Waitaki Valley. Small, remote, bone chillingly cold now but super hot in summer…
Waitaki Valley is home to so much limestone and so few people that it looks more like a cross between Scotland and somewhere in the north of France than a remote region in New Zealand. But there you have it – a surprise in the making, as are its wines. It’s hard not to fall for the charms of this eye poppingly stunning region, but one step outside into the cold can easily put paid to a belief that natural beauty alone results in great wines.
If the ability to age is any indication of good wine quality, then the Waitaki Valley has plenty of high quality potential up its wine-y sleeve. And if any proof was needed of the region’s ability to provide conditions for grapes that can make age-worthy wines, it was provided last weekend when Waitaki wine pioneer Jim Jerram flew to Oamaru to pick me up for a bird’s eye view over this spectacularly beautiful valley.
The light plane he flew was close enough to give us an outstanding view of the valley’s plentiful limestone deposits and its patchwork of vines. Jerram later opened his 2011 Ostler Caroline’s Waitaki Valley Pinot Noir and 2012 Ostler Blue House Vines Riesling, both of which clearly have plenty of life up their sleeves. The Riesling was incredibly pale in colour with the high acidity you’d expect from such a cool climate part of the world, balanced by intense flavours of lime and green apple, with lemon zest flavours starting to appear.
The Pinot, on the other hand, was definitely heading down the ‘I’ve been cellared’ path of savoury, earthy flavours and its brick-orange rim revealed a wine that is clearly in its development phase of life. That said, I believe that Pinot has plenty more time up its sleeve because the wine was still driven by fresh acidity, which provided the support structure to its surprisingly full body and its unsurprisingly long finish.
The wines of the Waitaki are defiantly different in style to their Central Otago counterparts – the whites taste more austere while the reds are more savoury and perhaps have more in common with those from North Canterbury, a few hours up the road.
Taste the Waitaki Valley
Taste the wines of the Waitaki on Thursday 17 August from 6pm to 8pm at Regional Wines in Wellington. I am hosting this tasting and the winemakers have all contributed their wines to what we believe is the most comprehensive tasting yet of Waitaki Valley wines. Details to book a spot in this tasting are here: https://regionalwines.co.nz/events?event_id=167
The wines we will taste include
2015 Ostler Audrey’s Pinot Noir
2015 Ostler Caroline’s Pinot Noir
2016 Pasquale Riesling
2012 Pasquale Chardonnay
2011 Pasquale Pinot Noir
2016 Valli Waitaki Pinot Noir
2015 Valli Waitaki Riesling (off dry)
2014 Valli Waitaki Late Harvest Riesling
2010 John Forrest Collection Waitaki Pinot Noir
2012 John Forrest Collection Waitaki Pinot Noir
2010 John Forrest Collection Waitaki Chardonnay
The Ostler story
Ostler Wines is headed up by Jim Jerram and the wines are made by Jeff Sinnott, who doubles as winemaker and brother in law to Jerram, whose wife Anne (sister of Jeff), is also involved actively in the business.
The Jerrams bought 37 hectares of limestone hillside in the valley in 2001 when they were holidaying in the Coromandel. They lived in Dunedin at the time, where Jim practised medicine as a GP but (there’s always been a ‘but’, he says), he was looking for an alternative plan.
“I always had been. I’d worked on a high country South Island station as a youth and spent all my holidays in Otago, hunting and flying a plane and bringing a barge down the lake. I always wanted to be a producer and export something because New Zealand needs export, and I wanted to work in an industry with some slightly altruistic aspect too,” he says, adding later on that he worked for two years in Nepal as a young doctor, many moons ago now.
So he knows all about growing things in cool climates – he grew tomatoes in a plastic ‘greenhouse’ at 12,000 feet in Nepal.
Fast forward to today and the Jerram own eight hectares of vines on their limestone walled vineyard, Clos Ostler, which was planted in 2001 to 6 hectares of Pinot Noir and 2 of Pinot Gris. Their first experimental wine was made in 2004. They own other vineyard land in the Waitaki and have a permanent cellar door in Kurow, a town in the valley. There are plans for further expansion at Ostler, which clearly has great potential for high quality wine going forward.
Watch this space.