Pinot queen explains approach
Otago Daily Times
One of the winemakers making a big difference in Central Otago is Carol Bunn, of Vinpro. Charmian Smith talks to the queen of Central Otago pinot noir.
Carol Bunn is sometimes called the queen of Central Otago pinot, and she is certainly one of the winemakers playing a big part in the region's growing reputation for fine wine.
She makes wine for 20 different producers at Vinpro's large winemaking facility in Cromwell, and several of them have acquired an impressive list of medals and commendations. Bunn is a determined woman who does not beat about the bush, although there's certainly a sense of fun in the twinkle in her eye.
When Morley Hewitt was setting up his Vinpro winemaking facility in 2004, he headhunted her from nearby Akarua, but she was adamant that she wouldn't just make the wine from what their clients delivered.
She wanted to lift the quality of Central Otago wine and to do so she needed to have a say in their viticulture, she said. She embraced the opportunity to have a free hand, to design and build the new winery, to be involved with many different people and grapes from all the subregions, and to focus on pinot noir but to make other varietals as well.
"If you asked me to make wine, I'd go and look at the vineyard and I'd say this is what we can achieve but to get there, this is what you have to do. I find out what they want and advise them on what I think they should do," she said.
"To produce pinot noir here you have to crop low, so anyone who is getting into the game to try and make money straight away is probably in it for the wrong reasons.
"The hardest thing sometimes is to get their crops at the right level. Everyone jumped on the bandwagon in Central Otago and there's a lot of pinot noir planted and people have to think of different ways to sell it. It all comes back to the site and how you manage your crop for that particular site."
Some growers have unrealistic expectations about the quality of their wine. They might like to drink it, but find it's not so easy to sell. They need to taste and compare other wines and talk to other winemakers as well as distributors, restaurateurs and consumers, she said.
"That's been the most important thing for our clients. They all beat the streets and sell the wine themselves and get the feedback, and that makes my job easier, rather than beating my head against a brick wall."
Although some overseas buyers look down on wines made at contract facilities where wines are made at a price per litre, it means smaller growers are able to have an experienced winemaker and top-of-the-line facilities, instead of a tin-shed winery and a graduate winemaker, she said.
"The beauty of a contract winemaking facility like Vinpro is that we do not have our own wine which would come first - everybody's wine comes first."
She and her team of six share her clients' delight when they do well in competitions or tastings, and she accompanies them to awards ceremonies.
Sometimes her wines are accused of a certain sameness, but that sameness tends to be in the quality of the wine, and perhaps the oak handling. Vineyard variations certainly show through in the wines. Among her clients are Wooing Tree, Judge Rock, Mitre Rock, Grasshopper Rock, Tarras Vineyards, Davishon and Hawkdun Rise.
Growing up on a farm at Arrow Junction with a twin sister and several other siblings, Carol Bunn (39) still remembers television personality Alan Brady knocking on their door asking if they had any land to sell for growing grapes.
Although he planted in Gibbston, it left an impression on her, then when she was a teenager, she developed a taste for interesting wines from a friend's father who was a wine buff.
However, it took her a few years to decide on a career in wine. Working in a local shearing gang, a year on agricultural exchange in Norway which gave her a travel bug, and a thwarted desire to become a pilot, eventually led to a degree in geography and environmental planning. She had wanted to do horticulture, but freaked out at the chemistry.
However, she found planning boring and eventually, while working in Christchurch, took advantage of the Lincoln postgraduate winemaking course in 1995, finally tackling her aversion to chemistry, she said with a laugh.
A couple of years working in Martinborough, with Larry McKenna at Martinborough Vineyard and Neil McCallum of Dry River, and then in Oregon, gave her a love for pinot noir.
After three years as winemaker for Langdale, a small Canterbury winery, she was helping out at Black Ridge in Central Otago before going to work on the Mornington Peninsula near Melbourne, when she was offered the job of winemaker at Akarua, near Bannockburn.
During four vintages there, she lifted the quality of the wines, culminating in the 2002 pinot noir winning several trophies including the only gold medal for pinot noir awarded at the 2002 International Wine and Spirit Competition in London, and both it and The Gullies 2002 were ranked numbers one and two in Cuisine.
Now she is doing the same for her clients, but one day she hopes to have her own vineyard and label. In the past few years she's been too busy with Vinpro to set up her own vineyard, but with the current economic climate, a few vineyards may come up for sale in the near future, she says.