Shaky Bridge, Alexandra Basin
I met with Shaky Bridge owner/winemaker Dave Grant, at his vineyard beneath the clock affixed high on the mountain above Alexandra township and the Manuherikia River, and from here we had the perfect vantage point to see the entire Alexandra Basin & speak on it's many vinous offerings.
Dave has been making wine since 1997 and is the son of founders Bill and Gill Grant, who founded one of the first vineyards in Central Otago, William Hill, which fell victim to the 2008-2012 financial crisis and has slowly evolved into the Shaky Bridge we see today.
Mr Grant was born and raised with Alexandra vines, but his original vocation couldn't have been more different, he was a specialist in explosives for the mining industry, and lived for several years in Australian Outback.
Dave, who was a finalist in the 2005 New Zealand Winemaker of the Year Awards, tells me that his idea of a fine wine is one that showcases the place it was grown, and that he believes this is achieved by having control over your own grape growing, using minimal intervention & not rushing through your winemaking.
Shaughn Jenkins sits down with Dave Grant on a windy afternoon for a quick chat to find out what motivates him about his home growing region & what makes this site special:
Shaughn Jenkins: Alexandra winemaking is in your blood, but what do you think differentiates Alexandra Basin from the other sub-regions of Central Otago?
Dave Grant: The Alexandra Basin has a distinct micro-climate with the basin structure giving us naturally cooler nights, well suited to Northern European grape varieties, especially those of Alsace. Warmth during the growing season, and plenty of rocky soil to retain that heat mean that we can still achieve full ripeness in our grapes, even with the cold nights.
Shaughn: How about this site here? I understand you have others that are planted with the Alsatian grapes as you mentioned, but this 1ha (2.47acre) vineyard is 100% Pinot Noir. Why makes this site special for growing that grape?
Dave: I like this site for Pinot Noir because it gets less frost, which is very dangerous for the thin-skinned Pinot Noir grape.
It has plenty of Schist rock from the eroding mountainside behind it, which retains a lot of warmth in the soil, and forces the roots of the vines to travel deep in the earth to find moisture, which is retained throughout in small pockets of silt that have resulted from erosive washoff higher up the hillside. We plant over 3,000 vines per hectare to encourage root competition, and a healthy root mass.
I find this adds a certain complexity to the wine here and due to the aspect on the hill, we achieve full ripeness for Pinot Noir earlier than my other sites while still retaining natural acidity in the grapes.
Shaughn: Finally Dave, where can folks out there buy your wines?
Dave: I like to sell a majority of my wine in the local region, people can come and see me at the Cellar Door, I also offer great deals on the wine through the website with free shipping domestically on 12 bottle cases & excellent shipping rates internationally on 6 or 12 bottle cases.
I'm also developing a beautiful place to stay on site, so those on their way to Dunedin or elsewhere in the South Island can stay awhile, and enjoy some wine while they are here. My wine is also served at the adjoining Shaky Bridge Café.
During the late afternoon at Shaky Bridge I tasted through their Pioneer Series Pinot Gris 2014, Shaky Bridge Rosé 2016 & the Shaky Bridge Pinot Noir 2012, though they do produce many other styles including Riesling, Chardonnay & Gewürztraminer.
I found the Pioneer Series Pinot Gris 2014 to be particularly noteworthy for it's decadent baked apple & pear aromatics as well as silky, luscious mouthfeel, that Dave says he achieves by allowing for overnight (9 hours) skin contact, which graces the wine with texture without extended oak use or being aged on lees.
At 3 years old the wine is somewhat aged already for Pinot Gris, but will likely mature gracefully for at least another 2-3 years.