Tarras Vineyards, Bendigo
If you wind your way along dusty roads that leave the highway and climb up stony, rock escarpments you'll soon find yourself high in the hills above the Bendigo sub-region of Central Otago, and if you took the right path, you may find yourself above Hayden Johnston's Tarras Vineyards.
The 4ha(9.88acre) vineyard site lies split across several small river terraces, in a vale more than 100m(330ft) above the lower land of Bendigo where a majority of the sub-regions vines are planted.
Shaughn Jenkins joins Hayden Johnston even higher up the hill, looking down upon the vines from his new venue, that will open in the months to come and serve to showcase his wines as well as host numerous events with one of the most breathtaking views in the region.
Shaughn Jenkins: We're long way from town here Hayden, what exactly at inspired you to start Tarras Vineyards out here?
Hayden Johnston: I love the land here in Central Otago. I was raised coming on holiday to the region from coastal Otago and have always loved the landscape and way of life here. Professionally I went on to be an accountant & ended up moving to the UK for many years before a accident there sent me back home to New Zealand to recover.
While on the mend, I remembered how much I loved the area and ended up purchasing land here in Bendigo (having just recently begun being planted as a sub-region) & industry pioneer Robin Dicey helped select a piece of land for me that was unlike the others.
I now have Tarras Vineyards as well as my other production Kuru Kuru which allows me to bring in grapes from around New Zealand and express a personal style that I enjoy and that I think represents New Zealand.
Kuru Kuru was the name of my 4th Great Grandmother & through her I am linked to Ngāi Tahu, our iwi, our tribe & every bottle of Kuru Kuru displays an image of her tā moko, the mark carved on her chin, which showed her respected position in the Maori society of the time.
Shaughn: What makes this site special compared to the rest of Bendigo?
Hayden: The site we planted here has a real variety of soil type. There isn't a lot of rock matter, which is very unlike most of Central Otago, so instead we see clay and silt with even some sand, all of this left behind when this was covered by lake water and later rivers at the base of a retreating glacier thousands of years ago. It doesn't rain very often up here on this site, so it's beneficial to have the clay that can absorb & retain a little bit more of that water than the traditional schist soils elsewhere.
Shaughn: How about Bendigo then, what separates this as a sub-region from the rest of Central Otago?
Hayden: I believe it's got to be the micro-climate over here, with significantly hotter day time temperatures, often scraping 38°C(100°F) during the warmest parts of the day in Summer. Ripeness with definitely be achieved here and although the nights are cold by comparison, often below 10°C(50°F), the fruit profile of the wines always seems to be richer and fuller.
Shaughn: You have an amazing set-up in the works here on the ridge-line, with views over all of Bendigo & to the mountains in the distance, what are your plans with this venue?
Hayden: We've been working hard on this venue for the last year or so, and it's all falling into place now, with everything due to be finished by the end of January. It sits on a rocky escarpment above an area I call "The Canyon" (the name of his Single Vineyard Pinot Noir as well), due the winding canyon that carves it's way through the Eastern side of my property.
We'll use the venue to host a number of events, including wine dinners, corporate functions & weddings, and it will serve as an important spot to show further work with the Maori wine coalition I am a part of.
This is with Poutama (click here for more info) and the Tuku coalition includes Kono, Kuru Kuru, Ostler, Stonecutter, Steve Bird, Tiki & te Pā wines & we are excited to showcase the wines of Maori winegrowers, the provenance of their products, and their unique wine stories.
Shaughn: Finally Hayden, where can people get a hold of Tarras and Kuru Kuru wines?
Hayden: I export my wines in small amounts to select markets, including the UK, Japan, Hong Kong, China & Australia, with a healthy amount sold here in New Zealand too. Prior to the full production of the vineyard I had a NZ wine distribution company based in the UK, so many of my clients came with me when I started my own brands.
While we had our chat, Hayden kindly took me through a few of his very special Pinot Noirs, including Tarras "The Canyon" Pinot Noir 2014, Kuru Kuru Pinot Noir 2016 & Tarras "The Canyon" Pinot Noir 2009.
The Kuru Kuru Pinot Noir 2016 was very aromatically interesting with sweet cherry & cracked pepper notes, a soft and supple body, that lead to a pleasantly smooth finish, easy-drinking and delicious, it's no wonder this wine was selected for Air New Zealand's business class wine list.
Both vintages of Tarras "The Canyon" Pinot Noir feature lovely dark hues, with the younger style featuring aromas of sweet plum & thyme herbs. The younger vintage has supremely powerful tannins, and rather smooth finish, while the older example has softened on the tannin front, and will likely be drinking best in the next 3-4 years.
Tough to pick a favourite, but I have enjoyed the Tarras "The Canyon" Pinot Noir 2009 in the past and it has developed majestically.
Click here to check out more from Tarras Vineyards and here for more from Kuru Kuru.