Yup. Is this not heaven?
Today I’m lunching at Black Estate, which is in Waipara Valley in the North Canterbury region of New Zealand. It’s the neighboring vineyard to my home for 10 days here in Waipara (pronounced Wi-pra) so essentially I’m doing a competitive check. Once a marketer, always a marketer…
I’ve allowed myself a day off to collect my thoughts, rest my back and recharge for week 2 at Greystone Wines where I am learning the vineyard management and winemaking ropes from viticulturist, Nick Gill and winemaker, Dom Maxwell. I figure if I’m writing about wine – pursuing my Pinot Noir passion – then I need some hard skills. PowerPoint can only take you so far. I need a little tannin under my nails. So here I am in the south hemisphere, drinking my way through an impressive collection of vineyards, soaking in the vistas and doing the heavy lifting (I’ll try the Chardonnay).
I’ve volunteered to work Vintage 2016 in this glorious part of the world.
Why leave Toronto and travel so far to do this “grunt work” as my father-in-law so delicately put it? Because the Waipara Valley is quietly producing some of the best cool climate wines in the world and because I was shocked when Bruce Wallner, my Master Sommelier instructor declared North Canterbury to be the best Pinot Noir region in the world. That piece of news caught my attention.
My journey into the community started with this North Canterbury Forage video celebrating the inspiring cross-section of fresh food and produce from the area. The video left an indelible impression, largely because it showed the connection and pairing potential between local food and wine in such a glorious and celebratory way. I love that the chefs and winemakers in North Canterbury support each other. Okay, I know the wine industry is a hugely competitive game but producers, restaurateurs and chefs seem to “get” that the whole is bigger than the parts, that a team approach will help put this region on the proverbial wine tourism map.
Waipara has a fair distance to go to catch up with Central Otago, its Pinot-lauded neighbour to the south (home of Prophet’s Rock, Felton Road, Rippon, Mount Edward and so many more) and Marlborough – the mostly “savvy” – yes, some say Savalanch – region to the north (think Greywacke, Dog Point Vineyard, Cloudy Bay).
So the relative anonymity of the Waipara Valley and broader North Canterbury region intrigued me and the spectacularly awesome North Canterbury Forage video pretty much did me in.
What closed the deal was the story in Decanter Magazine last year announcing that Greystone Wines had won the International Pinot Noir award for their Brother’s Reserve Waipara Pinot Noir 2012. Greystone was up against wines from New Zealand, France, US, Germany, Chile …the usual heavy hitters. They’d also won the Air New Zealand award for best Pinot Noir and “Wines of Canterbury” Pinot Noir award. Their drone vineyard overhead video tour of the block was also pretty cool and helped sweeten the deal (www.greystonewines.com).
When I pitched the idea of a Vintage newbie from Canada working the New Zealand harvest to viticulturist Nick Gill, he bit. A man of few words, he said “Sure, I think we can keep you busy. We’ll start vintage round about March 26. See you then.”