Banks Peninsula vineyards prove their worth

Tucked into the hillside in Charteris Bay is a little vineyard – a vineyard that’s making a name for itself. But it’s not the only one.

By Bridget Rutherford, Christchurch Star - July 30, 2017

What started as a hobby has turned into success for Neil and Jill Pattinson, with their vineyard Whistling Buoy taking out the top award at this year’s Wines of Canterbury awards.

Their Whistling Buoy Kokolo Pinot Noir 2015 won the game trophy and a gold medal.
It was later named champion wine.

Its Kokolo Chardonnay 2015 and Kokolo Pinot Noir 2016 also earned bronze medals.

Dr Pattinson, who is president of Wines of Canterbury, said there are four main vineyards that sit within the craters of Lyttelton and Akaroa harbours – and all were proving their worth.

He said Banks Peninsula was an emerging sub-wine region.

But he said it was a given the area should produce nice wines – the very earliest plantings in New Zealand were in Akaroa in 1840 when the French settlers arrived.

“What’s unique about Banks Peninsula is the soils, the aspect, particularly north-facing slopes and basically being close to large bodies of water being Akaroa and Lyttelton harbours, which help mitigate the ultra-extremes.”

He said the sea air didn’t seem to have any impact on the wine and they rarely suffered frosts.

Akaroa’s Meniscus Wines had success at the same awards.

For the second year in a row, its 2015 pinot noir won the best pairing wine with lamb and got a silver medal. Its 2016 riesling and 2016 pinot noir also got bronze medals.

Owner David Epstein said they were thrilled, especially with the lamb trophy.

He said Banks Peninsula wines had certain characteristics that were starting to be recognised.

“It just shows there must be something special in the terroir here in the ground that is very good for the grapes and the growth,” he said.

“The volcanic soil that exists here from years back is giving a special character.”

They produce pinot noir, riesling and pinot gris from the vines on the 2.4ha block which sits on the south edge of Akaroa. They make between 4000-6000 bottles each year.

Mr Epstein said all the grapes are picked by hand before being sent to Waipara to be produced.

He and his wife Gay bought the vineyard, formerly known as Vanstone Estate, and Crater Rim, at the end of 2008 and moved over from Australia.

Previously, it was owned by Akaroa businessman Graham Vanstone, who disappeared without a trace in September 1999, before his first vintage was picked.

After his disappearance, Mr Vanstone’s family rallied to produce Vanstone Estate’s wine before leasing the vineyard. They then sold to the Epsteins.

Mr Vanstone was never found. Police say his missing person file has been referred to the coroner, who will make a ruling on his death.

“It’s just one of the mysteries of Akaroa,” Mr Epstein said.

The Epsteins also run a tasting lounge for their wines on Rue Lavaud, but come October, they will open it on site at Meniscus.

He hoped Banks Peninsula would become recognised as a fine wine growing area.

The Pattinsons planted grapes into their 2023 sq m Charteris Bay property in the early 2000s.

They went for the pinot noir vines to match the clay-based soil.

The name, Whistling Buoy, was derived from the marker buoy that used to direct vessels into Lyttelton Harbour.

Dr Pattinson said originally it was a hobby, but when they produced their first vintage in 2005 and 2006, they knew they were onto something.

So when a neighbouring property, Kokolo, came up for sale at Teddington about four and a half years ago, they decided to buy it.

The 4ha site was already planted with pinot noir, chardonnay, and pinot meunier grapes, which produced wine that was exported to Japanese restaurant chains.

Dr Pattinson said they ripped out the pinot meunier vines to focus on the other two.

The pinot noir grapes at Kokolo are also used to produce Whistling Buoy’s rose.

All the grapes are sent to Greystone Wines in Waipara to be produced, but Dr Pattinson said they had a lot of input into the winemaking process.

Because of the sloping hills the vines are planted on, and the small distance between each, everything is done by hand – with a little aid.

Their next door neighbour, Speaker of the House David Carter, often brought his sheep into the vineyard during leaf plucking to maintain the grass and leaves.

Whistling Buoy viticulturist Cliff Wood is into his fourth season at Whistling Buoy. Last week, he was out pruning and tying down the vines before they begin to grow again.

“It’s pretty labour intensive.”

Dr Pattinson said they knew the 2015 pinot noir had all the right elements – warm weather, low disease pressure, good vineyard management and good fruit.

“This particular wine’s had 10 months on oak and there’s new oak in that not just old oak.”

But this year they weren’t so lucky.

They didn’t harvest because it was too wet for the grapes to ripen.

“So in the end, we just had to walk away from it, which is quite a big hit.”

But it won’t hamper the wine stocks at supermarkets and local restaurants.

“We’ve got the 2015 and the 2016 has just been released, so we’ve still got plenty of wine. I’d need to sell three cases of wine a day to sell what we produce."