Joelle Thomson

Author, journalist, writer

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Central Otago leads organic charge

News that Central Otago leads organic winemaking in New Zealand should come as no surprise either to Pinot Noir drinkers or to anyone with a passing interest in organics.

The region is renowned for collaboration between winemakers whose vineyards are 80% Pinot Noir and, as of this year, 23% certified organic and biodynamic.

Organics has been a long term focus for the Central Otago Winegrowers Association. Members of the association collectively began adopting organic practices in 2007. Their decision was helped by funding from Organics Aotearoa New Zealand (OANZ) to support their transition to organic certification.

It helps no end that Central has the most continental climate in the country. It’s drier than the country’s generally maritime, generally wet, generally humid grape growing areas. While wind mitigates moisture in areas such as North Canterbury and the Wairarapa, most of New Zealand’s vineyards are strongly affected by moisture. Man made chemicals are the first port of call to help with vine disease but fungicides, herbicides, pesticides, insecticides and fertilisers are all rejected by organics

Findings from a survey this year revealed that 17% (320 hectares) of vineyard land in Otago is now fully certified in organic and biodynamic wine production with another 6% (115 hectares) of the region in the official three-year organic conversion process. This means that 23% of Central’s vineyard land area is now being farmed under certified organic and biodynamic practices. Land must be managed to a certified organic standard for three years before full organic status is granted by an organic certifying body. 

Organic Winegrowers New Zealand (OWNZ) has been instrumental in helping to achieve this high proportion of organic winegrowing, through projects such as the Organic Focus Vineyard project and other industry workshops. 

New Zealand’s leading organic certifying body is BioGro NZ.

New Central Otago wines

Bargain buy

2017 Black Peak Pinot Noir Central Otago $37 to $40

Winemaker James McElrea sources the grapes in this wine from an organically certified vineyard in Queensberry, mid way between Wanaka and Cromwell. One third was whole bunch fermented and foot stomped to crush whole berries so there was no intracellular fermentation. The  balance was destemmed.  The wine spent 30 days on skins before it was pressed to tank and then moved to barrels for 12 months; 40% were new French oak. The wine is vegan friendly because no fining took place.

Bargains are in the eye of the beholder. This wine has beautiful dark cherry flavours, is dry with refreshing acidity and a medium body.

Treat of the week

2017 Misha’s Vineyard The High Note Pinot Noir $45

This is an appropriately named wine, if ever there was. It’s made with grapes grown on a north west facing vineyard slope at 210 to 350 metres above sea level on the shores of Lake Dunstan. Eight different clones of Pinot Noir were used, including UCD 5, 777, 667, 4, 115, Abel, 6 and 114. The grapes were chilled overnight before crushing and cold soaking for 5 to 7 days followed by a natural yeast fermentation. A small portion of whole bunches (6%) adds aromatic lift and the wine was held between 15-20% centigrade after fermentation to allow tannins to integrate. It was aged in French oak hogsheads; 300 litre barrels, 28% new.

This wine is from a vintage that’s widely regarded as a bit of a toughie, but, like so many other top Central wines from 2017, Misha’s Top Note is superlative – concentrated flavours and silky mouthfeel. Delicious.

Great things often come from adversity.

Reaching for the stars

2017 Chard Farm Central Otago Viper Vineyard $79

Every harvest presents a few curveballs but 2017 was a challenging one, say most Central Otago winemakers, including John Wallace from Chard Farm, who made this stunning Pinot Noir from the Viper Vineyard.

It’s my pick of the single  vineyard wines from Chard Farm’s latest new release range. Dry with pronounced fresh red fruit flavours, it sports lightness with intensity and complexity. Spicy and tasty. A great pinot Noir.

Organic Wine Week take 2

Organic Wine Week 17 to 23 September

Organic Wine Week began last year, hot on the heels of Organic Winegrowers New Zealand noticing that over 10% of New Zealand wineries produce certified organic wine. It may come as no surprise to find that the high profile and driest wine region in the country leads the way – Central Otago has 23% of its vineyard land being managed organically; 17% is certified organic with 6% currently in conversion.

This means that within the next three years, 23% of Central’s vineyard area will be completely certified organic.

Over 10% of New Zealand wineries now hold organic certification and over 30 of them are registered in this year’s Organic Wine Week.


Organic Wine Week events calendar

A Prelude to Organic Wine Week | Discovering Organic Wine
Saturday 14 September 1pm to 5pm
Regional Wines, 15 Ellice St, Mount Victoria

Meet your Maker 2.0
Tuesday 17 September 6pm to 10pm
Shepherd, Eva St, Te Aro, Wellington

Wine Wednesday
Wednesday 18 September 12 noon to 7pm
Regional Wines, 15 Ellice St, Mount Victoria, Wellington

Organic UK walk-around tasting
Wednesday 18 September 12.30pm to 4pm
New Zealand Winegrowers, 80 Haymarket, St James’s, London

Get Dirty 2.0 | NZ Organic Wine Tasting
Wednesday 18 September, 6pm to 8pm
NZ Cellar | POP Brixton, 49 Brixton Station Rd, Brixton, London

Tall Tales, Empty Bottles w/ Rippon & Te Whare Ra
Wednesday 18 September, 6.30pm to 10.30pm
Arbour Restaurant, 36 Godfrey Rd, Fairhall, Blenheim

Battle of the Wines
Thursday 19 September, 6.30pm to 10:30 pm
Bistronomy, 40 Hastings Street, Napier
More Organic Wine Week events here: 

Aim of Organic Wine Week

  • To highlight the fact that organic wine starts from the ground up – literally. Organically certified grapes are the prerequisite to organic wine. Nothing can be labelled ‘organic’, unless it is made from produce that has no man-made chemicals used in the growing process.
  • Man-made, industrial compounds are rejected in organic certification.
  • Fertilisers, fungicides, herbicides, pesticides and all GM are excluded from organic produce.
  • Organically produced wine supports vineyard workers’ health with the lack of chemicals used in growing grapes.
  • Transparency means we understand more about what we are consuming when we drink a glass (or two) of wine.
  • Every certified organic wine comes from a vineyard that is grown in a way which protects the environment rather than draws everything from it.

Organic produce is much the same way as many of our grandparents grew up with – fruit, vegetables and meat that was farmed without man made chemicals used in its process.

Vegan vino explained

What is vegan wine?

The question is being asked more frequently than ever before, according to winemakers, retailers and even those from outside the wine industry, such as journalists, many of whom are being asked to account for a definition of vegan wine.

The latest magazine to publish a story on vegan wine in New Zealand is Good magazine, whose editor, Carolyn Enting, asked me to write a piece called Vegan Vino for the next issue. It’s a modest sized story of 500 words, which provides a readable and, hopefully, succinct snapshot to answer the question.

To read this piece in Good, look out for the magazine in stores in September.

In the meantime, here is an explanation on what vegan wine is – and isn’t.

Vegan wine facts

How and why do animals have a part in the winemaking process?

  • Wine is a vegetarian and vegan friendly product as it is made from grapes
  • Most wine goes through a process called fining to remove small particles
  • The most effective way to fine a way is to use a high protein product
  • Vegetarian products are increasingly used, such as potatoes and peas
  • Bentonite is a type of clay, which is also used to fine wine
  • Traditionally some animal products have been used, such as egg whites to remove particles from high quality red wines
  • Fish bladders, gelatin and milk based casein are also used to fine wine
  • Dried blood was historically used but has now been outlawed in the EU

Are all wines fined with animal products?


Not all wines are fined either.

There is a growing trend in some wine styles to bottle them without fining. Some of these wines can appear cloudy and have been intentionally made this way.


How can I know if a wine is vegan friendly?

  • Buy specific brands that make vegan friendly wines. This requires research
  • All Yalumba wines are vegan friendly
  • Some wines from these producers are vegan friendly: Akarua, Astrolabe, Blackenbrook, Brightside and Leconfield wines, which stipulates on its label which wines are vegan friendly
  • The United Kingdom’s shopping chain, Marks & Spencer, has its own range of wines, 70% of which are now clearly labelled as vegan friendly.
  • Any wine that says it is unfined will contain no animal products in the wine itself and therefore ticks the vegan friendly box.

The irony is…

  • Organically certified and biodynamically certified wines are, ironically, the most planet-friendly, in terms of their production processes – and they may contain tiny traces of products such as egg whites in some wines.
  • Vegan friendly wine is not necessarily made from organically certified or (even better) biodynamically certified grapes.
  • This means that non vegan friendly wine may have a lower carbon footprint and may be made in ways that have a lower impact on the environment.

Fast moving consumable packaging compromises

There is no guarantee that every aspect of a wine’s production is vegan friendly because, like all fast moving consumable products that human beings consume, a product’s packaging could contain glue and other animal derived products in its packaging.

This is not only related to wine but to all food and drinks products as well as anything we purchase that comes with wrapping and labelling.


Processing agents rather than additives

  • Animal based fining agents are not used in wine as additives
  • They are used in miniscule amounts as processing agents
  • This means they are always removed but it is impossible to guarantee that miniscule traces don’t remain.

Find out more about vegan wines at


  • I work as a writer and part-time wine adviser for Regional Wines & Spirits in Wellington, New Zealand. I am a trained journalist and have frequently been asked for vegan wine recommendations. In my work in fine wine retail, I am increasingly being asked not only for recommendations but also for an explanation of vegan wine.
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