The day grapes came to Gibbston

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In this exclusive extract from new book ‘Pinot Central: A Winemaker’s Story’, Alan Brady recalls the day he bucked expert advice to plant vines in Gibbston.

It was midwinter, about July 1981, when the decision was made. 

After all the research and enquiries and negative advice from various ‘experts’, we decided there was only one way to find out if grapes would grow and ripen in our conditions, and that was to plant some vines. 

We selected a triangular piece of land behind our garage. It sloped gently away from the near-vertical rock outcrops and the cave where the children disappeared into worlds of fantasy and adventure. 

The land was north-facing, a feature we knew was important in our climate where optimum light penetration and heat from the sun were essential. The slope would drain off the cold air and help to prevent frost damage. 

Our friend and mentor Ann Sly approved of the site. We dug a few holes and established that the soil was light and silty to a depth of between 25 and 30 centimetres before hitting a hard, compacted layer of 10 to 15 centimetres. Below that was sandy gravel. 

Most of the western part of our property had been formed by a centuries-old gravel fan spilling out from Tom’s Creek. Now just a trickle — and our sole water source — it was once a raw mountain torrent carrying rocks, melting snow and glacial ice down the slopes of Ben Cruachan. 

Our soil assessment was fairly simplistic. Later we would take proper soil samples to be sent to a laboratory for scientific analysis. For now we relied on Ann’s judgement. ‘Good free-draining silt and gravels, low in organic matter,’ she assured us. ‘Perfect for grapes. We don’t want too much vigour.’ 

We already knew from our gardening efforts and tree planting that, provided we supplied water, almost any kind of plant thrived in our conditions. The soils might be lean and lacking vegetative matter, but they were rich in minerals dumped by the receding glaciers 11,000 years ago.

Reprinted with permission from Pinot Central, published by Penguin Group NZ. RRP $67. Copyright Alan Brady 2010