The Trip to Chard Farm
The Central Otago district in New Zealand’s south island is quickly developing a reputation as a world-class producer of Pinot Noir and aromatic whites, despite being the world’s most southern wine producing region. Once seen as a foolhardy foray in to cool climate viticulture, the area has been ranked by some well regarded wine writers such as the Brit, Jancis Robinson as one of the top 5 wine regions in the world. So it’s hardly surprising that both wine production and oenological tourism in the hills outside of Queenstown is booming!
One of the early pioneers of viticulture in the locality was Rob Hay who enlisted the enthusiasm and financial support of his family and friends to acquire an old orchard called Chard Farm in 1986 and then developed it into a vineyard and winery. Over years to come, Rob and his wife Gerdi would acquire more vineyards nearby to expand production and the diversity of fingerprints of the local terroir.
And while the Hay family have focused their energy and resources on developing a range of high quality boutique aromatic whites and pinot noir, they’ve clearly taken a myopic view of their priorities. The vineyards may be producing amazing fruit and the winery currently undergoing an expansion and refurb, but access to their cellar door on Chard Farm remains a harrowing experience! Arriving by car, a road sign guides visitors up a 2 km long gravel road that winds its way up in to the cellar door on the hillside above the Gibbston Highway. I discovered during a recent visit that it’s a white knuckle experience as the roadway is only wide enough to accommodate one vehicle and for the first kilometer or so, has you perilously perched between the mountain on your left and an unguarded precipice on your right. As I drove towards a blind hairpin corner, I instinctively held my breath (as though that was somehow going to make my hired Ford Everest better able to shoot the gap) and crossed all available fingers and toes in the hope that nothing would be coming from the other direction. Phew. Made it!
But once the harrowing first half of the driveway had been navigated, the landscape opens up into an undeniably picturesque landscape of vineyards camping in the shadows of snow-capped mountains.
Maybe there’s method in offering a near death experience on entry to the farm, as by the time visitors reach the cellar door, most will firmly be of the belief that they need a drink! And fortunately for me when my Sunday lunchtime excursion landed me at her tasting table, local wine professional Gwen Ash was only too happy to walk me through the entire Chard Farm range.
Out of the dozen wines sampled, only the 2016 Gewürztraminer failed to live up to the lofty heights of my expectations. And maybe that was just because it was atypical of the styles you find coming out of regions like Alsace. The Chard Farm example had some lychee and guava characters, but was lean, dry and lacked any hint of mouth-filling lusciousness. But the Chardonnay and Riesling offerings were sublime. Like the Judge & Jury 2016 Chardonnay ($39) which is made in a Chablis style and delivers citrus and lemon curd flavours in spades before a delightful minerality appears and combines with ample acids to drive a lingering crisp finale.
2017 Chard Farm Pinot Gris
The very floral 2017 Pinot Gris spent 6 months on lees which should allow the abundant tropical fruit characters to develop nicely over time. It’s a full-bodied style which has a chewiness on the palate yet finishes extremely dry thanks to the winemaker’s decision to craft it with only 2 grams of residual sugar. And perhaps the best of a strong team of Rieslings was the 2017 vintage which has an obvious sweetness up front that is subdued by intense acidity across the mid-palate. It’s like the fruit was chained to a rack of granny smith skins and washed with lime before being allowed to surge through a mineralic conclusion. Delicious!
And of course the pinot noir were sublime. While at $45 it was far from the most expensive in the range, the Mata-Au 2016 was my stand-out. It’s a blend of fruit from the Tiger and Viper vineyards and exhibits a lively rubyesque hue in the glass. The nose is masculine but her androgynous features reveal themselves on the metrosexual middle. It’s a wine that is undeniably in touch with its feminine side as there is a Burgundian elegance on the palate and a soft, spicy and textural finale.
The Chard Farm cellar door may be a little hair-raising to visit, but if it were a lolly shop, it would get all of my pocket money! Well worth the journey.