Three Miners, Alexandra Basin
In between the old gold mining towns of Clyde & Alexandra on the opposite bank of the Clutha River, lies the Earnscleugh district of the Alexandra Basin, and this is where you will find several of the most Southerly vineyards in the world.
The Three Miners vineyard was planted in Earnscleugh in 2000, with further blocks added in 2008, adding up to a total of 16.5ha (40acres) before being taken over by Kirsten & Paul Wright in late 2014.
Winemaking is taken care of by Vinpro's Pete Bartlett, while much of the on-site work is taken care of personally by Kirsten & Paul.
Shaughn Jenkins visits Three Miners on a sunny Spring morning to talk to Kirsten Wright about what motivated here to moved to Earnscleugh & purchase a struggling vineyard.
Shaughn Jenkins: Tell me about your background Kirsten, what made you decide that owning & running a vineyard was for you?
Kirsten Wright: It wasn't a difficult choice really, I had been based in Christchurch at Lincoln University, where I used my PhD in Plant Pathology as a research scientist for over 12 years. I love working alongside plants of all kinds, but I had been promoted to the point where I no longer worked directly with the plants! In 2014, Paul & I decided to visit at Central Otago for a chance to live and work with plants daily, and while we first looked at Cherry & Tree orchards, and found that the tree management ( spending long periods of time atop hydro-ladders) to be a bit overwhelming for us. A neighbouring vineyard for sale seemed like the perfect fit instead, and while it was quite overgrown, we had the vines tested and found that many were still healthy, and just needed some love & care.
Shaughn: Aside from it's nearby location to the orchards, what else drew you to this site in particular?
Kirsten: Earnscleugh is an interesting place to grow, it features many small rivers and streams, tributaries that join up to the Clutha River, which is showcased in the many types of gravel & sandy loam that we have here on the site and that provide us with excellent drainage for the vines. This allows the site grow a range of different grape varieties & helps me to control the vigour of my vines, so in the end we can select only the best grapes to be made into the final Three Miners wines.
Shaughn: How about Three Miners, I'm aware the site was already called that when you two came along, what's the story there?
Kirsten: The land adjacent to where we are currently standing was once a gold claim in the 1860's belonging to Earnscleugh Grand Junction Mining Company, founded by three miners named Joseph Knowles, James Simmonds & Thomas Oliver. While they didn't find a lot of gold, they decided to invest in the water required to extract it, by cutting water races from the Fraser River through the Earnscleugh Valley and making their money by channelling the water into other miner's claims.
It is the history of this site, and an established name, so we decided to continue to focus on it when we purchased the site.
Shaughn: Finally, where can folks out there buy Three Miners wine?
Kirsten: We focus almost entirely on domestic sales, primarily here at the cellar door, around Central Otago, Southland & through my contacts in Christchurch. The vineyard's previous owners had a contract in Hong Kong, so we have kept that active for a small yearly allocation.
We welcome visitors here all Summer to the tasting room, and you can join a wine tour with our friend Natalie at Roaring Wine Tours to come out and see us and other Alexandra producers.
Kirsten was kind enough to take me through the full range of her wines (almost all with a subtitle relating to the mining industry), including "Herringbone" Riesling 2016, "Chinaman Stone" Gewürztraminer 2016, "Miner's Right" Pinot Gris 2016, Rosé 2017 (previously "Rocker Box" Rosé) & "Warden's Court" Pinot Noir 2015.
Out of this range of estate-grown wines, my two favourite were the Riesling & Pinot Noir.
The "Herringbone" Riesling 2016 was a clear, bright green hue, with aromas of cut lime & green apple, and a soft, smooth mid-palate that featured a good balance of acidity leading to an off-dry finish.
"Warden's Court" Pinot Noir 2015 is the first vintage produced since the estate re-opened with the Wright's at the helm and is full of maraschino cherry & cranberry aromas. The body features good acidity, giving me a slight sour cherry note, without to much tannin weighing it down. Finally a finish that is taut, yet generous and should allow for an easy-drinking wine while this young, and 3-5 years of solid ageing potential.
Click here to learn more about Three Miners Vineyard.