Accolades for closest winery to Christchurch's Cathedral Square

Wilma and Alessandro Laryn, own Cracroft Chase winery, which lies in a valley in the Port Hills of Christchurch.
Ewan Sargent

Wilma and Alessandro Laryn, own Cracroft Chase winery, which lies in a valley in the Port Hills of Christchurch.

Tucked in a fold at the bottom of the Port Hills is a small vineyard that goes its own way. Ewan Sargent reports from the closest winery to Cathedral Square.

Golden light fills the air as this autumn day slowly fades. Leaves carpet the ground, rows of vines carpet the valley floor. A fantail "pips" and flicks breathtakingly close. Among the buildings and  house at the head of the valley is a large shed that holds the year's work. Inside, in tanks and small barrells, grape juice is fizzing and bubbling as yeasts turn sugar to alcohol. 

Outside, Alessandro Laryn is locking the doors with a heavy chain and padlock. "Do you know why," he asks in a high, lilting Italian accent. I suggest the obvious: to stop people stealing the cloudy, fizzy but unmistakably winey juice we've just tasted.

But no, there's better reason than that. The chain stops the unaware entering quickly and being killed by a layer of carbon dioxide the fermentation creates.

My car's odometer reads just 6km from when I set it at Moorhouse Ave. I'm just 1.6km from Cashmere Rd. Victoria Park and Dyers Pass Rd are a steep hillside away. I can't quite believe we are a few minutes from the bustling heart of a big city.

Alessandro and Wilma Laryn  have been here since 1996. After a tour of the country looking for a good place to raise children, they found and fell for this 9ha block with a Mediterranean-style house. They bought it without knowing what to do with it.

It will be some years before the 2013 Wood's Edge vintage will be offered for sale.
Ewan Sargent

It will be some years before the 2013 Wood's Edge vintage will be offered for sale.

But eventually enough signs suggested a vineyard. They wanted a commercial operation, not a hobby plot, so a largish 5ha was planted in Pinot gras vines.

They selected pinot gris because it likes the kind of mineral volcanic soil called "loess" that lies about a metre below surface. The grape grows well in northern Italy, where comes from and which has a similar climate to the Christchurch haven, and because of some tactical thinking that cool-climate whites wines might sell well in Australia with its vast lakes of red wines.

Help from the hills

The valley used to be a hunting ground for early settlers.
Ewan Sargent

The valley used to be a hunting ground for early settlers.

There were also some geographical pluses, thanks to the surrounding hills. They block the cold winds and let in the hot winds (when it's 25 dg Celsius in the city, it's often 30C here). Also, the nights are extra cool, giving an important, wide temperature range to make the grapes zing. Finally, the hills swirl the air like a natural helicopter, which means no frosts, ever.

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He's a biologist and she's a mathematician and they taught themselves winemaking. Everything they need from grapes, to pressing, to fermenting, to bottling and labelling happens on the property on their own machines. At harvest, locals turn out to hand pick the grapes.

The winery is called Cracroft Chase, a nod to the valley's past. The Cracroft-Wilson family owned much of Cashmere and reputedly this valley was a favoured hunting spot. Imagine the vines gone and hounds and horses would fit beautifully.

Beyond the name, Italian touches dominate. They wanted to make a food wine, a serious, very dry wine, at a time when Kiwis liked their whites sweet.

As the years passed they added more complexity, including lees ageing, and a malolactic fermentation component.

The  wines (the full-on Wood's Edge and a lighter cafe-style Grey Pearl) are mostly found in cafes and restaurants. Tony Astle of Antoine's in Auckland has stocked it since 2005.

Those vines produce on average 30,000 bottles a year. Most are sold equally between Australia and New Zealand with a few going to Hong Kong and China. Within New Zealand, 90 per cent goes to cafes and restaurants. About 60 per cent is sold in Canterbury.

How good are the wines? Wine guide expert Michael Cooper rates the Wood's Edge at about 4 stars and the Grey Pearl 2.5 stars. Competitions they entered to test whether the wines are of acceptable standard netted bronze and silvers.

But the Laryns say their wine is made to their tastes. Wilma puts it like this: "When you start receiving silver medals continually, you think, OK my wine must be reasonably good. Not something special, but something we can offer to friends and customers and know they will not be disappointed."

And as the shadows lengthen Alessandro sums it up: "A wine is like a painting. Everyone looks at it a different way. I tend not to compare with other vineyards. We do our thing."  

Cellar door sales:

You can taste and buy wines from the winery at 110 Shalamar Drive from 2pm-3pm, Friday to Sunday.

 - Stuff

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