|Patient vintners going for gold
Vintage Year: A good wine is said to get better with age, but what about the vineyard?
Gerald Ford reports on a vineyard competing with the world's best after a history of more than 100 years.
Lansdowne Vineyard is this year going for gold in one of the world's top wine competitions, reviving a tradition begun in the 19th century.
After several years of flying "below the radar", Lansdowne Vineyard is ready to sell its bottle-aged wines to the public - and looking to add to its early success at the International Wine and Spirit Awards in London. By all calculations, the land was once part of the Beetham Estate, and growing international quality wine as early as the 1880s, according to Derek Hagar, who with his father Derek Hagar, senior, runs the family owned business. The Masterton vineyard owned by the Beetham family in the 1880s was scrapped when the town went 'dry' after World War I.
It lay between the Beetham homestead, now historic Lansdowne House, and the Ruamahanga River, which is where the Hagars put down vines in the early 2000s,
on Masterton's Gordon Street.
The discovery of an early bell-shaped pump in the soil confirmed Mr Hagar senior's suspicions that his new vineyard was on the same site as the old, and a survey showed five different natural springs on the land.
For the first two or three years, the vines planted by the Hagars did it hard, with many dying and having to be replanted. "A lot of stones as big as footballs" were preventing the roots from pushing down into the soil for water, and the vines that did survive did after a struggle - but that was all for the best, Mr Hagar, Junior, believes.
"We believe that vines which are stressed when they are growing up produce better fruit," he said.
The commitment to producing quality wine has led to steps such as pruning off 75 per cent of the grapes and to what the Hagars believe is the real key - patience.
The vineyard has also managed to harvest the difficult-to-grow Syrah for three years running, and believe they are the only Wairarapa vineyard to do so.
The vineyard's Pinot Noir, Syrah and Pinot Gris wines are aged for two to three years in the bottle, and with no additions to the fruit - just the natural sugars of the grape.
"Whatever God sends us is what goes in the bottle," Mr Hagar, junior, said.
Lansdowne Vineyard's successes at the IWSC so far include silver, outstanding silver and bronze. This year after even more bottle-ageing, Mr Hagar, junior, said, "our hopes are high" for even better results.
Lansdowne Vineyard wines are selling at a Michelin-starred restaurant in London, at a wine bar in Wellington for $79 for pinot noir or $175 a bottle for syrah, or from the vineyard itself.
Gerald Ford. Wairarapa Times Age 19th Feb 2013 : http://www.times-age.co.nz/news/patient-vintners-going-for-gold/1760963/
Early settler William Beetham held extensive land holdings in the Wairarapa Valley and planted carefully sourced classic French Rhone Valley and Burgundy originating vinis vinifera cuttings of Hermitage (Syrah) and Pinot around his Lansdowne Homestead in Masterton in the early 1880's. These classic grapevines flourished and he then moved them to a vineyard of about six acres which he established nearby, in a vale within the valley, on the bank of the Ruamahunga river.
This became the first successful commercial vineyard in the Wairarapa.
By 1887 he was producing over 8000 litres of what was judged to be excellent wine. In 1895 the New Zealand Government invited an internationally recognised consultant and recognised viticulturist Romeo Bragatto to appraise and judge the potential of the wines being produced. He visited the Lansdowne Estate and found the wines to be of "prime quality" and to be at least equal to the very best of French wines.
Bragatto reported that the Wairarapa Valley but especially this vineyard's "terroir", was eminently suited to viticulture. The development of Masterton as a top wine region was halted by the prohibition movement, which in 1908 voted 'no license'. Winemakers went out of business and the vines at Lansdowne were pulled out.
In 1997 a bottle of 1903 Lansdowne sold at auction in Wellington for $14,000. Bragatto's input to the industry is still recognised in a New Zealand wine competition named in his honour.
In 1998 Margaret and Derek Hagar bought land on the west bank of the Ruamahanga River which was part of the original Lansdowne Estate. The terrain with its dry climate, cool nights and long hot sunny days with stony, clay over limestone soil compare favorably with any in the world for the cultivation of Burgundian wines.
After several years of hard struggle in the stony, free-draining soil Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir and Syrah were again established at Lansdowne. The six acres planted are about the same size as the original vineyard. They may well be on, or very near to the original site, being less than a kilometer from the original homestead.