Dress in a Loud Shirt and Meet the Central Otago Winegrowing Community: Central Otago Wine Association
Cynics in the early 1970’s said that commercial grade wine could never be grown in Central Otago. Much like the little red hen that baked bread, a group of passionate wine enthusiasts decided to ignore the critics and prove that theory wrong, and they succeeded. The pioneering honours board in the Central Otago wine region include Burgesses of Blackridge, Hays Brothers from Chard Farm, Mills family who are based at Rippon, Ann Pinckney of Taramea Wines, and of course, Alan Brady of Gibbston Valley Wines. Together they have all produced award winning wines.
Today, the Central Otago Wine Association (COWA) represents over a hundred successful businesses that are a part of the close-knit Central Otago wine growing community. The membership list has grown beyond the viticulturists and winemakers and now includes bottling, packaging, engineering firms and even netting operations that can be found in Cromwell, Alexandra, Queenstown and Wanaka.
For those new to the industry, a viticulturist has their hands in the soil and tends the vines to grow rotund grapes. The winemakers take the fruit into the wineries and perform their alchemy to create an award winning beverage. Depending on who you talk to, there is a great debate over who is more important; however, it’s fair to say that it is a symbiotic relationship involving a lot of science, a good dose of artistry and a bit of luck.
As the region’s genesis did not involve any of the more well-known New Zealand wine labels (and their international funding), the smaller operations have had to abide by a spirit of co-operation. As soon as Alan Brady of Gibbston Valley Wines had his first commercial release of wine in 1987, COWA was formed. It quickly became a cohesive industry group where everyone would regularly get together to develop grape growing strategies for the region, ideas on how to optimise yields from the wineries and market their product around the world.
COWA’s key functions are national advocacy and hosting educational events for members. These events could focus on anything from vine root management or health and safety, through to discussing weather forecasting and climate change. The association produces the region’s Wine Map and has developed a plan for roadside signage. It supports both the Young Viticulturist and Young Winemaker of the Year Awards and thanks to the Mills family connections in France there is even a wine industry exchange to Burgundy.
With the inaugural Down to Earth Celebration, wine tourism has also become an area for future development. The main aim is to create personalised experiential activities that allow visitors to understand the narrative behind a wine label. The COWA member’s dinners are also worth mentioning as they appear to be a cross between a biblical “last supper” worshipping the latest vintage and a university loud shirt party.
Other recent newsworthy highlights include Glenys Coughlan moving from Venue Management for Absolutely Positively Wellington to be appointed in the CEO role for COWA and as of the 1st November 2015 Central Otago Pinot Noir Ltd (the Region’s marketing organisation) and COWA are now operating under a unified Board of Governance.
For more information on wine-related tours and activities in the region go to www.cromwell.org.nz, and to learn more about the Central Otago Wine Association visit www.cowa.org.nz.