Quintin B Quider walks into the Wild Earth Wines tasting room carrying a bucket of greengage plums.
“Went fishing last night, wanted to catch you a trout,” he says with a soft American accent.
He has no fish. I accept a plum.
It’s just ripe with an edgy bright green taste.
We take some on our vineyard exploration.
Wild Earth’s tasting room and outdoor kitchen is adjacent to the Goldfields Mining Centre in the Kawarau Gorge, not far from Cromwell. The car park is on the main highway across the swift-flowing Kawarau River. Today the water looks aquamarine. It’s the result of silt from a recent landslide that blocked the Dart River, one of the tributaries of Lake Wakatipu, the second-largest lake in the South Island and the source of the Kawarau.
The vineyard itself is at the end of Felton Road in Bannockburn, about 2.5 kilometres away as the crow flies, but the road journey is over ten.
We pass old and new vineyard names on signs along this iconic wine road. As we pass the entrance to Felton Road Wines, I give a nod in appreciation of its role in escalating Central Otago pinot noir onto the local and international wine maps. There’s also Mt Difficulty and its myriad of vineyards, Terra Sancta (previously Olssens), Mt Edward (Muirkirk Vineyard), Domain Road, Gate 20 Two, Black Quail and Desert Heart. But Desert Heart sign is about to change as it was announced mid-January that it was sold to Two Paddocks owned by actor Sam Neill.
Wild Earth Vineyard is a long narrow plot of vines running south west to north east bounded on one side by Long Gully Creek almost to its confluence with the Kawarau River. The site was originally four titles. Quintin bought three with the 6-hectare former Desert Heart in between. The rows are oriented north-south and the plot, at it widest, would be only a little over 200 metres.
Quintin’s passion is pinot noir. It’s his reason for being here. “It won’t be long until veraison,” he says, excited by the small berries and shoulderless cone-like bunches.
We pass riesling, pinot gris and more pinot noir – the favoured 10/5 clone being on the hottest, closest-to-the-river site, which is where he turns onto what looks like a goat track descending from the terrace to a picnic area where Long Gully Creek enters the Kawarau. There’s no water in the creek now but half-buried barrels below the picnic tables are evidence of a recent furious flow.
It was here that the idea for his barrel oven was sparked. In the dry Central Otago summer no open fires are allowed. Now patented, the portable, gas-driven, wine barrel cooker can be used as an oven, steamer, barbecue or smoker. “The QBQ Barrique is more than just a BBQ,” he proudly says.
Quintin also describes himself as a hunter/gatherer. In California he relinquished his dentist studies in preference for diving for abalone. That eventually led him to New Zealand. Now the former abalone / kina / paua diver works on the land. He dives on the West Coast, fishes the local rivers and partakes in a spot of shooting from time to time. Add to that the gathering of seasonal crops, like the greengage plums, rosehips, cherries, apricots, etc., not to forget Central Otago’s famous wild thyme.
He’s also an adventurer and we take the adventurous route, the route thousands of gold miners took, back to the tasting room and outdoor kitchen.
I see the barrels in action and taste Pinot Noir before lunch is served. They are small plates served on a barrel stave. Five plates of barrel cooked food with salad costs $59 for two. Every plate has a selected wine match and a matching wine flight for two is $20 per person. Plates and wine can also be ordered individually.
The menu is adventurous and exciting and with the Wild Game Terrine I get to eat mutton bird for the first time. Most of the dishes match to Pinot Noir, but the Thai Noodle Paua is best with riesling and the Hare’y Leg Hare, a wild hare ‘confit for six hours in the barrel’ and served with parsnip puree and mustard cream is surprisingly matched to pinot gris. I found the pinot gris a little oily on its own but with the wonderfully tender hare and the piquancy of the parsnip and mustard, the match is my Dish of the Day!!!
Many of the dishes after Q’s own idea but he credits his chef, David Harrison, for tweeking them and making them better.
Wild Earth has several tiers of Pinot Noir – the top of the range being the Earth & Sky, followed by the Estate, Deep Cove and finally Stockman’s Station for supermarkets. There is also the 1769 label for international markets.
Wild Earth Pinot Noir 2009 has a perfume dark cherry scent with hints of woodsmoke and spice. Firm yet fleshy with sweet ripe red fruit, savoury oak and an underlying hint of orange pomander, but it is the sensual smokiness that is most beguiling. Drinking beautifully now.
Wild Earth ‘Earth & Sky’ Pinot Noir 2009 has more intense smoky savoury notes to the scent and concentrated, ripe, dark red berry fruit in the silky textured palate with lovely savoury undertones and a long succulent finish.
Wild Earth Pinot Noir 2010 has raspberry and cherry fruit scented with woodsmoke and toasted spices. It’s firm in the palate with slight grip, red fruit, cake spices, savoury oak and a smoky finish. A much bigger wine than the 09.
Wild Earth ‘Earth & Sky’ Pinot Noir 2010 has again those lovely smoky savoury nuances, an underlying deep brooding character and red berry brightness. Showing the strength of the vintage, this is biggest and most muscular of the four tasted. There’s no hurry though, as we know how these wines drink with a little bit of age.
Find out more from www.wildearthwines.co.nz.
Sue Courtney was hosted by Quintin and the Wild Earth team as part of the Central Otago Pinot Noir Celebration 2014. For an overview of the celebration, click here.