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.