Joelle Thomson

Writer, author, journalist

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Friday drinks with winemaker Jen Parr

Jen Parr is a long way from home. She was born in North America and has traded in her homeland for a career in wine and a passion for the mountains in the wine region of her choice. Central Otago is now her home and Valli winery is where she spends most of her winemaking career. She also works as a consultant to many wine brands. This is her story.

This interview is based on Proust questionnaire

What do you consider your greatest achievement?

Swapping a corporate job in the Northern Hemisphere to follow my winemaking dream internationally, eventually settling in Wanaka, New Zealand. 

What's your favourite thing about wine?

Two favourite things. The first is seasonality and wine’s ability to capture a moment in time. The second is people who are dedicated to growing, making and selling wine and the people who treasure drinking it.

Do you have a most treasured wine?

Valli Missy Bannockburn Pinot Noir 2019 was made in loving memory of my special wine dog that passed away in 2018, with proceeds going to an Otago animal rescue shelter.  We have since released a second dog charity wine from the Waitaki in 2020 called Thiefy, with another to be released from Bendigo in spring called Zeffer 2021 and there's one from Gibbston still in barrel. We will donate proceeds from Bendigo and Gibbston wines to K9 Medical Detection in Dunedin, a charity that trains cancer sniffer dogs. Missy was a catalyst for something wonderful and a way to give back.

When and where are you at your happiest?

In the mountains with someone like minded, without cell or internet connection. Skiing, tramping, mountain biking or looking at stars.

What do you most dislike in wine?

The results of over consuming it.

What is your greatest fear?

The destruction of the planet.

What is your greatest extravagance?

Skiing is a mini obsession. I consider it a great extravagance as it takes up all my time and energy in winter.

What is your greatest regret?

I’m a fan of Edith Piaf so would like to say “I regret nothing,” but in truth, I hope to get to that point in life. I regret it when I disappoint someone I respect and also regret many travel opportunities I didn’t pursue because I feared lack of time or funds, particularly a friend’s 30th birthday in Hungary that included a Tokaji wine tasting. 

What talent would you most like to have?

I’ve always wanted to play the harmonica. You can take anywhere and it goes well with whiskey.

What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?

Loneliness.  

What do you most value in your friends?

Loyalty, not only to me but to themselves. My friends are all different from each other and quite different to me. I love the diversity.

Which words or phrases do you most overuse?

I am prone to talk too much. 

What is your favourite meal? 

Pizza is my favourite comfort food but I love trying classic dishes when I travel. Food from the area I am visiting. Any dish that tells the story of the village or place where I'm eating it and the people who grow or make it.  It's a lot like wine in that regard. South Island cheese rolls, anyone? Joking. Kind of. 

If you were to die and come back as a person or thing what would it be?

I would love to come back as a great poet or accomplished writer. Hemmingway drank a lot of great wine.

Photo: Anna Allan