Part 3: New Zealand's Central Otago region
Pisa Range

The Black Poplar the vineyard is named after

My next visit was with Jenny Hawker at Pisa Range. Jenny and her husband Warwick were working in the diplomatic service, and at the time they planted their first vines at Pisa Range, in 1995, they were on a posting in Beijing. Among other jobs, Warwick was New Zealand ambassador to Iran, and their last posting was in Tonga. Now he is theoretically retired, but he is still doing some work. ‘We’ve had a very interesting life,’ says Jenny. ‘We had seven postings altogether, mainly in Asia, spanning 35 years.’ They have a son and a daughter.

Pisa Range from the air (to the right of the trees - Kawarau Estate is to the left)

‘We came back from a posting in Kuala Lumpa and we needed to think about life after foreign affairs,’ recalls Jenny. ‘We wrote down a list of things we’d like to do, and this included growing things, eating and travelling: a vineyard allowed us to do all these things.’

Then one day, serendipity intervened. They had Charles Finney of Kawarau Estate over for dinner, and in a throw-away line over coffee he said he needed to sell some land to finance vineyard development. So the Hawkers made him an offer, and are now his neighbours. A few months later, serendipity intervened again. They heard that a farmer was selling off some land suitable for a house site at the end of their vineyard plot. ‘We were about to return to China, so Warwick raced up to see the farmer who wasn’t sure, but a few weeks later we had some new land,’ says Jenny.  

Pioneering Central Otago winemaker Mike Wolter helped them establish their vineyard, but he tragically died in a winemaking accident in 1997. This is when they met Rudi Bauer, who at the time was just establishing his own venture, Quartz Reef. Rudi now makes the Pisa Range wines. The first harvest from Pisa Range’s vineyards was in 1998, but for the first couple of vintages all the grapes were used to make Rudi’s Quartz Reef wines. The 1998 and 1999 Quartz reef wines were 100% Pisa Range fruit, but with the 2000 vintage the Pisa Range label was born, and gradually more and more estate fruit was used for the Pisa Range wines. Now the two are completely separate businesses.

The vineyard, and beyond this the Pisa Range

The Pisa subregion is part of the Cromwell Basin, and it’s quite a warm spot on the shores of Lake Dunstan, on the road running out to Wanaka, and hemmed in the other side by the Pisa Range of hills. After the first world war, the Pisa flats were divided up by the government for returning soldiers, and became mixed farming or orchards. Kawarau Estate were the first to plant vineyards here, but in recent years the flats have gradually filled out with vineyards, a stretch of about 20 km.

Sheep dags being trialled for under-row weed control

Viticulture here is pretty much organic, with the only issue preventing full conversion being the undervine weed control (two glyphosate sprays are used each season). A permanent sward is left between the rows, including dandelion and yarrow. The vines are now almost completely in balance, with the right number of shoots and two bunches per cane. Pisa Range joined the biodynamic association three years ago and have been implementing certain aspects. ‘We’re also keen on biodynamics because many cultures we have lived in use it as well,’ says Jenny. Five clones of Pinot Noir are planted: 113, 777, 115, 114 and 10/5.

A single wine is made each year, the Black Poplar Block Pinot Noir. In addition, a tiny amount of Pinot Gris is produced from bought in grapes, and some Riesling vines have recently been planted. Altogether the property is 33 hectares, with 4 hectares of Pinot Noir and 0.5 hectares of Riesling.


Pisa Range Pinot Noir 2008
This was more of a vineyard vintage, where growers had to be careful about canopy management. Shy nose with some mineral notes. The palate shows richness with lovely smooth elegant fruit and a nice minerality. Ripe and full, yet smooth with lovely cherryish fruit. Smooth texture. 93/100

Pisa Range Pinot Noir 2007
A uniformly good vintage. Lovely smooth, elegant dark cherry nose with some subtle minerality. The palate is beautifully focused with dark fruits and spice. Elegantly meaty with nice minerality and hints of earth. Smooth, sweet and elegant with lovely focus. 94/100

Pisa Range Pinot Noir 2006
A textbook vintage after two frost-hit years. Strikingly elegant nose with a sweet, lush liqueur-like edge, and pure cherry fruit with some warm spiciness. The palate has lushness as well as warm spicy characters. Quite elegant with some minerality and non-fruit complexity, as well as some soy/spice notes. Very stylish. 93/100

Pisa Range Pinot Noir 2004
Very pure and elegant on the nose with nice spiciness. Beginning to show some evolution. The palate is open, elegant and spicy with warm herby notes. Stylish. 93/100

Felton Road
Mount Difficulty
Pisa Range 
Gibbston Valley

Wines tasted 02/10  
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