It was great to spend some time with one of the pioneering figures of Central Otago wine, Rudi Bauer. Fresh off the plane from the UK, I picked up a car, drove to Cromwell, checked into my accommodation and then spent four hours talking, tasting and walking through vineyards with him.
When Rudi began working for Rippon in 1989, he was the first qualified winemaker and viticulturist in the region. At that time, Central Otago was just a baby, as wine regions go: it was only two years after the first release of a commercial wine from Central. Rudi was working Black Ridge and William Smith, as well as Rippon. And in Gibbston, there was Chard Farm, Gibbston Valley and Terramea, who were looked after by Rob Hay. There were no vineyards in the Cromwell Basin, now the largest part of Central.
Rudi first came here while he was cycling around South Island, and he met a girl, who’s now his wife. This, as well as the beauty of the place, is why he decided to move here, after doing a vintage with Simi in Sonoma with Zelma Long.
While he was working for Rippon, Rudi began looking around for potential vineyard sites. In 1990, he identified one in Bendigo, but it wasn’t until almost a decade later that he bought it. Bendigo is the warmest sub-region of Central Otago, on the opposite side of the lake from Lowburn and Pisa, with Bannockburn to the south and Wanaka to the north. It’s named after the Bendigo in Victoria, Australia: many of the gold miners here had previously been mining in Bendigo, and brought the name with them.
For four years, 1993-1997, Rudi worked for Giesen at their original winery in Burnham near Christchurch in Canterbury. But the purchase and planting of his own vineyard, the first in Bendigo, was to bring him back to Central. ‘I spent a lot of time looking at the soil types,’ says Rudi. ‘The soil was OK. Then we collected weather data, which was difficult to get, but I got hold of the weather data from when they did the study on the Clyde dam. It took us a while to find water, and then there was the selection of which clones to plant and which rootstock. Then a big question for me was how to translate my experience from Europe, California and Oregon to the conditions here.’
The main vineyard is a 15 hectare north-facing slope, with clay, fine gravel and quartz soils. He began planting this in 1998. It was initially planted with Pinot Noir (clones 10/5, 5, 115, 667, 777 & Abel), with a planting density of between 3500 to 8000 vines per hectare. Later on, Pinot Gris and Chardonnay were added, and then more recently some Gruner Veltliner was added. Next to this is another 15 hectare block which is used to make sparkling base. ‘What I have learned from the land is that it is a much better site than I expected,’ says Rudi, ‘but also that it is a much more difficult site to understand.’
Since 2007 he’s been farming with biodynamics, but the journey towards this was an interesting one. ‘I came to New Zealand and the first thing I did when I arrived at Rippon was to sell their herbicides,’ he recalls. ‘The first thing I did when I bought Quartz Reef was to buy herbicides. This tells you two things. One, it is very easy to spend someone else’s money, and two I was so overwhelmed about this site. I had all the three Ws: lack of water, lots of wind and heaps of weeds.’ In addition, mechanical weeding was challenging because there were lots of rocks in the vineyard. But he was still keen on the idea of biodynamics. ‘Finally, after being pregnant for nine years, in 2007 we made the call and from one day to another, we converted the whole lot and never looked back.’
Quartz Reef produces 10-12 000 cases of wine per year altogether, with 5000 of that being sparkling.
The Pinots are lovely wines, and over the years they have become more refined, with better tannins. ‘I always like Pinots with structure,’ says Rudi. ‘But now our structural element is built of titanium, and not stainless steel. It’s lighter; there’s elegance; it’s stronger. You can feel the structure, but it’s not as obvious, as with stainless steel.’
Quartz Reef NV Central Otago, New Zealand
This is a blend of 72% Pinot Noir and 28% Chardonnay, based on the 2017 vintage, with 4 g/l dosage. Lovely focus here: there’s a bit of citrus pith with some nice linear citrus fruit. Crisp and focused with lovely precision. Has nice brightness and a faint creamy, toasty richness. Good intensity and concentration. 91/100
Quartz Reef Vintage Blanc de Blancs 2013 Central Otago, New Zealand
91% Chardonnay and 9% Pinot Noir, 3.3 g/l dosage. Lovely notes of cream and toast, with nice freshness and purity, as well as some richer notes. Shows pear, citrus and a bit of apple fruit. Drinkable and pure with nice complexity. 92/100
Quartz Reef Rosé NV Central Otago, New Zealand
This is all from 2016. 3.3 g/l dosage. Creamy hints and nice cherry fruit with some notes of rosehip syrup. There’s some strawberry richness too. Very drinkable with nice weight and freshness. ‘It’s a fun person that likes to party, but their feet are still firmly on the ground,’ says Rudi. 90/100
All Rudi’s whites are pressed with a Champagne cycle that yields just 550 litres a ton: there is no press cut. They go to tank and after a day’s racking they are fermented with indigenous yeasts. After fermentation they sit on their lees for 9 months without stirring.
Quartz Reef Single Vineyard Gruner Veltliner 2017 Central Otago, New Zealand
Generous nose with some pear and nectarine fruit, with some sweet melon notes. Lovely concentration and texture on the palate. Bold with ripe stone fruits. Nicely textured. 92/100
Quartz Reef Pinot Gris 2017 Central Otago, New Zealand
Nice depth here: ripe apple and sweet pear, with some tangerine and apricot. ‘Pinot Gris is about texture, texture, texture,’ says Rudi. ‘I see out Pinot Gris as having a Germanic approach, but looking across the Rhine to Alsace.’ This has nice depth of flavour: it’s rich but still focused with a bit of grip on the finish. 92/100
Quartz Reef Single Vineyard Pinot Rosé 2018 Central Otago, New Zealand
Skin contact in the press to get colour, wild ferment. Dry. Nice cherry and strawberry fruit with good acidity and focus. It’s very appealing with some freshness and depth of flavour. 89/100
Quartz Reef Single Vineyard Pinot Noir 2016 Central Otago, New Zealand
Fresh and sweetly fruited with lovely texture. There’s nice depth here: sweet raspberry and cherry fruit with a bit of raspberry bite. Tends to elegance with a bitter plum twist on the finish. Seductive but focused. 93/100
Quartz Reef Single Vineyard Pinot Noir 2017 Central Otago, New Zealand
Fresh, supple and rounded with sweet red cherry and raspberry fruit. Has nice polish and texture but also good structure and acidity. Ripe, expressive, elegant and grown up. 94/100
Quartz Reef Single Ferment Pinot Noir 2016 Central Otago, New Zealand
Each year Rudi keeps the ferments separate, and the one that expresses the vintage best is bottled separately. This year it was a six-barrel lot. Smooth, sleek and quite polished with nice rounded tannins under the elegant black cherry and blackberry fruit. Assured with grainy structure and a hint of creaminess. 94/100
Quartz Reef Single Ferment Pinot Noir 2017 Central Otago, New Zealand
Concentrated and broad with nice sweet black cherry and blackberry fruit with depth and intensity. Very assured with lovely texture and some savoury notes. There are some hints of oak, but they are fully integrated. A refined wine. 95/100
Quartz Reef Single Ferment Pinot Noir 2015 Central Otago, New Zealand
Sweet and ripe. Quite dark with a hint of tar and some spice. Nice sweet black cherry fruit here. Generous but also structured. 94/100
There’s a new-ish Pinot Noir, first made in 2015 from a corner of the vineyard that is very stony with glacial moraine material. It’s given a different name each year.
Quartz Reef Franz Ferdinand Pinot Noir 2015 Central Otago, New Zealand
Generous but elegant with ripe, sweet berry fruits and some red cherry focus. There’s a bit of sour cherry, too. Lovely structure. Very fine-grained and delicious. Layered. 95/100
Quartz Reef Otto Pinot Noir 2017 Central Otago, New Zealand
Lovely stuff: juicy and fine with purity and depth, and a nice sour cherry hint as well as ripe berry fruits. Nice acid, too. Delicious but serious with it, and the firmness in the structure indicate potential for development. 95/100