My homeland boasts some amazing wine-growing areas, and an hour from my place is one of the best. The Wairarapa vineyards are beautiful places, often boasting excellent restaurants and lovely wedding, conference, and even intimate concert venues. They are well worth a visit.
The vineyard I visited yesterday was not one of the fancy places. There is no elaborate barrel room, no well-stocked ‘cellar door’ shop. It’s simply a lovely comfortable family home sitting a little outside Masterton, with a terrace alongside the Ruamahanga River. There is no sign, and it’s tucked away behind a bit of a hedge. It’s a bit difficult to find, but it’s worth every ounce of effort.
The story behind the vineyard is bittersweet. Bought as a retirement home in 1998, the owner Derek Hagar saw the potential for a vineyard. The site was very close to, possibly on, the location of the first vineyard in the area, which had been very successful for a time before succumbing to declining yields in 1907. Almost a hundred years later, the area retained the qualities that made it grow excellent wine grapes, and the Hagar and his wife Margaret decided to replant the area.
Their son Derek Jr., who had suggested the property to them initially, was living in Southampton at this time. One night he was assaulted, hit in the head from behind with an iron bar. He survived the attack, but returned to his parents changed forever by a significant brain injury.
The vineyard became therapy for him, and as he delved deeper into the creation and management of a new and promising vineyard, he healed and regained his health. He was always convinced that one day, they would make the best wine in the world. In 2011, they entered three varietals from the 2009 harvest in the International Wine and Spirit Competition (IWSC), and all three won awards.
In 2013, Derek Jr. judged the 2010 Pinot Noir ready to send to the IWSC. Not long after, on the night before the 2013 harvest began, Derek Jr. died of a brain haemorrhage, finally succumbing to the injuries sustained years before in the assault.
That year, the 2010 Pinot Noir won the Bouchard Finlayson, the premier trophy in the IWSC. Their Pinot Noir was the best in the world, and Derek Jr.’s dream had come true.
The wines on offer at the moment are the 2011 vintage, and if possible they’re said to be even better than the 2010. I was lucky enough to be offered the Pinot Gris to try, and it was nothing short of wonderful. A balanced taste, with no one overwhelming flavour, it was a complex and gorgeous wine. I was treated not to a tiny taste of the wine, but to a proper glass of it, to not just taste but to fully enjoy.
Possibly even better than the wine, though, was the hospitality and kindness of our hosts. As I said, there is no official cellar door or tasting room, so we were welcomed into their own front lounge, treated to a glass of wine and tales of the places their wine has gone and the awards it has deservedly won. We heard about the couple’s winemaking ethos, their absolute commitment to quality over quantity. This is not a vineyard that will expand beyond its own borders and bring in other wines to blend with. This is a proudly single-vineyard cool climate wine, varying across the years with the variations in growing seasons. Derek and Margaret are committed to creating the very best, and that commitment shows in the wines they produce.
Lansdowne estate is hidden away and hard to find. However, if you do make it there you will find it well worth your time. Wonderful wines, wonderful people, and a wonderful experience.