Dancing with nature —
The love and devotion of Central Otago winemakers.
I've just spent 3 very pleasant days in Central Otago interviewing winemakers and I couldn’t help being struck by their unanimous passion for the landscape. Each conversation kept returning to the region's beauty, yet it's a treacherous unkindly beauty which excites these winemakers and is far from gentle. Like blue ocean yachtsmen they simply love the challenge of tackling what natures throws at them and they share the same deep respect for the narrow margins nature presents.
This third generation of winemakers, is shaping up to the ultimate challenge of nursing nature, rather than conquering it. Looking to work alongside nature, brokering a marriage between vine and soil equally foreign to each other. Sustainability, organics or bio-dynamics these are words we’ve given to a kinder understanding of a nature which in the end is far more elegant than us.
Pinot's own language is inaudible to the ear, more poetic to the palate than we can ever express in words, and it seems that as the roots go deeper year by year into the earth of Central Otago, there is chorus of wine characters being glimpsed, which promises to delight a world of tired palates. No one talked of myths, but rather their growing depth of knowledge of nature's capability in the region, which was beginning to share itself with those winemakers listening with their palates to the soils, as opposed to their ears.
Their camaraderie for me was impressive in wanting to lift the bar on themselves. Devoid of the "bitchyness" in many other industries I observe, there just seems something inherently special about the people who make wine in Central Otago.They talk about their vineyards and vines like children, wishing them to grow up in a perfect relationship with the tapestry of soils across this vast region. Nook and cranny vineyards, perched on river terraces and flats, beside lakes like nesting birds, they’ve discovered the best spots. It seems to me it will never be about vastness or volume and we will come to know this region and it’s wines by it’s makers and their commitment to quality.
I think you can hear nature saying thank you already, by placing this region's wines on the world stage in its second generation. If this is God speaking as the French would perhaps say with all their Abbeys and prayers, then I think Central Otago winemakers are more on their knees in the vineyards rather than the cathedral, trying to understand nature’s mysteries rather than using choirs and hope.
This tension of opposites between winemakers and a region be it Burgundy or Central Otago attracts the same passionate people, in a relentless seasonal ritual of dancing dangerously with nature’s finest. The moment of truth is that sniff of nature and the magnificent aria in the mouth, when nature sings.