Returning to New Zealand from Asia, our home for many years, we wanted to find the best place in the world to grow cool climate grapes and most particularly Pinot Noir the holy grail of grapes and also the most difficult to grow!
After eighteen months, and much walking over potential vineyard land, we found ourselves standing on the dramatic lakefront terraces of Bendigo Station, a high country sheep station in the Central Otago region of New Zealand, where some of the worlds finest Merino wool is grown.
We soon learned that other explorers had been on this land before. Back in the late 1800s many Chinese immigrants joined the gold rush in Central Otago as they had in California, Australia and elsewhere. The neatly stacked gold tailings in the gullies are the remnants of their alluvial mining and the crumbling remains of stone miners cottages are evidence of a tough existence on this land. Most of these Chinese prospectors came from the countryside of Canton in southern China some 10,000 kilometres away. And like all pioneering history, the story of how they endured the harsh conditions of this rugged landscape to find their fortunes in the most southern goldfields of the world, is a remarkable story of adversity and adaptation.
Finding this perfect location on which to establish Mishas Vineyard was the first milestone in our journey since the selection of a site is the single most important decision for any vineyard. It requires meticulous investigation of the soils as well as understanding both the macro- and meso- climatic conditions. We hoped this land, steeped in gold-mining history, would once again produce riches the new gold from the land.
Olly Masters - Winemaker
Internationally renowned winemaker Oliver Masters (Olly) is the Winemaker for Mishas Vineyard. Forging some of New Zealands most consistently fine pinot noir over the past decade, Olly has carved a reputation as one of New Zealands leading winemakers and wine judges.
Ollys credentials include an honours degree in Biotechnology from Massey University (1989) and a Post Graduate Diploma in Viticulture and Oenology (Distinction) from Lincoln University (1990). He serves as a senior wine judge at New Zealands major national competitions, including the New Zealand International Wine Show, Royal Easter Show Wine Awards, and six years with the Air New Zealand Wine Awards. He is also a regular wine panellist for Cuisine Magazine.
Starting his career in Martinborough in 1989, Olly has also worked in Hawkes Bay and Burgundy then joining Ata Rangi in 1994 as winemaker/viticulturalist then later becoming a partner. During his time there, Ata Rangis achievements included winning the Champion pinot noir at the prestigious International Wine and Spirit Competition in London on three occasions as well as numerous accolades and trophies in Australasia.
Making his Central Otago debut, Ollys role with Mishas Vineyard is probably best described as Director of Style & Taste
Our sun drenched north-west facing terraces give us one of the warmest sites in the region with the slopes and gullies providing excellent cool air drainage minimizing any risk of frost.
Stretching from 210 to 350 metres above sea level, the plantings are predominantly on three levels of gently sloping terraces with just one steep face (the ski slope) where the rows run dramatically down to the lowest terrace poised just above Lake Dunstan.
The diversity in the soils, various levels and various meso-climates, different row orientations, as well as the range of clones planted, enable complexity in the wines that few single vineyards can match. Our land is also located within a zoned protection area due to the outstanding landscape features including schist outcrops, steep escarpments, and gullies filled with native manuka and wild grasses.
Our first priority with the vineyard is careful stewardship of this spectacular land. The vineyard is farmed according to the strict regime of sustainable farming practices and we ensure that vine health is never ever
Sheltering Young Vines
The location of Mishas Vineyard is prone to unusually strong wind during spring and early summer due to the effect of the mountains which cause a channelling of airflow along the valley and lake.
A positive factor with wind is that disease is minimized, especially botrytis, and it can also be a natural devigorator. However on the negative side, it can slow canopy growth and cause damage to young vines.
When the second stage of the vineyard was planted on the most wind-prone of the lakefront slopes, our viticulturalist, Robin, found a solution to mitigate the negative effects of this wind through an innovative application of shelter cloth normally used in orchards.
Robins idea was to stretch the shelter cloth along every fourth row to give some wind protection. This has provided optimal growing conditions for our young Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris vines reducing any wind damage and improved the flowering, fruit set and yield.
Mishas Vineyard grew from a passion for wine and a passion for marketing. Our professional lives took us to Singapore in 1993 where we had regional executive roles in marketing and sales for global companies. In our personal lives, we pursued our pleasure, our passion food and wine. Each vacation would be spent touring wine regions of the world and learning as much as we could about the food, the wines, and the people from those regions.
When we came to that strategic inflection point in our lives, (a term coined by Andy Grove, one of the founders of Intel to describe that point when the fundamentals are about to change), we decided we needed a plan for the second half of our lives. Our vision was to be able to work together and build something. We recognised that we have always liked the journey as much as the destination, so it was important to create something from scratch.
Having spent 16 years living in Asia, the idea of producing a range of superb wines suited to Asian as well as Western foods, and to be able to do so in the stunningly beautiful country of New Zealand, became our ultimate challenge. That monumental decision was made in late 2001 but it took us two years to find the perfect location. By the beginning of 2004 we started establishing the necessary infrastructure on a spectacular piece of land that became Mishas Vineyard and on the 8th of November, we planted the first 10 hectares (25 acres) of vineyard. The following year we planted a further 12 hectares (30 acres), and in 2007 another 4 hectares (10 acres) and we havent finished yet!
Looking back, its probably not surprising that we ended up with a vineyard given our passions for wine and marketing, and our predilection for a quest! However it didnt seem like an obvious path at that strategic inflection point and took quite a bit of time to figure out. Its possibly the enormity of the project that kept it from being our first thought! We look back now and wonder how we made that life-changing decision now that we realise the impact, consequences and sacrifices.
Its been a long journey so far, we now export to 17 countries and have already been named as one of New Zealands Top 20 Wine Producers, and were still only in the early days in terms of producing wine.
So would we have made the decision to develop a vineyard if we knew then what we know now that a prolonged Global Financial Crisis was about to hit? Absolutely but the decision may have just taken a little longer .or perhaps a lot longer!
- Mishas Vineyard "The Gallery" Gewurztraminer 2008 (Air New Zealand Wine Awards 2008, Gold Medal and Trophy Winners)
- Mishas Vineyard Verismo Pinot Noir 2010 (International Wine and Spirit 2013, Gold Medal winners)