In a surprise move, renowned Queenstown wine pioneer Alan Brady is uprooting himself from the Wakatipu, 40 years after shifting here.
Brady, who famously planted the first grapes in Queenstown’s Gibbston valley, is only moving an hour’s drive away to Clyde, however - still within the Central Otago region he helped put on the world wine map.
Asked why he’s leaving, the former Northern Irishman, who celebrated his 80th birthday in his home country in July, says: “I’ve always believed that timing in life is important, and I’ve lived exactly half my life in this valley.”
For the past 20 years, he’s lived on a small vineyard in Gibbston’s Coal Pit Road.
“The property was getting too big for me and it’s getting harder work.
“I’ve been project-driven most of my life and this one was beginning to wear a bit thin and I thought it’s time to move on.”
After building up two very successful local wineries, Gibbston Valley Winery, then Mount Edward, Brady says he started his Wild Irishman label as a retirement project - “but I’ve just finished the 11th vintage of that and it’s still going”.
His daughter Susan and her husband Terence Vallelunga, who’s been working at Gibbston Valley Winery, are now picking up that label.
Brady says didn’t want to shift into Queenstown.
“I’ve always related to the history of Central Otago - and Clyde represents that.
“I’m still close enough to remain in touch with my winemaking friends, and I’m still in the heart of winemaking.”
In fact, he says Frenchman John Desire Feraud, who planted the first Central Otago grapes in the 1860s – “and who is our kind of patron saint” - had a little winery only about a kilometre from his new home.
Brady admits he’s still not sure why he planted his first grapes in Gibbston in 1981.
“I had a need to do something different with my bit of land and grapes seemed right for me because I had been to parts of Europe where the climate and the land scape looked the same.”
A journalist all his working life, who’d latterly been associate editor of Mountain Scene, he admits he knew nothing then about grape varieties, viticulture or winemaking.
“There were a lot of sceptics who said it couldn’t be done, but our climate is very good for pinot noir and one or two other varieties and the soil’s turned out to be better than we expected, but we’re still learning why pinot noir does so well here.”
Modestly, Brady says he’s only one of a number of pioneers, including Queenstowners Ann Pinckney, Rob Hay and Grant Taylor.
“I might have been the first to plant grapes at Gibbston and one of the first in the region, but 30 years is a blink in the history of winemaking and, looking back, anyone who’s in that first 50 years will be seen as pioneers of the region.”
Brady says he doesn’t do regrets but expects to feel some sentiment and emotion when he drives out of the valley today.
“The last few weeks, while I’ve walked the dog down by the river, around the Peregrine trail and loop, I’ve thought, ‘shit, this was sheep when I was first here’.
“And I watched this vineyard being developed and all the other vineyards sprout up in the time that I’ve been here, and they’ve spread out down the valley to Bannockburn and Cromwell so, yeah, there’ll be a few emotions floating around.”
Asked what he’ll do in Clyde, where he’ll be a stone’s throw from the historic precinct, he says: “I’ll find something”.
“I have an idea for another book which I’ll explore, and who knows what else?”
Could he start another wine label?
“I don’t know, but my children, for my 80th, gave me an hour’s flying lesson.
“So there you go – life begins at 80.”