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Stephen Brook in New Zealand

Decanter contributing editor Stephen Brook is currently in New Zealand, and sent us this report of his first two days.

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After travelling for about 30 hours, I reached Christchurch in time for my first winery visit. Dr Michael East is a gynaecologist with a fine vineyard in the Waipara region an hour north of Christchurch. This is my first visit to Waipara and it’s an eye-opener.

It’s a sheltered valley, but nights are cool, keeping freshness in the wines. There are Rieslings and Pinot Noirs of rare elegance, and I find many wines with a greater drinkability than their more celebrated but chunkier Central Otago counterparts.

I visited the remote Pyramid Valley, where Mike and Claudia Weersing have established 4 tiny biodynamic vineyards, planted with Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.

At two of them, Mike takes a shovel and digs into the soil, so I can observe its structure and smell its sweet earthiness. (There was a substantial earthquake aftershock while I was there, but nobody noticed.) The winemaking is resolutely noninterventionist, and I am startled by the cloudy if flavoury Pinots.

The winery consists of a bunch of insulated containers, and I spot three amphorae, as yet unused. For experiments with Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris, Mike explains.

I stay and dine at Pegasus Bay with Ivan Donaldson and his wife Chris. I judged a Sydney wine show with Ivan, and met his winemaking daughter-in-law Lynette at a Riesling conference in Seattle, so I feel at home here.

Lynette takes me through the wines at breakneck speed: Rieslings in many styles, and some firmly structured Pinots. This morning a regional tasting of Waipara wines was organised for me by Kym Rayner at Torlesse Wines.

Kym hears I am about to fly down to Central Otago. He shakes his head. ‘Poor bastards, they’ve got no soil down there!’

By late afternoon I am with Rudi Bauer at a picnic table on the shores of the mountain lake just south of Queenstown, sipping a range of Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir from his Quartz Creek winery. A far cry from gentle Waipara. Rugged Pinots is a rugged landscape, and many more to follow tomorrow.

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