There's been some hype about the new wine growing region in the Waitaki Valley on the southern side of the Waitaki River, which flows from the Southern Alps to enter the South Pacific Ocean about 130 kilometres, by road, north of Dunedin, the South Island's second largest city.
Most often spoken about is Waitaki Valley Estates, a development started by the late Howard Paterson. There are two sites in the development and the larger is at Grants Road, which turns off the main highway a few kilometres south of the town of Kurow.
There are a number of vineyard plots, which range from 4 hectares to 11 hectares in size, and they have attracted the interest of well known companies like Craggy Range, Forrest Estate and Grant Taylor's Valli Wines.
The second, smaller site is a little further downstream at Doctors Creek, which is visible from the main highway, especially when the nets are on the vines, as they were last week. This is where a venture has attracted ex-Villa Maria winemaker Michelle Richardson and chef Peter Gordon as shareholders.
Last year, four pinot noirs, a pinot gris and a sauvignon blanc grown from vineyards in the Waitaki Valley Estates were launched in London to the wine trade and even Jancis Robinson wrote about them.
But further downstream still, on Racecourse Road which runs south of and parallel to the main east-west highway, quite close to the town of Duntroon, is the real jewel of the region. It's a privately owned venture called Ostler Vineyard and is situated on a north facing limestone slope which is sheltered from the cold southerly winds by a limestone escarpment. It's the vineyard of former GP, Jim Jerram, and his wife Anne Sinnott.
When Jim found out that his future wife, Anne, had a brother who was a viticulturist and winemaker, the long time wannabe farmer decided it might be interesting to look into developing a vineyard.
Future brother-in-law Jeff Sinnott, who was working for Isabel Estate in Marlborough at the time was eager too.
He liked the look of the limestone hills around Oamaru and when they found a potential site in the Waitaki Valley, which would later become Ostler Vineyard, they took to the air in Jim's 1953 Cessna 180 (the 4WD of the skies) to confirm it.
They spent the next two years trying to gather meaningful climatic data but when they heard that Howard Paterson was developing sites further up the valley, they were spurred into action.
They bought the land and planted two hectares of Pinot Noir.
The next year, after an encouraging 95% uptake of the plants, they planted another four hectares and the following year another two hectares.
The first harvest from the first planted block, which they called Caroline's Block, was in 2004. This was a year where frost rampaged through the Central Otago vineyards but Ostler Vineyard, just 50 kilometres from the coast, was untouched. The grapes were harvested by hand and transported to the Amisfield winery in Central Otago, where Jeff Sinnott now worked.
Ostler Caroline's Pinot Noir 2004 from the Waitaki Valley is an exciting wine. It's deep ruby/violet in colour, translucent but almost opaque at the core. The aroma is complex, smoky, floral, and plummy then in the mouth the spicy freshness of the wine shines through. It's a wine with complexity, savouriness and length, a medium bodied wine with beautifully balanced flavours of tart red fruits at their optimal ripeness with an earthy, fungal undercurrent.
The texture is silky and the finish is plush and rounded and the aftertaste goes on and on.
It's unlike any other New Zealand pinot noir I've tasted (in that it cannot be likened to Central Otago, Marlborough or Martinborough) but it certainly rates as one of the best New Zealand Pinot Noirs I've come across to date. The future for Ostler Vineyard looks exciting.
The wine carries 13.5% alcohol by volume and is sealed with a screwcap. It is sold directly through the website at www.ostlerwine.co.nz and costs $45 a bottle, however you may be able to find it at a few small, select retailers - if you are lucky. I saw it in a wine shop in Dunedin and it is also available in Oamaru.
© Sue Courtney
23 April 2006