The importance of Central Otago to New Zealand's reputation as a producer of some of the world's most exciting pinot noirs was rammed home again when the Deep South provided the the top wine and the best red - both of them pinots - at the Air New Zealand Wine Awards.
And, just for good measure, Central Otago rieslings cleaned up in that section, too.
But it was Grasshopper Rock's 2010 Earnscleugh Vineyard pinot that stole the show. Just as it did last month in Cuisine magazine's annual pinot noir tasting.
Not bad, eh, for a Central pinot that sells for about $30, sometimes less.
Not bad either for the four mates who, at one time or another, all worked for the Rural Bank, and a Southland farmer and his wife who joined them and their wives 10 years ago in a plan to find land, establish a vineyard and make the finest pinot noir in the world.
Seriously, that was/is the aim, according Phil Handford, of Hamilton, who had the bright idea, and now explains: "What I meant/mean is to produce the finest pinot noirs that we can produce; pinots of the highest possible standard."
Well, since buying eight hectares near Alexandra, in the southernmost sub-region of the most southerly pinot region in the world in 2002, planting vines and launching their label in 2006, they have done exactly that.
And they have the medals and the commendations to prove it.
Phil, who, incidentally, was the first man to kayak solo across Foveaux Strait, now lives in Hamilton with his wife Maxine and is the only member of the founding families with a day-to-day role in the running of the company.
The other partners are John Carmody and Sue Clarke, of Dunedin, Invercargill farmers Adrian and Ann Irving, Angus and Ro Bradshaw, of Dunedin, and Stu and Jan Moir, from North Canterbury.
They only time they all get together is for the annual meeting of the company held each year in Wanaka, where the toast to their continued success and to the people who make it happen is drunk with pinot noir, of course.
Involved from the start have been viticulturalist Steve Moffit and his brother, vineyard manager Mike Moffit. Winemaker Carol Bunn produced the first four vintages, but the award-winning 2010 and others since are the work of Peter Bartle, a graduate of the Villa Maria school of winemaking, and now chief winemaker at VinPro.
The champion wine, already difficult to source, is notable for its stunning cherried aroma, and, according to chairman of judges Michael Brajkovich, its richness and multi-layered complexity.
In short, this is a wine that reflects what Central Otago is all about.
The best red wine trophy was won by Rockburn 2011 Central Otago Pinot Noir ($40) which in general judging was one of the 10 central wines which all scored at least 19 points out of 20 and were awarded pure gold medals.
The full list: Charcoal Gully 2011 Sallys Pinch Pinot Noir, Domain Road Vineyard 2011 Pinot Noir, Gibbston Valley 2011 School House Central Otago Pinot Noir, Grasshopper Rock 2010 Central Otago Earnscleugh Vineyard Pinot Noir, Judge Rock 2010 Central Otago Pinot Noir, Last Chance by Two Paddocks 2011 Central Otago Pinot Noir, Rockburn 2011 Central Otago Pinot Noir, Scott Base 2011 Central Otago Pinot Noir, Wooing Tree 2011 Beetle Juice Central Otago Pinot Noir, Wooing Tree 2010 Central Otago Pinot Noir.
Forrest Tatty Bolger 2010 Otago Pinot Noir also won pure gold.
The champion riesling was Aspiring Flats Bendigo 2012 and the other pure gold winners from Central were Mt Maude Vineyard 2012 East Block, Mt Beautiful 2010 and Tigermoth 2011.
Other pure gold medal winners from Central included Gibbston Valley's 2012 La Dulcinee Pinot Gris, Quartz Reef's non-vintage Methode Traditionnelle Brut and Akarua's 2012 Alchemy Ice, a dessert wine.
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