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While Ivan and Jenny Donaldson planted vines in the 1970s for Ivan’s hobby winemaking, the block of land in Waipara that became Pegasus Bay was purchased and planted in 1986, producing their first wines in 1991, with their four sons who helped plant the vineyard all working in the business today.
Their milestone made me ponder the concept that grape growing and winemaking in the South Island, and Central Otago in particular, is a ‘‘young industry’’. After all, a quarter of a century plus is a significant period, and lends gravitas to a producer, with vine age and the experience of that many growing seasons and harvests incrementally building knowledge and understanding of our region and individual sites.
I began to tot up in my mind the number of producers of long standing in Otago (aided by the book Pinot Pioneers by Ric Oram), and was quietly surprised at the growing longevity in the region. Naturally, some labels have vanished through attrition, or through acquisition by larger companies, yet many continue to stand the test of time.
Rippon and Gibbston Valley Wines were two pioneers, planting experimental plots as far back as the late 1970s: the release by the latter of their 1987 pinot noir more than 30 years ago, a defining moment for the local industry. Black Ridge a whisker later, celebrated its 30th anniversary in 2018.
Chard Farm, Felton Road, Rockburn, Peregrine, Akarua, Quartz Reef, Two Paddocks and Thyme Hill have all clocked up 25 years or more while the rebadged Terra Sancta and Legacy Vineyard sit on vineyards planted close to 30 years ago. Carrick and Mt Difficulty planted vineyards in the early 1990s, but their respective companies were formed later that decade: Brennan similarly, with their own label in 2006.
Relative youngsters (20 years or more) include Mount Edward, Prophet’s Rock, Drumsara, Bald Hills, Amisfield, Domaine Thomson, Mondillo, Wild Earth and Aurum, while the burst of plantings in the early 2000s mean that Grey Ridge, Perseverance, Eight Ranges, Wooing Tree, Burn Cottage, Doctors Flat, Domain Road, Ostler and Grasshopper Rock will all join the 20-year club over the next couple of years (forgive me if I have forgotten some). That all adds up to a wealth of experience that exhibits itself in the wines that we taste today.
Pegasus Bay continues a wonderful tradition of holding back wines for their annual Aged Release programme with the 2011 vintage their current release.
A rare beast this, a Kiwi varietal Muscat with an invitingly perfumed, fragrant nose of musk, spices, fresh grapes and a little wildness. Fruit sweetness leads with musk, honey turkish delight and a smoky nuance, finishing drier than the nose might suggest. All those flavours linger on the long close creating something fascinatingly different. Amazing to try if you spot it.
Beeswax, dry honey, preserved lemon, ripe stonefruit and a little corruption: beautifully fragrant and complex. Richly textural with cooked apple, honeyed fruit sweetness and a fruit pith like bittersweet element adding to the appeal. The ever-present core of acidity keeps this neatly balanced. Drinking superbly now, showcasing the joys of cellaring.
Rating: Excellent to outstanding
Beguiling nose of secondary characters: balsamic, wood polish, soy with sweetly perfumed florality. Richly mouthfilling, intensity and depth, still vitality to the fruit with berry compote and dried fruits melding with oak nuances. Vibrancy and juiciness to this, with the tannic structure still evident. Delicious now and likely to give pleasure for some time yet.