If a picture speaks a thousand words, then these ones reflect nature at its breathtakingly beautiful best.

Wetjacket Arm in Fiordland was the inspiration for Greg Hay’s Wet Jacket Wines

These pictures were taken in Fiordland, New Zealand in June this year. It’s a place where it’s impossible to take a bad picture, come rain, hail or shine – and there’s plenty of seasons in each day in this remote corner of New Zealand.

The reason for the trip is wine. Not that any of it is made in this rugged and damp beauty, but a new brand is named after it.

Wet Jacket Wines is the brainchild of viticulturist Greg Hay; a nature lover, member of the Fiordland Conservation Trust and one of Central Otago’s modern wine pioneers, each in equal measure. Or perhaps his love of the great outdoors exceeds his love of wine, but, if so, Hay’s not saying. He’s just happy to bring another group of wine and food professionals to his favourite place on Earth.

He launched his new wine brand Wet Jacket Wines in 2016 from a humble cellar door housed in one of the oldest stone crofts in Otago; on the road between Lake Hayes and Queenstown. The cellar door doubles as a tasting room, summer picnic area – where better to sip rosé in the sunshine and soak up the ridiculous beauty of the dramatic mountains which surround the place. And it has a cheese room, which is devoted to one of the South Island’s best cheese brands – Whitestone from Oamaru, which makes outstanding hard aged cheddar styles and creamy bries to fresh white salty goat’s cheese, but I’m getting away from the subject at hand.

If you haven’t heard of Wet Jacket Wines, you’re in good company. It remains under the radar and probably will do for some time.

Production is pretty small. Only about 3000 cases are made each year by winemaker Pete Bartle, who doubles as the manager of VinPro in Central Otago. And since sales are nearly all from the cellar door of this evocatively named wine brand, there’s no middle man to share the profits with. It’s an unusual formula for a New Zealand wine brand these days when most sell upwards of 80 per cent of their production offshore. But it works.

So, there we were hearing all about this, cruising through Dusky Sound in Fiordland and trying to keep our jaws from dropping at the insane which-way-is-up scenery. Pictures speak louder than words down here, but every second in this place made me thankful for the journey.

It is remote. It takes a plane ride, car trip, overnight stay in Te Anau, private helicopter and dinghy to finally set foot on the launch which will be our home for the next two days, but what a ride.

Every year, Hay invites a small group of restaurateurs, wine specialists and writers (hence, yours truly) to experience the place and stay on the Pembroke – the old launch he co-owns with a group of fellow Fiordland fanatics.

The boat lives where he would like to – between Wetjacket Arm and Broughton Arm in this intensely beautiful part of the world. It’s the the second wettest place on Earth and can be so bone chillingly cold that it’s hard to believe anyone ever survived here hundreds of years ago, without the creature comforts of today. Lighting a fire alone would be a hard ask in these damp conditions. Food, however, was plentiful, thanks to the once prolific bird life, which has now been severely depleted by early settlers and the waves of pests they brought with them; it began with Polynesian rats and dogs and ended with the aggressive Norwegian rat, which is said to have decimated more birds than any other of its species.

The crazy beauty of the place did something else that I’ve only experienced in the great outdoors too – it dialled up the deliciousness of the wines we drank.

If this seems like a big claim, then all I can suggest is drinking a glass of Wet Jacket Pinot Gris or Riesling while cruising in the extreme green Sportsman’s Cove – check it out below. (The same thing once happened to me when walking the Routeburn Track with a glass of Marc Bredif Vouvray and also with a glass of Pinotage (of all things) while standing at dusk in a wild game park in South Africa.)

 

My favourite all all the little places we’ve been is the pragmatically named Sportsman’s Cove. It is so full of rimu trees, bonsai looking beech trees and emerald green water that it seems to transport me to a colouring in book rather than a real place.

Like the rest of Fiordland, its beauty seems magical. A little like Alice in Wonderland, I am loathe to leave this special place. But leave we must.

We’re here to taste wine, fish for food and soak up stories about the conservation work that Hay has been involved in for the past several decades. As a member of the Fiordland Conservation Trust, he is more than a little keen to ensure this beautiful Unesco World Heritage Site is kept as intact as it possibly can be.

His previous work with the trust has been heavily involved with bird translocation to preserve and build up species that have been depleted. He remains dedicated to the preservation of this wilderness, and it’s easy to see why.

 

He chose the name Wet Jacket Wines to bring awareness to the plight of this fragile place in an ever so subtle way. It works, if you come here to visit. And few people do. I can’t help hoping it stays that way.

Learn more about Wet Jacket Wines here: https://www.facebook.com/wetjacketwines/