The Central Otago Wine Industry is young, but when one of the wineries enters its 21st year, you know the industry is coming of age. Back in 1986, the idea of growing grape vines in this seemingly inhospitable region was regarded by most people as foolhardy. Bank managers would not lend their money to such risky projects, so those early pioneers had to fulfil their grape growing dream with other financial support.
One of those pioneers was Rob Hay, who arrived on Chard Farm, at that time a stone fruit orchard in 1986. Nelson-born Rob, who had studied winemaking in Germany for three years before returning to NZ in 1985, was on the lookout for a suitable site for a vineyard. He wanted a site that emulated some of the best features he had seen in Europe.
He found that place at Chard Farm, an alluvial fan on a precarious river terrace at the western end of the Kawerau Gorge, about 25 kilometres east of Queenstown.
Chard Farm was not the first vineyard in the region, Gibbston Valley, further east in the valley, had already planted grapes, as had Black Ridge in Alexandra and Rippon in Wanaka. There were just two hectares of vines in the region when Chard Farm planted their first grapes in 1987.
Chard Farm is one of the region's icons with the winery and tasting room on the original site. Turning off opposite the famous Kawerau River Bungy Jump and driving the precarious gravel road to get there is part of the unique experience. Chard Farm now also has vineyards scattered around the Otago region and the newer vineyards at Lowburn and Parkburn west of Lake Dunstan heading north from Cromwell to Wanaka, look very promising.
In particular 'the Viper' vineyard in Parkburn. It's named for the Viper's Bugloss, a wild, blue-flowered herb, that covered the land before the grapes were planted.
Now the stunning Chard Farm, 'the Viper' Pinot Noir 2005 has been released. This is a gorgeous wine, alluring deep ruby red coloured and crammed with ripe fruit, sweet smoky oak and mouthfuls of black cherry fruit. It's rich, ripe and savoury on the nose and tastes ripe and luscious with upfront black cherry flavours and fruit cake spices, a broad fleshy texture with silky smooth tannins and a long, supple savoury finish. Your mouth tells you this is a quality wine as it tingles with excitement from the spice and the underlying acidity that balances the sweetness, hints of rose petal add a floral lift to the finish and all the while the gentle sway of oak adds harmony.
Made entirely from Dijon clones (666, 777 etc.) it was matured in French oak, 20% new, for 11 months. It has 13.5% alcohol by volume, it's sealed with a screwcap and costs about $45 to $50 a bottle. It was the top wine in a recent tasting of lauded pinot labels. I rated it 5 stars, gold medal standard. It's my Wine of the Week.
Also recommended is Chard Farm 'the Tiger' Pinot Noir 2005, named for the late Tiger Thompson, Chard Farm's ebullient cellar door host and rascally raconteur, who passed away in 2004.
This deep ruby/violet coloured wine smells perfumed and savoury with black cherry and vanillin oak and tastes dry, dense and earthy with ripe cherries, guava, plum, smoky oak and anise-like spices. A wine of fascinating complexity, ripe and rounded, soft and smooth, a little meaty with sweet fruit and creamy oak filling out the lifted finish.
It comes from Lowburn in the Cromwell Basin, a little south of Parkburn, and has clone 5 as well as 666 & 777.
Like 'the Viper' it was matured in French oak for 11 months. I rate it 4 stars, silver medal standard at this stage of its life.
Find out more from the Chard Farm website
© Sue Courtney
16 Apr 2007