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Woman in wine – Misha’s Otago vineyard

Misha’s Vineyard in Bendigo, Central Otago

Ever heard the joke about the quickest way to become a millionaire?

Start with two million and build a winery.

It’s a cautionary tale but one that strangely doesn’t deter people with ambitious ideas, romantic dreams and that most critical factor – a love of wine – from planting vineyards, building wineries and creating brands.

This is the story of Misha and Andy Wilkinson’s breathtakingly beautiful vineyard in Bendigo, Central Otago, and of the successful brand the pair have constructed in 13 years.

This interview is between Misha Wilkinson and Joelle Thomson.


If you could choose a single bottle to enjoy tonight, what would it be? 

MW: Italy’s Barolo. On a trip to the Piedmont region in Italy many years ago, our aim was to sample some of the best wines and celebrate our 10th wedding anniversary. We found ourselves in a private dining room at Marchesi di Barolo, with a 2-star Michelin chef preparing a six course dinner just for us. The meal was accompanied by an amazing selection of Marchesi di Barolo wines that owner Anna Abbona indulged us with, including several vintages of Barolo Cannubi DOCG. This wine has Nebbiolo’s distinctive aromas of roses, vanilla, liquorice, spice and a wonderfully  elegant palate. Drinking it (regardless of vintage) takes me back to one of the most memorable nights of my life – with my gorgeous husband. This year marks our 25th wedding anniversary and I’m still talking about our 10th one.

The wine is Marchesi di Barolo Barolo Cannubi DOCG.

What led you to Central Otago?

MW:  My husband Andy and I lived in Singapore for many years working in the corporate world in IT. We did our MBAs together there and realised we worked well together and had complementary skills. I don’t think either of us would have done as well in the course if we’d done it alone. So we made a plan to develop something together in the future that involved something we were passionate about. We just had to figure out what the project would be and have enough money to fund it!  We ended up with “the vineyard project” 10 years later.


Why Central Otago?

MW:  We looked at three wine regions in New Zealand but the pull of Central Otago was the strongest because we felt we were still getting in at the pioneering stage and could find a premium site; Andy had family connections in Central (10 cousins, one already had a vineyard in Bannockburn) and the region took our breath away with its spectacular landscapes, stunning Pinot Noir and aromatic white wines.


What’s your biggest wine success to date?

MW:  From the beginning of the vineyard project to when we had something in a glass taste took eight years. We spent two of them looking for land, a year to clear the land and order vines and four years till our first commercial crop. Then our Pinot Noir was in oak barrels for a year before bottling. So to be honest just having wine in a glass was a big achievement.


How did your first accolade in print feel?

MW:  Our first really significant accolade came when Decanter magazine in the UK named us one of New Zealand’s Top 20 Wine Producers. An amazing recognition given there are over 700 wineries in New Zealand. Our amazing site and talented winemaker Olly Masters both shine.


What’s your ultimate dream goal for your wines?

MW:  This is our 13th vintage at Misha’s Vineyard, so we’re still new-ish. We set out to make some of New Zealand’s best wines and our motto was, (and will always be) ‘no compromise’. We’re happy with where things are on but the real success of a wine brand is earning a global reputation based on consistent great wines over many vintages. We’re on the right trajectory. We just need to make better wine and never compromise.


What’s the most challenging aspect of owning a winery?

MW:  There are two. One is being subject to all the of farming  – adverse weather conditions, pests and disease, equipment failures, water/irrigation issues and so on. Being knowledgeable about the potential risks is key so that preventative actions can be taken for many aspects of farming but the weather is something that you can’t control and it can have a serious impact on crop volume, quality and all the associated financial implications.

The other challenging aspect is selling the wine. With the myriad of choice consumers have with wine, trying to carve out one’s niche in the market and become someone’s wine of choice takes considerable effort. We are fortunate that Andy and I both had careers involved in sales and marketing.


How would you like people to describe your Pinot Noir? 

MW:  Structured, supple, serious, elegant.

We want Pinot Noir that consistently reflects our unique warm site on the lakefront terraces of the Bendigo sub-region.


What was the most helpful thing you learnt in your previous working life? 

MW:  Creating and establishing a brand is hard. Our task was even harder as we launched at the time of the Global Financial Crisis.  With many years running the marketing operations for everything from opera houses, to cities, to technology companies, I gained a solid background in all aspects of marketing and that skill set in our company was one of our strengths.

Dabbling in vintage and wines for Easter

 A girlfriend who loves art once told me that the more she learnt about art, the more she realised she didn’t know. That’s exactly how I feel about winemaking right now. Not that I’m a winemaker. But as a wine writer, I’ve always felt it was important to learn some technical aspects to make the writing authentic. It’s easier said than done.

This is the fourth year in a row that I have worked a couple of days of vintage at Pegasus Bay in North Canterbury. Or is it the fifth? Who’s counting. And the word ‘work’ isn’t strictly accurate. It’s more a case of tagging alongside a winemaker or two, plunging the cap on a couple of Pinot tanks, measuring a ferment starter and, occasionally, digging out tanks of sticky Pinot skins after the wine’s been moved to barrels.

It’s amazing dabbling in vintage work. I’ve learnt so much about how much I don’t know.

The incredibly diverse range of skills a winemaker needs to be successful is mind boggling. Knowledge of plant biology is essential to coax the best from the raw material – the grapes. Then there’s chemistry for the winemaking, technical understanding and proficiency when working with pumps, tanks and pipes in the winery. And last, but far from least, you need to love it. That’s the only way to blend wine that tastes great.

So the week was interesting, delicious and humbling, yet again, thanks to the great communicators in the cohesive winemaking team at Pegasus Bay Winery in North Canterbury. Speaking of which, the week began at Greystone Winery’s vineyards where writers and retailers were taken into the vineyards to watch the third commercial release of this winery’s interesting vineyard ferment Pinot Noir, which I wrote about here:

And here, without further ado, are wines for the weekend. 

Bargain buy

2017 Forrest Albarino $24.99

Marlborough winemaker John Forrest was at the forefront of pioneering New Zealand’s modern wine industry, he was one of the first to adopt screwcaps in 2001 and, now, he is leading the pack with experiments of Albarino in this country. This fresh, high acid white grape variety is originally from the maritime climate of north west Spain, which makes it ideally suited to New Zealand. Its freshness and vibrant green herb and citrus flavours shine through in this well priced wine.

Available widely or Forrest Estate here:


Treat of the week

 2016 Pegasus Bay Pinot Noir $50

Whole bunch ferments are rising and so is the quality of Pinot Noir at Pegasus Bay winery in North Canterbury.

The winemaking team is on a mission to fine tune their Pinot Noirs and this, the freshly released 2016, is possibly the best yet, although I am still smitten with the earthy depths and fruit ripeness in the 2015.

The grapes in this wine were harvested at 24 brix in stages between 7 and 21 April 2016. About one third were placed at the bottom of tanks to ferment as whole bunches, which adds strong fruity aromas and structure to the wine, which was matured in French oak (40% new) for 18 months. Its fruit weight and fresh acidity are beautifully balanced by the wine’s full body, moderate tannins and lingering flavoursome finish.

It sometimes seems strange to discover the gritty reality behind the romantic dream of winemaking but a sip of this Pinot reminds me why I fell in love with wine in the first place.
Available from specialist stores or the winery:

Reaching for the stars

2017 Greystone Vineyard Ferment Pinot Noir $65

The first time winemaker ever Dom Maxwell bottled a Pinot Noir that was fermented in the vineyard (rather than in the winery) was 2013 but that wine was firmly in the experimental category. Three years later, he made the first vineyard ferment Pinot Noir that was destined for commercial release and this new release is the second one. It’s distinctively different Pinot Noir from most, in part because of its pale ruby colour and in part because of its earthier flavours, which are surprisingly medium bodied, given the pale hue of this tasty drop.
It was bottled unfined and unfiltered with a lower than usual dose of sulphur dioxide added only at bottling to prevent oxidation. This tastes spicy, interesting and fresh and, hopefully, has a long life ahead. I plan to find out by cellaring some.
Available from specialist stores or Greystone Wines:

Tasty experiments with Pinot Noir

If fermenting a wine in the vineyard sounds like an edgy idea, how about trying it in the cool of autumn in the South Island?

WInemaker Dom Maxwell and marketer Nik Mavromatis of Greystone Wines

The wines in question are the 2016 Greystone Vineyard Ferment Pinot Noir and brand new 2017 Greystone Vineyard Ferment Pinot Noir. They are made from 100% certified organic grapes, fermented 100% with wild yeasts and aged 100% in older oak (no new barriques here). They were also fermented entirely in the vineyard.

It’s an unusual place to ferment grapes, even if it does, ironically, seem to be the most logical place to do it. No transportation is needed, for one thing, and that means the grapes can be picked and placed immediately into their fermentation vessels. What could be more logical?

The first time winemaker Dom Maxwell ever bottled a Pinot Noir that was fermented in the vineyard (rather than in the winery) was 2013 but that wine was firmly in the experimental category. Three years later, he made the first vineyard ferment Pinot Noir that was destined for commercial release.

It’s a distinctively different style of Pinot Noir from one of the great Pinot regions in this country – North Canterbury, which is home to Greystone Wines.

This week, a bunch of wine writers and retailers visited the vineyard to watch the Pinot grapes fermenting and taste the wines. I was invited. It was a great insight into an interesting new way (or should that be, an old traditional way) of producing Pinot Noir?

The wines are made without added yeasts. They are bottled unfined and unfiltered. Sulphur dioxide added only at bottling.

They are not the only top notch Pinot Noirs made at Greystone Wines by any stretch, but these wines do push new and interesting boundaries – in a good way. Winemaker Dom Maxwell uses 20% whole bunches of Pinot Noir in the ferment tanks and visits them all once a day, every day, to test the ferments. They tend to be .5% lower in alcohol than their counterparts that are fermented in the winery, which may in part be due to the wild yeasts and in part to the long, slow ferments in the cooler outdoor temperatures. In general, the outdoor ferments range from 24 to 34 degrees Celcius while the indoor winery ferments range from 26 to 33 degrees.

How it tastes

The 2016 Greystone Vineyard Ferment Pinot Noir is a silky, graceful Pinot Noir and is as understated as its front label, which features an evocative illustration of the vineyard. The artwork is by illustrator Hanna Berry, who wandered into the vineyard with her sketchpad and drew a  picture perfect rendition of it, in black and white. It’s a fitting illustration for a Pinot Noir that is as interesting and tasty as the winemaking thought behind it.

Winemaker Dom Maxwell says he’s learnt a lot from the vineyard – “The best teacher when it comes to making wine.”

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