John Hawkesby

John Hawkesby is a wine writer for Canvas Magazine.

Central Otago winemakers: The 'Pirates of the Caribbean'

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The upside of Central Otago: stunning views and soils delivering mineral richness. Downside: frost can be a problem, along with fierce winds racing between mountains and valleys. Photo / Thinkstock
The upside of Central Otago: stunning views and soils delivering mineral richness. Downside: frost can be a problem, along with fierce winds racing between mountains and valleys. Photo / Thinkstock

It may be the cold nights or the rarified air but the winemakers of Central Otago are a breed apart. I have long referred to them, with affection, as the Pirates of the Caribbean. This has nothing to do with the prices they charge nor a cavalier approach to their craft, they are just good fun with a gentle dose of wickedness.

They are also genuinely supportive of each other with a healthy understanding that as a clearly defined region there is strength in playing to a common agenda, rather than going it alone.

Central Otago has a lot of positives, stunning beauty, a wide range of soils that deliver a mineral richness, copious sunshine hours, relatively low humidity - which helps to keep fungal diseases at bay - and a coveted reputation as the world's southernmost wine region.

On the downside, frosts can be a problem, along with fierce winds racing between the mountains and down the valleys. But if you've got a protected site and you like a challenge, Central Otago can deliver wines, especially pinot noir and riesling, of international quality.

There's some star power there too. Prime Minister John Key produces a smart "J.K. Pinot Noir" from the area and is very generous at putting his wine forward (signed, of course) at numerous charity auctions. On the political left is Sam Neill, whose Two Paddocks label continues to impress. International film director Roger Donaldson is close by with Sleeping Dogs and outgoing Stock Exchange chief executive Mark Weldon has recently acquired Olssens, a neighbour of the region's most internationally recognised label, Felton Road.

One of the most colourful and gifted winemakers is self-confessed riesling fanatic Duncan Forsyth of Mount Edward. The first time I met him he was wearing his "Jesus only ever drank riesling" T-shirt and I've since discovered that's just one of his many provocative T-shirts extolling the virtues of that wine.

Forsyth is also a pinot noir connoisseur and his wines are among the best I've had from this region.

His carton of wines for review arrived with a typically cheeky handwritten note: "Dear Michael Cooper [veteran wine writer and author of the superb annual Buyers Guide To New Zealand Wines], Times are so tough we're even sending samples to John Hawkesby." Very droll.

Recommended

2008 Mount Edward Riesling, $25
A seamless refreshing wine showing the benefits of a bit of ageing. It's off dry with a hint of sweetness and lovely lemon-lime sorbet flavours with a dose of minerality. Gorgeous.

2009 Mount Edward Pinot Noir, $45
A classic Central Otago pinot. Elegantly structured with a soft velvet texture that slips easily down the throat. Subtle touches of plum, cherry, driend herbs with a pleasant nutty finish. Excellent value.

- NZ Herald

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