Today’s Exclusive: Wooing Tree Vineyard | Central Otago, NZ
It all started with a tree.
Plus two plucky couples whose passion for Pinot, and some amazing luck, led to creation of one of Central Otago’s most well-recognized wineries.
The Wooing Tree….rendezvous spot for most of Central Otago’s ‘wooing’ couples.
And fertile ground for award-winning Wooing Tree Vineyard, producer of ‘Pinot with Passion,’ supple wines of sun-kissed, food-friendly, red-fruited brilliance.
Central Otago, known as ‘Vineyards on the Edge,’ grows Pinot Noir in the southern-most region of the world, and hosts the annual Central Otago Pinot Noir Celebration.
Here, Red Thread ™ talks about what it’s like to grow Pinot Noir ‘on the edge’ with Steve Farquarson of Wooing Tree Vineyard:
R/T ™ : Who or what brought you and your family to the world of wine?
SF: My wife Thea and I were working in IT in the UK and wanted to come back to New Zealand (home), but` didn’t really want to go back to an office job in the city.
We really wanted to shift back to Central Otago for the outdoors lifestyle and were looking at setting up or buying a business down there, at this stage a vineyard was not part of the idea. We were talking to my sister and brother-in-law Jane and Geoff Bews and found out they were thinking about something similar, so we decided to pool our resources.
We discovered quite a few vineyards were being setup in Central and very quickly we were thinking about doing this ourselves. So in 2001 we had the idea, later on in the year we were buying and setting up the vineyard which was planted in 2002. We stayed living in the UK and set it up remotely and shifted back for our first harvest 2005. Since then we have been hands on running a winery business with a very steep learning curve.
R/T ™: Tell readers a bit about the history of Wooing Tree Vineyard – what makes it unique?
When we bought the land it had been unused for 100 years, before the grapes were planted, a number of trees needed to be felled and cleared, and unbeknown to us, one of these trees had quite a history.
The ancient tree commanded a place in local lore as a lovers’ rendezvous, and therefore had been given the name of the ‘Wooing Tree’. If only it could talk, it would have many a story to tell!
Of course, the Wooing Tree was saved and the problem of coming up with a vineyard and wine label name was also solved. Today, the Wooing Tree is a popular place for weddings and marriage proposals and now sits prominently in the middle of the vineyard.
R/T ™: New Zealand’s Central Otago wine region has been called “Vineyards on the Edge.” Considered the southern-most wine region in the world, it shares the same 45th parallel as Bordeaux, yet the climate favors Burgundy’s Pinot Noir.
What brought you to this wine region in general, and the production of Pinot Noir in particular?
SF: We were part of a ‘second wave’ of producers in Central Otago so when we were looking at what variety to plant we had the luxury of the hard work the pioneers had put in finding out what grew best in the region. It was clear Pinot Noir liked the climate in Central Otago, other varieties such as the Bordeaux ones had been tried, but just could not ripen.
We have a continental climate with a short but hot summer, and cold nights. The hot days and cool nights make it perfect for Pinot Noir to ripen up slowly, whilst building up the fruit flavours but still retaining the great acidity. We also have long day light hours, high UV light and very dry weather, and this all leads to a good hang time and no rush to bring in fruit. With the lack of rain we get to pick the fruit at the optimum time for flavours.
R/T ™: Wooing Tree sits on a flat area within a wine region renown for high elevations. Central Otago also features wind-blown loess, yet your site features more sand and gravel. Talk a little bit about Wooing Tree terroir.
SF: Our soils are very similar to the rest of the Cromwell basin, they are very light windblown loess and sand over a very free draining gravel base. About 70% of the Central Otago fruit is grown in the Cromwell Basin on similar soils. These soils give us great control in the vineyard in terms of irrigation; just enough to keep the vines going and if it does rain it disappears pretty quickly.
It is true we are on a flat vineyard, when we were looking for land we were looking for a north facing slope, unlike many other vineyard areas in the world needing a slope for sun exposure, in Central Otago, the slope was desirable for frost protection.
Having a flat vineyard we had to put in a frost protection system in from day one, we use aspersion (water) to protect the vines. In the time we have been here it has been discovered that even a slope doesn’t not always protect the vines in some frost events, hence a lot more frost protection systems going in the last few years.
Wooing Tree is situated in the heart of Central Otago, giving it a good mix of the sub regions micro-climates, and making it one of the first vineyards to harvest. I feel this gives us plenty of time to ripen the fruit and as you say it is “vineyards on the edge,” and the edge is often the season change.
R/T ™: Wooing Tree’s tagline is ‘Pinot with Passion.’ Do you have a favorite varietal among those that you grow, and/or a particular Wooing Tree wine that you’re most passionate about?
SF: Most of our grapes are Pinot Noir, so this is what we are most passionate about. We make three tiers for Pinot Noir: Wooing Tree Sandstorm Reserve, Wooing Tree Pinot Noir and Wooing Tree Beetle Juice.
We also make a still white wine called Blondie, a dry rosé from Pinot Noir, and recently we introduced a sweet rosé, also made from Pinot Noir, called Tickled Pink.
We do specialize in Pinot Noir, but we do produce a couple of whites – a Pinot Gris, and a Chardonnay. These were primarily produced for the cellar door, but we are noticing a increased demand for Chardonnay, which is great news, as we do love our Chardonnay!
R/T ™: Tell readers a little about your team of wine makers.
SF: We have been lucky to have two great winemakers – Carol Bunn made our wine up until 2009, and now we have the services of Peter Bartle.
They are fantastic to work with and have won some great accolades for us over the years. The first vintage in 2005 resulted in a stunning pinot noir, which won the Open Red Wine Trophy at the Air NZ Wine Awards.
Consequently Wooing Tree has gathered a truly remarkable following, collecting 8 trophies, many gold medals, a whole host of 5 stars, and praise from wine writers and wine lovers around the world.
R/T ™: You practice Old World Burgundy traditions such as hand-harvest and low yields Do you espouse ‘minimal intervention’ in production as well?
SF: Yes, the winemaking is very hands off as well. The winemakers are always saying they let the vineyard do the work, but of course we know that is not entirely true, and they do put their special talents to work crafting the best wine from the grapes they get.
R/T ™: What are your greatest challenges at Wooing Tree Vineyard?
SF: Frost certainly is a problem we can have many frost fighting nights from bud burst right up to harvest. Birds are another problem in the vineyard, we have to net the vines otherwise there would be no grapes left to pick.
We are very lucky to have minimal rain and low humidity, therefore disease is not much of a problem. Apart from the birds, there is very little pest pressure. We do have plenty or rabbits in Central Otago, but our vineyard is rabbit netted around the fence line to stop them getting in.
R/T ™ : Finally, if owning Wooing Tree Vineyard has taught you anything, it’s taught you…?
SF: It is a lot of hard work, but very rewarding, I love taking the product from the grapes to the bottle and then seeing the consumers enjoying it in the glass, often on the other side of the world.
Care to share? Feel free to leave your comments below.
Steve Farquarson – Wooing Tree
All photos courtesy Wooing Tree Vineyards.
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