Putting on a variety show

Felton Road vineyard at Bannockburn. PHOTO: SUPPLIED
Felton Road vineyard at Bannockburn. PHOTO: SUPPLIED
Two top Central Otago wine-makers are in Dunedin this week supporting local hospitality in tough Covid-19 times while a few sharing stories. They tell  Rebecca Fox about being similar but different.

Central Otago wine-makers Blair Walter and Duncan Forsyth both like to see their wines evolve, just in different ways.

Walter as wine-maker at Felton Road, Bannockburn is all about making top-end traditional wines, while Forsyth, of Mount Edward Winery, Gibston is more about pushing the boundaries and trying new things.

‘‘We approach it in a different way but we’re both equally committed to regenerative, natural ways of achieving those things and we’re both leaders in our fields,’’ Forsyth says.

Duncan Forsyth
Duncan Forsyth
Mt Edward has been organic for 15 years and is moving into regenerative agriculture as it looks to have a positive impact socially and environmentally.

Alongside that, they like to experiment with wines. Mt Edward was the first in New Zealand to make vermouth, have wine on tap and were early adopters of skin contact and minimal sulphur.

Their wines are available on tap yet also sold at the French Laundry in California.

‘‘We’re constantly evolving. I don’t like to stand still. I’m far more interested in finding spaces not occupied or not thought of yet, that challenges you.’’

That next space he believes is lighter style wines, such as chilled reds and natural sparkling wines.

‘‘Uncomplicated wines that are extremely interesting in taste, flavour and texture. Wines that you can drink all day but not be affected by them. That’s where it is headed — like the hard seltzers or hard kombuchas.’’

People are calling for slightly healthier options they can drink for pure enjoyment.

‘‘We can take our wine seriously but not ourselves.’’

Blair Walter
Blair Walter
Forsyth believes you can make these wines without the scientific approach some larger wine companies take to their lower alcohol offerings, by using different varieties and harvesting earlier.

‘‘It’s about changing technique, going back and looking at old techniques of making wines.’’

This does not mean the wines cannot be interesting and fresh, without having to be a ‘‘meal in themselves’’.

While purists might object, just as they did when Mt Edward put wine on tap or wineries moved to screw tops, there are others just as keen to try something new.

‘‘These are the people we appeal to.’’

That does not mean there is not a role for the more traditional type of wines, as Felton Road shows.

‘‘We’re both trying to do our thing at the top of our games.’’

The wine-makers are friends. Forsyth says he looks up to Walters and what he has accomplished at Felton Road.

Walter says: ‘‘We go back a long way. We enjoy each other’s company and have grown up in the Central Otago wine industry so we’re familiar with what it was like 30 years ago.’’

It is important for wine-makers to find their own niche in the market, so while both wineries are similar in their philosophy of making quality wines using organic and biodynamic vineyard processes, they have quite different markets.

‘‘Customers look for a point of difference, a niche they identify with their values, that they like to drink and follow.’’

It is Felton Road’s 25th anniversary this year but celebrations have been put off until next November due to Covid-19, but Walter is bringing the winery’s 25th release reisling to Dunedin for tasting this week.

‘‘Dunedin is where our first customers came from and there has always been a strong interest in reisling from Dunedin.’’

The winery is still very young compared to those in Europe, so he believes there is still a lot more quality to be coerced out of the vines yet.

‘‘We’re young but New Zealand has achieved so much in a short space of time.’’

Felton Road, one of the first wineries in the Bannockburn area, has grown from its first vintage in 1997 to produce about 12,000 cases of wine, 75% of which is exported to 40 countries around the world.

‘‘We have a very loyal and strong market in those countries.’’

That export market meant Covid-19’s impact has been less than expected, as people have been drinking more wine and delving into their wine cellars.

Walter has also pivoted to doing wine tastings online for customers around the world but was looking forward to doing another in-person one in Dunedin at No7 Balmac tonight, alongside Forsyth, and sharing a few stories.

‘‘We’re in the fun business, we like to put a smile on people’s faces and not take things too seriously.’’

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