The revelation of southern New Zealand wines
By Stephen Quinn,Special to the China PostA blind tasting in London last week of 53 pinot noirs from Central Otago, the relatively new region at the bottom of New Zealand's south island, was a revelation.
October 4, 2013, 12:17 am TWN
It was held in the penthouse suite on the top floor of New Zealand House, and one felt like an eagle looking down on the city.
Memories of the board game of Monopoly we played as children came flooding back. All of the places on the game lay spread out below. But the wines impressed just as much as the scenery.
The Central Otago region has only recently been recognized, though wine has been made there since the 1860s. A Frenchman who arrived with the hordes of people from around the world keen to find gold gave up his dream of riches for something more realistic.
Jean Desire Feraud planted the first vines in 1864. But interest in wine was low and subsequent settlers planted stonefruit and raised sheep.
Serious attempts to make wine did not occur until more than a century after Feraud. The first commercial wine appeared in 1987. Since then the region has attracted the world's attention because of the quality of its pinot noir.
Members of the Central Otago Winegrowers' Association pay respect to Feraud through an annual dinner that marks the major achievement in winemaking that year.
The main reason for the quality of the grapes is the climate and the unique terroir. A long and dry autumn separates hot summers and cold winters. This lets grapes ripen fully.
New Zealand is generally a rainy place. But the Southern Alps to the west of the region block most of the rain, leaving a distinctive semi-continental climate. The dry weather means low humidity which reduces the potential for disease, and means less need for spraying chemicals.
This combination of factors produces high quality grapes. Yields are also kept low to increase quality.