The Clyde Food and Wine Festival was a roaring success at Easter Weekend and my first visit to the popular event.
The historic lane and its side streets were packed with locals and vendors and there was plenty to taste and talk about.
Smoked eggs, Merguez sausages and pork belly were just some of the food highlights, with plenty of wine to wash it down with.
To be honest, the wines on offer were a mixed bunch. There were some excellent wines from well-established vineyards and plenty of new producers with insipid wines and badly-designed labels. Most are from family growers who get little return for just selling grapes and so have the wine made for them at one of several processing plants in Central Otago.
The Alexandra and Clyde area is the home of the Central Otago wine industry, with the regions first winery built there in the 1860’s by Jean Desire Feraud, a Frenchman with a passion for wine. The building that housed the winery, Monte Christo, still stands in Alexandra today.
There’s a gap of more than 100 years from that point, with hardly any wine at all, which is incredible really. Mind you, there were two world wars and the temperance movement to contend with.
Emerging in the early 1980s, the next group to undertake the task of growing grapes in this harsh environment are the true fathers of the modern wine industry in Central Otago, and much of it was centred on Alexandra and Clyde. There’s a common thread of determination, stubbornness, ingenuity and a little bit of madness that runs through each individual endeavour.
There are some great stories with lots of humour. Verdun Burgess of Blackridge Estate in Alexandra had only consumed six bottles of wine in his life before he decided to plant his own vineyard! His first commercial vintage in 1988 was tasted by the public in whisky glasses as they didn’t have wine tasting glasses, in fact he didn’t even know what one looked like.
Things were thrown together out of necessity. Bill Grant of William Hill built his own mobile bottling plant to service the small local industry, an amazing feat of inventiveness and forward thinking. He based the design on a picture he’d seen in a book. Verdun built his own wine press.
In those days the question ‘what shall we do with this land?’ was a major influencing factor. Often the land was unworkable, unsuitable for trees, flowers or vegetables. Grape growing as a solution must have been discussed in many conversations over the years in Central but only a few brave souls undertook the risk.
So cheers to the pioneers of Alexandra and Clyde, we owe you plenty and I hope that you’re remembered by future generations for your individuality and bravery.
Here are a couple of my favourites from the region:
2010 Valli Old Vine Riesling: Grant Taylor knows quality when he sees it which is why these grapes are sourced from the Blackridge vines in Alexandra which are more than 20 years old. It’s a dry style, packed with flavour and freshness.
2009 Grasshopper Rock Pinot Noir: One that flies under the radar, this label has achieved great things overseas, winning the gold medals galore. It’s got plenty of the Central Otago fruitiness but it’s the elegance that makes it stand out, with slippery tannins that glide across the palate. Really good stuff and great value! Buy some!