Waitiri Creek Wines was established in 1993 by Alistair Ward, Paula Ramage and the Ward family. Paula grew up in Alexandra and the Ward family farmed for many years on Malaghan’s Road, near Arrowtown. Central Otago is our heartland - no matter where we have lived in the world, it has always called us home and the opportunity to develop our own vineyard here was too good to ignore.
With equal amounts of enthusiasm and naivety, the Shanagolden Block was purchased in Gibbston and planted with Chardonnay in 1994.
The free-draining, northerly aspect of this Block was particularly suited to viticulture and the direct access off the highway meant that our future plans for a cellar door had now found a home on its lower reaches. Preparatory work included contouring the upper slope to eliminate any dips where frost could linger, removing the large rocks which were dotted around the block and piping the stock race that crossed the land. At that time, it was the only vineyard on that side of the road in Gibbston. In 1996, the Old Matagouri Block, 1.5km west of our original vines, was planted with Pinot Noir and a small parcel of Gewürztraminer.
Both blocks have their own microclimates and are among the earliest ripening in Gibbston. The soil profile is made up of 400 – 500mm of wind- blown glacial deposits on 4 – 5 metres of free draining alluvial schist. The vineyards are between 300 – 350 metres above sea level. With the growing degree days that Gibbston receives each year and the climatic challenges, our philosophy has always been to focus on delivering the best quality fruit, no matter what the weather Gods throw at us. Care of the vines is the responsibility of Jason Thomson, our viticulturalist. Jason has been trialling diverse pruning techniques on the different sites according to vine vigour. The results of these are helping us decide on which fruit will be earmarked for our different labels.
Our first vintage was Chardonnay produced in 1998. We had numerous evenings over countless glasses of wine discussing branding, colours, labels and bottle shape before finalising the image which has served us well since then. Full production commenced in 1999 with all three varieties.
The Shanagolden Block was originally settled in 1867 by James Leslie, a Scot who had emigrated to New Zealand at the age of 17. He and his partner, Thomas Kinross followed the Dunstan gold rush. Kinross established the Gibbston store and Post Office and James Leslie was the butcher and baker but also continued to prospect for gold.
This vineyard block is named for the village in County Limerick, Ireland which Johanna Enright left to join her three brothers who were already living in New Zealand. The Enrights farmed beside James Leslie and in 1879, James and Johanna married. They raised nine children, the eldest of whom, James (‘Drummer’) has been celebrated in our Pinot Noir label.
This land has several stunning poplars dating back to at least early last century, as well as old-fashioned daffodils which delight us with their arrival every spring. We felt it important to create a cellar door which was in harmony with the historic nature of the site and the splendour of the local scenery. We decided in 1996 that an old church would be the perfect building. So began a search which led us all over the lower part of the South Island, culminating in a visit to Wangaloa, near Kaitangata in 1998. On first sight, the former Wangaloa Presbyterian Church would have sent less hardy souls running in the opposite direction....but not us. We began negotiations with the local community and eventually secured ownership of the church a year later.
In April 2000, the church was moved in one piece(!) to the Shanagolden Block. Renovations commenced immediately to give it a new roof but the major work was carried out towards the end of 2001. There really is nothing like scraping off shellac by hand to bring one back to earth! We finally opened for wine tastings at the end of December that year.
The addition of this unique cellar door has created an ambience which has far exceeded our expectations. It is a beautiful building to work in and the views back up through the vines to the snow-capped mountains are stunning. Since opening our restaurant in 2002, we have been overwhelmed by the way in which people respond to the setting. The serenity and beauty of the site, matched with great food and wine are a winning combination, especially to the many overseas visitors we entertain.
One of the keys to increased demand for our wines has been our consistency in quality. Waitiri Creek has been recognised at domestic and international competitions every year since 1999 and across the entire portfolio. Our expansion into Bannockburn and the purchase of additional Central Otago fruit has now expanded our portfolio to include Rosé, Pinot Gris, Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling. Total production now exceeds 5000 cases annually and we are exporting to Canada, Australia, Singapore, Hong Kong, Dubai, Fiji, China and the UK. Our wines are made under contract.
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