been operating organically and doing as much as I can of the work that most affects quality - pruning, crop
thinning and soil moisture management," says Davies.
Since 2008 he has made small amounts of wine for his Doctor's Flat label, while selling some fruit to Grant Taylor for his Valli Bannockburn label. He makes a separate blend for Hawkshead Wines.
Davies was the first winemaker at Akarua Winery from 1999-2000, followed by a brief stint at Alan Scott in Marlborough in 2001 before heading to Oregon for their harvest and then taking on the role of winemaker at Carrick for six vintages until early 2008.
"There's also been a procession of off-season harvests, depending on which hemisphere I was in at the time."
The globetrotting, energetic Davies now looks to be focusing more on his own patch and says the latest release, the 2010, is "as good as any wine I've ever made".
Although production at this stage is tiny - 188 cases only - the wine is very impressive.
"I'm starting to see a consistent vineyard character show as slightly spicy, with a violet, blackberry component," he says.
Davies has a simple philosophy, where he becomes the guide and supporter for a series of naturally occurring winemaking processes.
2010 Doctor's Flat Pinot Noir, $44
Bottled without fining or filtration, this wine will begood for 10 years if cellared correctly. It is luscious, supple, long and seamless - an excellent addition to the premium pinots of Central Otago.
2011 Amisfield Pinot Gris, $30
Amisfield produces not only lovely wines but also has one of the best vineyard restaurants in New Zealand, on Lake Hayes Rd, Queenstown. This wine is great summer drinking, with fresh pear, quince and spicy ginger with a long, textural finish.