The Cut : The Cut - Winter 2016
130 THE CUT of the Pinot Noir won Best Pinot Noir at the 2004 San Francisco International Wine Competition. Trouble was, no one knew where the wine came from, so the following year the company changed its name to Amisfield Wine Company and, most importantly, started to build a winer y at Pisa. CEO Craig Erasmus extols the virtues of Amisfield’s bistro, which is open 362 days of the year. The menu in early May offered mouthwatering fare like salmon, oysters, artichokes, mushrooms, pork belly, market fish, duck, chateaubriand, crayfish and merino lamb. Winter dining is inside the architecturally charming building where guests are warmed by a roaring open fire. In summer diners spill out on to the courtyard. Central Otago, John reasoned, was at roughly the same latitude as France’s Champagne region, where Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes flourish. Rob was already growing Pinot Noir at Chard Farm and so in 1988, Rob, brother Greg, John and actor Sam Neill founded Lake Hayes Estate, choosing a winery site on the corner of Lake Hayes Rd and Gibbston Highway. So began the epic search for the perfect vineyard site, one with the ideal combination of soil, aspect and climate; a site that would allow Lake Hayes (later to become Amisfield) to make wines that truly expressed the region. They finally found their Shangri-La at Pisa, near Lowburn and began planning their vineyard. The Lake Hayes winer y opened in 2002, adding a bistro three years later. Housed in a beautiful schist building, the restaurant soon became known for its seasonal approach to food with its now famous “Trust the Chef” menu. Amisfield had released its first vintage in 2002 – Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris – and in 2003 came Rosé, Sauvignon Blanc and a dry Riesling. There was instant success. The first vintage Amisfield’s is a fascinating stor y that intriguingly involves the same personality who designed The Hills golf course, John Darby. The Darby family and the Kayne family from California today own Amisfield, but it was John who in partnership with Rob Hay, founder of Chard Farm winer y, made it all possible. John Darby was 10 when he first visited the region with his family from Christchurch. Memories of those trips have stayed with him for a lifetime, especially the fruit. While the land at Lowburn where the family camped may have been dry, it was rich in minerals, the result of thousands of years of glaciers and rivers grinding away at ancient rocks. And the orchards produced fabulous apricots – full of flavour yet balanced with a backbone of acidity. By the 1980s John, then a landscape architect who had also studied viticulture at Lincoln University, was in Queenstown designing the Remarkables skifield and came across Rob Hay and his brother Greg pulling out fruit trees in preparation for planting grape vines. He got into conversation with them, developing a friendship that would lead to the establishment of Amisfield. Ron and Greg were both convinced Central Otago was perfect for cool-climate viticulture, although many locals thought they were soft in the head. WINERY AMISFIELD Prince William and the Duchess of Cambridge take a trip through the vines at Amisfield during their visit to New Zealand.
The Cut - Spring 2016