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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.

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.

Written by Stephen Brook

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